Well, it could have been true.
That’s what Senator Hillary Clinton had to say after finding out that five Pakistani men did not actually sneak into the United States through Canada so they could blow up New York on New Year’s Eve. Because they were never in the United States at all, and they weren’t terrorists, and the whole thing was dreamed up by a man who forges passports for a living.
At the height of the search for the professional liar’s imaginary nonterrorists, Clinton blamed Canada and its “unpatrolled, unsupervised” border. But even when the hoax came to light, she didn’t rescind the accusation: Because the Canadian border is so porous, she reasoned, “this hoax seemed all too believable.”
It was, in other words, a useful hoax, helping US citizens to see how unsafe they really are. And that is useful, especially if you are among the growing number of free-market economists, politicians and military strategists pushing for the creation of “Fortress NAFTA,” a continental security perimeter stretching from Mexico’s southern border to Canada’s northern one.
A fortress continent is a bloc of nations that joins forces to extract favorable trade terms from other countries–while patrolling their shared external borders to keep people from those countries out. But if a continent is serious about being a fortress, it also has to invite one or two poor countries within its walls, because somebody has to do the dirty work and heavy lifting.
It’s a model being pioneered in Europe, where the European Union is currently expanding to include ten poor Eastern bloc countries at the same time that it uses increasingly aggressive security methods to deny entry to immigrants from even poorer countries, like Iraq and Nigeria.
It took the events of September 11 for North America to get serious about building a fortress continent of its own. After the attacks, it wasn’t an option for the United States to simply build higher walls at the Canadian and Mexican borders–in the NAFTA era, the business community wouldn’t stand for it. General Motors claims that for every minute its trucks are delayed at the US-Canadian border, it loses about $650,000.
On the other US border, dozens of industries, from agriculture to construction, are reliant on “illegal” Mexican workers–a fact not lost on George W. Bush, who knows that, after oil, immigrant labor is the fuel driving the Southwest economy. If he suddenly cut off the flow, the business sector would rebel. So what’s a wildly pro-business, security-obsessed government to do?