Last week Stefania and I visited the border quagmire that is the Cornwall-Massena crossing. Despite my claims of being a border “specialist” I ended up facing seizure of my vehicle and stiff fines because I turned right to visit the Akwasasne Mohawk community on Cornwall Island instead of proceeding “forthwith” to the temporary customs checkpoint 5 or 6 km north. Did I miss a sign? I don’t know but it hardly seems like a recipe for Akwasasne economic development when visitors have to travel miles out of their way to verify their intentions to enter a territory that both Canada and Mohawks claim sovereign control. This week I am in Phoenix trying to reconcile government promises for a safe and prosperous border with the experiences of Arizona ranchers whose property is a thruway for hundreds of extra-legal crossings a year – some of these are mothers and children seeking a better life but too many of them are RBGs (really bad guys).
The U.S.-Canada border and U.S.-Mexico border are very different. If we, as a trilateral community, attempt to promote a comprehensive approach, there is a possibility that lessons learned from one area could generate positive spin-offs elsewhere. On the northern border, our primary focus is speedier, more efficient access for trade and tourism. On the southern border, trade and tourism are overshadowed by immigration and narco-trafficking. Even with Mexico’s social and economic fortunes on the rise and fewer Mexicans are heading north, Mexico is still a thruway for Central Americans en route to Gringolandia.
Maybe the borders really are too different and that the interests of north and south are frustrated by trying to turn multiple experiences into a single story. On the other hand, if Canada were to reach out to Mexico directly, rather than permit all interactions to be mediated by the United States, the real spirit of trilateral cooperation among equal partners might finally emerge.