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Ashcroft, Canadian leaders hail agreement to bolster border security

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft  

DETROIT, Michigan (CNN) -- An agreement with Canada to bolster security on the 4,000-mile border with the United States was hailed Monday by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as a key step in the war on terrorism that also will help protect the profitable trade relationship between the two countries.

The accord, to be signed at a ceremony in the Canadian capital of Ottawa Monday afternoon, will commit more resources to border patrol, both in Canada and the United States. In the United States, for example, more than 400 National Guard troops will be placed at 43 border crossings, and U.S. military aircraft will be brought in to patrol the border.

"The United States and Canada have chosen to stand together against terrorism and, as a result, North America is and will be a safe place," Ashcroft said at a news conference in Detroit, where he was joined by Canadian officials.

The border with Canada became the focus of scrutiny after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, leaders in both countries have spoken of the need to tighten security and pay more attention to those people who cross it.

"Anything that helps U.S. security helps Canada," said Lawrence MacAulay, Canada's solicitor general. "Anything that helps Canada security, helps the United States."

Ashcroft said there will be more Integrated Border Enforcement Teams to cover more areas and target priority ports. He said the two countries will coordinate visa policies and share more intelligence information on document fraud and irregular migration.

Ashcroft said more immigration officers from both the United States and Canada will be dispatched overseas to detect "inadmissible" individuals before they attempt to enter either country. Finally, the agreement calls for joint training of airline personnel.

Ashcroft and his Canadian counterparts stressed that the goal is to keep the border open, not to close it down. Ashcroft said trade between the two countries along that border is worth about $1.3 billion a day.

"We are each other's best customer, and making sure that continues is something so important to both our countries," said Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Gray.

Ashcroft said the use of the National Guard troops will be a temporary measure to assist Border Patrol personnel overtaxed by heightened security measures put in place after the terrorist attacks.

"It's not a militarization of the border or a fortification of the border," Ashcroft said.

For what the Justice Department described as an "initial phase," 419 National Guard troops will be deployed in 12 states bordering Canada. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, has already detailed an additional 120 agents to the northern U.S. border.

On Sunday, Ashcroft said only 500 border agents monitor the U.S.-Canadian border, compared with 9,000 monitoring the U.S.-Mexican border, which is only about half as long.

Ashcroft flew to Detroit Sunday evening and met with leaders in the area's large Arab-American community, some of whom have raised concerns about the Justice Department's plans to interview thousands of young men in the United States on visas -- most from Middle Eastern or predominately Muslim nations. They are to be questioned in connection with the terrorism probe.

Asked about the matter, Ashcroft insisted the U.S. government is not engaged in any sort of profiling and said the Arab-American community had been very helpful.


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