Life on the Border
I live on the border—the northern border—about five miles from British Columbia, Canada. We don’t have streams of illegal immigrants climbing over walls, fences, or swimming the river to get into the country. Up here, the border is actually a dirt ditch that separates the United States from Canada. Most illegal aliens caught in the Blaine sector are usually from countries in the Far East. During the period of August 3, 2012 to September 4, 2012 the Blaine Sector Border Patrol apprehended 25 people: 20 from India, 3 from Mexico, 1 from Malaysia, and 1 Canadian, though I think the last one might have been just a little lost and missed the ditch. (Lynden Tribune, 9/12/2012, “Border Patrol Activity Report)
The US Border Patrol has four crossings out here in the northwest corner of Washington: Peach Arch, Pacific Highway, Lynden, and Sumas. It also controls Port Angeles for a total of 252 land and marine miles. (Lynden Tribune, 9/12/2012, “Border Patrol Officially Opens New Ferndale Station Thursday”) Although the Border Patrol is frequently accused of racial profiling and trespassing on privately-owned property, it also provides 911 service, backup assistance to first responders, and Spanish translation services. Due to the close relationship of the Border Patrol to local law enforcement, many people hesitate to report crimes for fear of deportation of friends and family. When the Border Patrol comes on the scene and finds an illegal person, they arrest and process the person for deportation. As a local police chief noted, “People forget that being in the country illegally is a crime.” (Lynden Tribune, 5/2/2012, (“Immigrant Group Accuses Border Patrol of Racial Profiling: Agency Denies It”)
I came from the east coast and never really thought much about immigration until I moved to Washington State. Growing up in New Jersey, talk of immigration, customs, or the Border Patrol was very rare. Since I moved to Washington, now I truly understand what is involved in crossing the border. But up here in this corner of the United States it is not about terrorists, weapons, drugs, or illegal aliens. The real border wars are about berries and milk.
The Berry Wars
Whatcom County is the leading producer of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Tons are grown here and shipped all over the US. For the most part, the farms are privately owned, and migrant workers pick the berries during harvest season. In 2011 the farmers were in an uproar over E-verify, the federal government’s program that verifies a person’s eligibility to work in the US. The program affects all companies. However, the berry growers saw this as a serious threat. If their harvest workers could not verify, they would lose their crops and be out of business. During the harvest, approximately 5000 workers pick the berries, and there has been some speculation that 50% of workers could be in the US illegally. (Lynden Tribune, 8/31/2011, “Farmers Out of Business if E-Verify Forced”)
This year there was another up roar over berries. Some farmers were fined for hiring children ages 8 to 11, and not paying the minimum wage to older workers. The Department of Labor (DOL) levied the fines and put a freeze on moving the berries until the fines were paid. Rather than lose the entire crop, the farmers paid $76,000 in fines and back wages. Local residents were enraged about the incident and wrote letters to the local newspapers about the fines, the federal government, and the unfairness of child labor laws. One man wrote a letter stating that he had hired children as young as 6 years old, and saw himself as an honorable teacher of the good work ethic. (The Bellingham Herald, 9/14/2012, Letter to Editor, “Says Farm Labor Law Unnecessary”) Farmers claim that they need migrant workers because Americans will not do back-breaking field work. But if workers were paid a proper wage, they would not have to rely on illegal immigrants.
The Milk Wars
Believe it or not, berries are not the only thing that fuels wrath along the northern border. Every day there is a war-like attitude about milk. Since the US government offers subsidies, milk is sold at a lower price. Consequently there are caravans of Canadians who cross the border to load up on milk. As each person is allowed to take back $20 worth of dairy products, passenger cars bring in the entire family: parents, grandparents, and all the children. The line of cars coming into the US is long and wait time at the US border can be over an hour.
While all these customers are good for Whatcom County’s economy, the influx of Canadians annoys some Americans. Recently the Bellingham Costco was so overrun by Canadians, someone opened a Facebook page to propose that Costco designate an Americans-only shopping day. (MailOnline, 8/13/2012, Let’s Buy All Their Milk: Costco shoppers in Washington State demand a ban on cross-border raids by Canadian Shoppers taking advantage of the weak U.S. Dollar) Needless to say Costco turned down the idea with a statement that all customers are welcome during store hours. While the Canadian shoppers are not illegal immigrants; they have the correct documents to cross into the US and shop for the day. But they are temporary immigrants, and many are quite rude as they grab up their purchases.
The Real Threat from Northern Border Immigration
In my opinion, the biggest threat from the Canadians is not the amount of milk they buy—it’s the extra gas they buy. Besides milk, they can be filling up extra gas cans and storing them in the car’s trunk or the bed of a pickup truck for the trip back to Canada. In a sense the car becomes a rolling bomb if there is a collision. In this instance, the US and Canadian border agencies should get together, stop these drivers, and confiscate the gas before there is a tragic accident or environmental disaster along the highways.
I declare that this is my original work and I declare I am above 15 years old.
- 9/12/2012, “Border Patrol Activity Report”
- 5/02/2012, “Immigrant Group Accuses Border Patrol of Racial Profiling: Agency Denies It”
- 9/12/2012, “Border Patrol Officially Opens New Ferndale Station Thursday”
- 8/31/2011, “Farmers Out of Business if E-Verify Forced”
- 9/14/2012, Letter to Editor, “Says Farm Labor Law Unnecessary”
- 8/13/2012, Let’s Buy All Their Milk: Costco shoppers in Washington State demand a ban on cross-border raids by Canadian Shoppers taking advantage of the weak U.S. Dollar
The Bellingham Herald
Important note: Views and Opinion expressed does not necessarily reflect the views of Shah Peerally or its affiliates. This essay is related to the Essay competition.