Border: Security up, delays expected

Published on Thu, Mar 20, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Border: Security up, delays expected

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

There are no plans to close the border, officials said, but there will be long waits.

Backups are expected at the border crossings in Blaine because of increased security after the Department of Homeland Security announced the heightened terror alert on Monday. The alert was announced the same day President Bush gave an evening ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that he and his sons leave Iraq or face military action.

According to deputy chief John Bates, the U.S. Border Patrol has stepped up security significantly. �Since two nights ago when we went to level orange, we have procedures in place,� he said, noting all non-essential training has been curtailed and activities that take agents away from the border have been cancelled.

The Border Patrol received additional security from the southern border, to be placed around Blaine and Lynden. �I cannot tell you how many, but I can tell you we received them yesterday,� he said. �We have a heightened presence and more patrols,� he said, adding there is no specific threat against the border or the state of Washington at this time.

According to Garrison Courtney, the INS district press secretary, the border will not close, but people should expect waits. U.S. Customs Service and immigration agents will be checking individuals� and cargo documentation with more scrutiny, he said.

�We have no intention to close the border,� he said. �There will be increased inspections and inspectors will pay more attention to checking documents and the cargo.�

Courtney also stated that all of the customs inspectors and immigration officials are wearing radiation detectors. �Those are obviously looking for weapons of mass destruction,� he said, adding the detectors were implemented before Monday�s heightened security.

Officials at the Blaine school district said students who live in Point Roberts will be taken home if the Canadian border were to close.

The Washington State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Camp Murray activated to Phase II at 5:30 p.m. Monday night in response to the elevation of the homeland security alert because of a national high risk of a possible terrorism threat.

�While there is not a specific threat targeted at Washington state at this time, there is now a heightened national security concern because of the imminence of a war with Iraq,� said Maj. Gen. Timothy J. Lowenburg, of the Washington National Guard and Director of the Washington military department. �It is prudent to take steps.�

The department advised people to exercise caution when traveling and to be alert of their surroundings. Families should have a disaster plan, and also listen to news regarding the heightened threat and security procedures, including national, state and local, the department said.

On Monday evening, the Department of Homeland Security launched Operation Liberty Shield, a plan to enhance security nationwide, amid the growing possibility that the nation will suffer terrorist attacks. The terror threat alert level was raised from yellow to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist activity. The only color higher than orange, is red, which represents a grave, severe risk.

According to their office, there will be increased security at not only the borders, but also waterways, chemical and nuclear plants, airports and tourist attractions. Imported food will also come under increased scrutiny by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is asking health departments and medical care providers to report unusual diseases or disease patterns.

The plan also calls for an increased monitoring of the Internet for signs of attack, and detaining some seekers of political asylum.

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