MONTREAL -- The United States and Canada signed far-reaching agreements Monday to increase border security and coordinate immigration policies to secure the world's largest trade relationship.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and Canadian officials, including Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay and Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan, signed agreements that move the North American neighbors a step closer to the perimeter security concept of preventing terrorists and other undesirables from entering either country from abroad.
The two measures -- one on border security and immigration issues and the other on shared fingerprint technology -- include posting about 600 National Guard troops at U.S. border posts to assist beleaguered customs and immigration officials and allowing Canada to be the first foreign country to share information from the FBI's fingerprint image system, Ashcroft said.
Joint investigative teams comprising U.S. and Canadian forces will be expanded, and the number of immigration officers deployed overseas by both countries would increase, he said.
''The United States and Canada have chosen to work together against terrorism, and North America is safer...as a result,'' Ashcroft said.
In appearances at the border between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, and then at the bill-signing in Ottawa, Ashcroft and the Canadian officials emphasized the agreements were required to combat terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Ashcroft rejected suggestions that National Guard troops meant a military reinforcement of what is known as the world's longest undefended border. He noted that the 600 troops worked out to an increase of about one for every 100 miles.
''If you think that's fortifying the border, you've got a much more active imagination than I do,'' he said.
The goal, Ashcroft said, was to maintain the flow of the world's largest trade relationship -- worth more than $1 billion a day -- across the border.
''We do not want to coagulate the border. We want to facilitate the border,'' he said.
Visa policies will be coordinated to prevent people refused a visa by one country from applying to go to the other, Caplan said.
''Our goal is to prevent people from coming to Canada or the United States before they get on the plane,'' she said.
Since the terror attacks, the movement of auto parts and other goods has been slowed at the border by tightened security, affecting the countries' trade partnership.
''There were a lot of things in the congestion around the border that hurt both nations,'' Ashcroft said earlier in Detroit. ''We don't want to be shutting down our automotive industry because we don't have a fast enough inspection process.''
The 1999 arrest of Ahmed Ressam while trying to drive into the United States from Canada with explosives in his car raised U.S. concerns about terrorists living and operating north of the border due to lax immigration and refugee laws.
Ressam was convicted this year of planning to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during millennium celebrations and awaits sentencing. Testimony at his trial revealed he was part of a cell that operated in Montreal and discussed planting bombs in the city.
Ashcroft said Monday no evidence so far suggests that any of the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks came to the United States from Canada.
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