Holiday travelers to see more security
MINNEAPOLIS -- From the Canadian border to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, weekend travelers should be prepared for increased security at every port in Minnesota.
"As much as we're trying to make added security levels transparent, there will be signs that this isn't just any Memorial Day weekend," said Mary Delaquis, service port director for Customs and Border Protection within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Vehicles entering from Canada at International Falls are subject to close scrutiny now that the nation is at the orange security alert level. The message board on the entry road to the Twin Cities airport once again warns that vehicles are subject to search.
"To put it simply, an orange alert means more inspections, and those inspections are going to be more intense," said Cherise Miles, a Homeland Security public affairs officer in Chicago. "And we're taking a close, intense look at everything you have."
At the crossing points in Minnesota, cargo will be screened with gamma-ray technology. Every Border Patrol officer will have a personal radiation detector the size of a pager. Staffing at the border has been increased and guards have been authorized to work overtime shifts, said Mike Milne, a Homeland Security public affairs officer.
Regardless of the increase, "it's not enough," said U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. "I think border insecurity is a more honest and accurate term. Our borders are porous."
Nearly 800 new federal officers have patrolled the U.S.-Canadian border since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Ramstad said, but he quickly added that more than 500,000 illegal immigrants have entered the United States since then.
The busiest Canadian border entry point this weekend is likely to be International Falls, near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness -- always a magnet for Memorial Day weekend travelers. The Koochiching County Sheriff's Office won't add personnel this weekend, but will rely on reports from citizens.
The customs stations at International Falls and Pembina, N.D., likely will have the longest delays, said Tim Counts, a spokesman for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
But delays can be avoided.
Delaquis suggests that travelers crossing the border not carry weapons unless they can demonstrate that they are strictly for hunting. Fruit found in vehicles will be examined and probably shouldn't be taken over the border. Any amount of cash over $10,000 must be reported. Motorists must carry photo identification.
At the airport, the number of canine units has been increased. Drivers hoping to park curbside have been ordered to keep moving or their vehicles have been searched, said Airport Police Cmdr. Scott Neibauer. Suspected loiterers have been questioned by police. Unclaimed parcels in the baggage-claim area are being quickly reported to authorities by travelers.
"We want people to keep traveling," Milne said. "The increased or heightened awareness and readiness deters terrorism and saves lives. But we also want to have people continue with their lives as usual."
The orange alert, prompted by recent bombings in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, came because authorities fear that Al-Qaida could expand its plans for a wave of attacks into the United States. The FBI said it has not identified any potential targets or times, however.