Last week in an interview with the Associated Press, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said: “It’s time to grow up and recognize that if we’re serious about this threat, we’ve got to take reasonable, measured but nevertheless determined steps to getting better security.”

Needless to say, the response from several Members of Congress, particularly those who represent states along the northern border with Canada, has been one of fury and outrage.

Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Coleman (R-MN) have scolded Chertoff for his words and lack of understanding of the impact the January 31st changes will have on their communities and citizens who regularly go back and forth between the US and Canada.

Another Congressman, Tom Reynolds (R-NY), challenged Chertoff’s credibility on the border crossing matter and likened his use of the ‘grow up’ phrase to getting advice on from ‘Geoffrey the giraffe” of Toys R Us fame.
Don’t you just love constituent leadership?

Instead of talking about what has been done to date by DHS and others to help border crossing communities adjust to the new changes, or focusing on what will be done to make sure border crossing occurs in as safe, secure and expeditious manner as possible, we are watching a tussle on the political playground of homeland security politics.

What a colossal waste of time…

Here we are, nearly seven years after 9/11, and we still have people holding on to “the way things used to be” rather than recognizing the painful evolution our country has had to undergo.

I too would like to enjoy life as it was in pre-9/11 world. It was simpler. I could go to Canada or Mexico with ease. I could keep my shoes on in the airport and take all of the liquids and gels my luggage could handle. I could remember my Virginia Driver’s License number (it used to be your Social Security number).

I would love for my three kids to live in a world where they could both travel with ease and also meet foreign visitors visiting the United States with good intentions. However, the painful reality is that this world no longer exists and it is not coming back. Now, we have to make some very unpopular and painful decisions to adjust to this environment that we all have to ‘grow up’ into.

Changes at the border need to occur. They have been talked about for a long time and should come as no surprise, especially to Members of Congress and residents of these border communities.

Why in a post-9/11 world should we allow ourselves to remain vulnerable? Why are we putting up with the cries of fury and anger over a job that has to be done?

I don’t doubt for a minute that the new changes are going to affect lives in border towns in Vermont, Minnesota, New York and elsewhere in the US and Canada. I also don’t doubt that the people who live there care deeply for the safety and security of their towns and countries. As such, by nature of their geographic location, the residents of those areas have a very special responsibility to the rest of us to look closely at who is coming into our country and why.

The 9/11 Commission laid out in blistering detail how 19 men used our various systems to their advantage to murder nearly 3,000 people. After learning that a number of the 9/11 hijackers were able to get phony Virginia licenses with relative ease, state leaders made Virginia a model of action in the post 9/11 world by making a number of adjustments to the system.. No one had to tell them to ‘grow up.’ Instead, they viewed the changes as a means of fulfilling not only their responsibility to the citizens of the Commonwealth, but also to citizens residing throughout the other 49 states and U.S. territories.

I wonder how these ‘enraged’ Members of Congress would feel if an imposter walked into a bank in their hometowns, went up to the bank teller, said, “Hi. I’m Sen./Rep. so and so. I’d like to empty my account,” passed them an “ID” and walked out with the cash. They undoubtedly would be outraged and would have every right to be.

Isn’t it worth having the same protection at your border as you do for your bank account? If that means we need to ‘grow up,’ Sec. Chertoff is dead on right. The words he offered in the same Associated Press interview seem more than appropriate: “I don’t think in this day and age we can afford the honor system for entering the United States.”

The system we put in place on January 31st will undoubtedly have problems- there will be long lines, screw ups and painful experiences felt by everyone on both sides of the border.

But no one said “growing up” was easy.

The time for excuses about why we shouldn’t being taking steps to improve our border crossings is long past, but excuses have long been a cottage industry from Members of Congress and many others who find fault and angst with every step we’ve taken since that horrible September morning…

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More