Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories from Chicago correspondent Steve Brown examining the issue of security along America's borders. The full-length broadcast stories can be seen in their entirety during On the Record With Greta Van Susteren, airing at 10 p.m. ET on the Fox News Channel.
LACOLLE, Quebec — At a tiny border crossing linking Canada and northern New York one day last week, more than 52 people asked the Canadian government to take them in.
Among them was a man traveling with little more than a bag of clothes and other personal possessions, and claiming to be from Pakistan.
That’s what he said, at least. The man had no passport, no proof of identity, and no real indication exactly where he was from.
But that’s not a problem in Canada, where asylum laws do not require refugees to carry passports or other official documents. In this case, the man claiming to be from Pakistan, along with many others like him, was allowed into the country without a background check.
The numbers of people entering Canada, which shares an almost 4,000-mile border with the United States, are not insignificant. In fact, 26,000 people have become Canadian refugees since Sept. 11 by simply showing up and asking for asylum.
"We are very generous and we are cosmopolitan. We take anybody who comes," said Joe Bissett, the former head of Canada’s Immigration Service and a critic of the current Canadian policy on refugees.
Bissett charges the policy "undermines all the other effort that the United States and Canada have introduced since Sept. 11," and leaves both countries open to the possibility of terrorist attack.
And he is not alone in that opinion.
"There are people in this country nobody knows anything about," said David Harris, former chief of strategic planning at the Canadian Intelligence Service. "It has been surprisingly easy to get into this country and on the basis of refugee claims ... it has been shockingly easy."
According to Bissett, anyone from a country like Saudi Arabia can hop on a plane and "fly right into Canada. You don't need a visa."
More than 4,000 of those who entered Canada since Sept. 11 are from countries the U.S. considers active areas of operation for terrorist groups: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.
Canada allows refugees without papers to travel freely around the country until an asylum hearing. Only at that hearing is it determined if the refugee can stay in the country.
But almost a quarter of those refugees never even show up for the hearing. They just disappear, lost in a huge country with easy access to U.S. borders.
"We have at last count over 25,000 outstanding warrants for the arrest of people who failed to show up for their refugee hearing," said Bissett. "We don't know where they are ... and we don't have the resources to follow up and track them down."
The United States has had its own problems tracking down immigrants, of course. The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by 19 men living in the United States, not Canada.
But there is mounting evidence that terrorists may have found places to hide in America’s northern neighbor. The city of Montreal in particular is said to be a hub of international Islamic terrorism and extremism, according to experts.
Montreal, in fact, was once home to a man who plotted a terrorist strike on America. His name is Ahmed Ressam, and he was eventually nabbed by U.S. Customs on his way to a potential Millennium terrorist strike in America.
"We know he traveled in and out of Canada," said Bissett, "including to (Usama) bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan for training, and had no problem."
And many experts believe the terrorists operating in Canada are intent on striking across the border. "Many Canadians feel fairly comfortable that we are not going to be a target because there is a bigger and better target next door," said Bissett.