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New fence on the Washington-Canada border could impact families and friends

It isn't a wall, but the U.S. is building a border barrier that could have unintended consequences during the coronavirus pandemic.

LYNDEN, Wash — A new border barrier is being built by the Trump administration, but it's not with Mexico. 

It's with our neighbors to the north.

A fence is now under construction along Washington state's border with Canada.

People have long joked about building a border wall with Canada. While that isn't a reality, a three-foot-high steel cable fence separating the small town of Lynden from Canada is. 

And it could have some unintended consequences.

Cut off by the coronavirus border closure, families and friends have been meeting across a couple of narrow ditches dividing the U.S. and Canada.

"It's not very nice," says Canada-born Sharon Veldman, who now lives in Lynden. "I have seven siblings and they all live in Canada and I can't visit them anymore."

Veldman has been meeting her mom at the open section of the border every couple of weeks since the pandemic began.

Now, she worries those visits may end given what's coming down the road.

A 1.5-mile long fence, similar to one you'd see in the median of a highway, now runs along East Boundary Road.

It's adding one more barrier for families and friends trying to connect during COVID.

"This is already kind of the least we can do," Veldman said. "Now there's a fence there so it makes it even harder."

The U.S. Border Patrol says there have been 30 illegal crossings along a 10-mile stretch of the unsecured land over the past two years.

They specifically cite an incident from last October when a British family was detained after they drove through the ditch and illegally entered the United States.

The family said they were trying to avoid an animal in the road. 

But border patrol officials say that not all crossings are innocent.

"Locally in our community, trans-national criminal organizations have capitalized on this vulnerable area by smuggling both narcotics and people," said Acting Chief Patrol Agent Tony Holladay, in a written statement.

"The enhancement to this specific border area mitigates the threat posed by dangerous criminal enterprises,” he said.

There could be collateral damage.

There are two stretches of very narrow, open road along the border. While one 1.5 mile span is being fenced, another section just to the west is not being fenced.

There is no room for anyone to sit safely on the side of the unfenced road. If one were to be installed it would gobble up what little room there is to sit in the grass.

A Border Patrol spokesman says there are no additional plans to expand the fencing "at this time."

Veldman's mom, Tineke, worries that could change at any time, and their meetings could have to end — at a time when crossing at checkpoints has become more difficult.

"I mean, we're sitting here in the ditch as it is, and if you put a fence up, they're not gonna put the fence in the middle of the ditch. They have to put it on the American side, so, where are they gonna sit? To me, it seems a bit much. I can understand why, but why now?" she said.

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