Iowa Public Television

 

Unguarded Paths Challenge Border Patrol

posted on October 26, 2007


ALBURGH, Vt.(AP) — The United States ends where Blair Road becomes "Chemin 4eme Concession," Noyan, Quebec, but for someone headed north on the gravel road there is nothing to mark the divide other than two unobtrusive signs and a broken down border marker hidden in a ditch. There are cameras and sensors to alert the Border Patrol when southbound people enter the United States, but nothing to stop them physically from making the two or three mile dash onto U.S. Route 2 and disappearing. Most of the traffic is local and legal. But smugglers — going north and south — know the roads are unguarded. In August, a Border Patrol agent had to fire his weapon at a car he had stopped not far from Blair Road that had tried to run him down before fleeing back into Quebec. "There's a lot more going on out here than people realize," said U.S. Border Patrol Supervisor Bradley Curtis. There are about a dozen similar unmarked back roads between Vermont and Quebec and many more across the 3,987-mile U.S.-Canadian border. In the age when the United States is trying to secure it's borders against illegal immigrants and potential terrorists, some see the challenges as a direct threat to national security. Last week the General Accounting Office released a report in Washington about the security of the U.S. Canadian border. As part of some of the tests, investigators carried a red duffel bag across the border simulating radioactive material that could be brought into the United States by a terrorist. In others, they walked back and forth across the border where roads in the United States and Canada were only separated by a few feet, but they weren't approached by Border Patrol agents. "That border is so long, frankly, the security on that border has really not increased too much since the French and Indian War," John Cooney, the GAO's assistant director for forensic audits and special investigations, said Sept. 27 during testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in Washington. At the same hearing, Border Patrol Deputy Chief Ronald Colburn didn't question the accuracy of the GAO report. "I'm satisfied that they were accurate in finding that there are still vulnerabilities along our border," Colburn said. At the hearing, Colburn said an additional 200 agents were being sent to the Canadian border. The additional staffing would be coupled with additional technology such as remote sensor equipment and cameras and infrastructure. Curtis referred questions about the GAO report to Border Patrol headquarters. But agents in northern Vermont, upstate New York and New Hampshire have long known the challenges of closing a border that for generations has been almost invisible. The agents in the Swanton sector, which runs from Ogdensburg, N.Y. 295 miles east to the Maine-New Hampshire line, regularly catch illegal immigrants from all over the world and drug smugglers moving contraband into the United States. "There are quite a few little back roads," Curtis said. It's not like the U.S. Mexican border where agents can apprehend scores of people a night. On the northern border agents can go days or even weeks without detecting any illegal activity, but it's out there. And in Vermont and New York contraband crosses the border in both directions. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Michael Harvey, of the Cornwall, Ontario, detachment, said the most prevalent item carried by northbound smugglers were cigarettes meant to avoid Canada's steep tobacco taxes. The illegal tobacco, in turn, finances marijuana smuggling into the United States, Harvey said. The emphasis on northern border security increased after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The number of agents almost tripled to about 1,000, but the agents still can't be everywhere at once. But the new emphasis on securing the border is running into generations of local tradition that barely acknowledged the existence of the borders. In Derby Line, people are upset at plans to close a series of residential streets that cross the line. But Border Patrol officials say illegal border crossers have learned to use those streets as a route into the United States. Alburgh, a spit of land surrounded in the United States by Lake Champlain, is a warren of unmarked back roads in farm country that link the two countries. Once onto the pavement, it's a short drive to Interstates 89 in Vermont or 87 in New York. In the August case, the Border Patrol surveillance equipment spotted the vehicle enter the United States without stopping at about 2 a.m. on Aug. 30. An agent dispatched to investigate stopped the vehicle, but as he approached it, the car turned around and almost ran him over before fleeing back to Canada, prompting him to fire his weapon. Curtis said there appeared to be more than one person in the car. It's not known if the vehicle was hit or anyone in it wounded.


Tags: borders immigration news reform security