Wilson Ring, Associated Press, July 24, 2018
While the Trump administration fortifies the southern border, there’s growing concern over the number of foreigners entering the country illegally across the porous northern border with Canada.
People crossing the border between Vermont and Quebec have paid smugglers up to $4,000, usually payable when the immigrants reach their U.S. destination, according to officials and court documents.
Driving the increase here, officials say, is the ease of entry into Canada, where visas are no longer required for Mexicans, and a border that receives less scrutiny and resources than the southern border, where thousands fleeing violence in Central America are being detained.
In a sector that covers 300 miles (480 kilometers) of border with New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, agents have apprehended 324 people who crossed illegally from Canada so far this fiscal year, compared with 165 in all of 2017, according to figures prepared by the Border Patrol for The Associated Press. Last month, agents apprehended 85 people across the three states, compared with 17 in June 2017 and 19 in June 2016, statistics show.
So far this fiscal year, there have been at least 267 apprehensions along Canada’s border with Vermont alone, compared with 132 all of last year, according to statistics compiled by federal prosecutors in Vermont.
“The number of illegal alien apprehensions at the Vermont-Canada border has skyrocketed,” said Christina Nolan, Vermont’s U.S. attorney.
Much of the illegal border crossing activity in Vermont appears to be focused on a 30-mile (50-kilometer) segment of the Vermont-Quebec border where Interstate 91 reaches the Canadian border at Derby Line, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Montreal.
From Derby Line, it’s about a six-hour drive to New York and its teeming immigrant communities.
Guarding the border here is tricky because Derby Line and the neighboring Quebec town of Stanstead comprise one community where homes and buildings happen to be bisected by an international border.
The community library was purposely built straddling the border to serve people in both communities. Quebecers simply cross an international boundary marked outside the library by pots of petunias. Occasionally, illegal border crossers will walk, or even drive, across near the library.
Visa-less entry into Canada for countries like Mexico and Romania, another nationality noted by Nolan and Border Patrol agents as contributing to a spike in apprehensions, play a role by making the northern border more attractive for people seeking to enter the U.S. illegally, Nolan said. A plane ticket from Mexico City to Montreal or Toronto can cost less than $350.
The Canadian government in late 2016 lifted its requirement that Mexican citizens apply for visas to enter the country as part of broader efforts to strengthen ties with Mexico. A similar requirement for Romanian citizens took effect in late 2017.
Canada views the recent visa changes for Mexico and Romania as having a minimal impact on the border, said Beatrice Fenelon, a spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
In the past two months, agents in Vermont have chased border crossers through the woods near Derby Line; there have been car chases and cases in which agents have lost sight of suspects in the woods, only to apprehend them days later.
The flow of illegal border crossers goes in both directions. Since around the time President Donald Trump took office, thousands of immigrants in the U.S. have fled north to Canada seeking asylum.
In another case east of Derby Line, a group of eight Mexican immigrants met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Montreal after flying into Toronto and Montreal, where they hired two taxis to take them to Stanhope, Quebec, not far from where Quebec meets Vermont and New Hampshire.
After the immigrants walked six hours through the forest, they were apprehended in a taxi by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Norton, Vermont, court documents say.
The Mounties are aware of the cases and ready to help their U.S. counterparts, said RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Camille Habel.
But the RCMP doesn’t appear to view the problem with the same urgency as U.S. officials: “It’s not a trend yet,” Habel said.