Two-way traffic: Biden and Trudeau to discuss immigration crisis

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 5:56 PM EDT
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MALONE, N.Y. (WCAX) - A surge of illegal crossings continues in both directions along the northern border. The flood of people is straining law enforcement and immigration services in both countries and will be among the key topics of a two-day summit this week between President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Record numbers of immigrants are crossing the border, many trying to get into the country at unguarded points along the Vermont and New York border with Quebec. At the same time, tens of thousands of immigrants are also seeking asylum in Canada by crossing at an unofficial checkpoint in Champlain, New York.

Customs and Border Protection officials say the majority of people apprehended sneaking into the U.S. are from Mexico and Central America. Like those crossing at the southern border, they are seeking a better life in the U.S.

People who live along the border are witnessing the illegal crossings on a daily basis. “I’ve lived here 48 of my 52 years. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen anything like this in my life,” said Danny Cowan of Chataeaugay, New York, who lives less than a half mile from the Canadian border.

Cowan says in the last several months he’s seen the increase of undocumented immigrants first-hand. “We’ve just seen an influx of people running through the property, strange vehicles here all times of the day. Back in January, 12 o’clock at night, I had an illegal trying to get through my sliding glass doors,” he said. Cowan’s security cameras captured images of the individual later arrested by USCBP agent

Richard Parker is the patrol agent in charge of Customs and Border Protection at the Burke Station in Malone, New York. The station serves as one of eight in the Swanton Sector, which covers nearly 300 miles of the international border.

“With the southern border clamping down on what’s going on down there, people are trying to find a different way to get in. They want to avoid the crime on the southern border, they want to avoid the cartels, and they generally think it’s easier to cross up on the northern border,” Parker said.

In the last five years, data from the Swanton Sector show the number of encounters fluctuating from as low as 365 in fiscal 2021 to more than 1,900 in the first five months of this fiscal year -- more than three times the previous 10-year average of 636.

“It’s unprecedented. We have never seen this amount of people crossing in this area before,” Parker said. While many are apprehended at the border, some are able to get through, bound for other destinations. “When they do get by -- based on the information we have -- a lot of people are headed down the Eastern Seaboard or going to some of the bigger cities.”

For those that get caught, Border Patrol officials say that after processing, the individuals are either returned to Canada, to their country of origin, arrested, or given notice to appear in court at a later date.

Given the increase, officials say resources in border towns are overwhelmed and that migrants are now being dropped off in town and city centers including the welcome center in St. Johnsbury.

“A family or two has been dropped off in our area and were seeking assistance to get to a destination in New York. The Border Patrol had dropped them off here,” said St. Johnsbury Police Chief Tim Page. He says the people they see are not held in Border Patrol custody and that they anticipate more will be coming for help. “It’s a human being and they have needs, everybody does. So, we’re just trying to meet those needs right now.”

The Swanton Sector says they’ve also brought in 25 additional agents from around the country to integrate and cover more ground.

Reporter Katharine Huntely will have the latest on the foot traffic headed north to Canada coming up Thursday on the Channel 3 News at 6.

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