Vermont now top target for illegal border crossings from Canada

Published: Aug. 15, 2018 at 5:45 PM EDT
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Illegal border crossings are on the rise along the northern border.

President Trump's immigration policies have shined a spotlight on illegal entries from Mexico into the U.S. But with attention focused on the southern border, illegal entries from Canada have been increasing.

The U.S.-Canada border is the longest and busiest land boundary in the world. And while it may seem like Vermont plays a small part in that, federal officials say our small state is making a big impact.

"One thing about the border is we don't know what we don't know and we don't know what we're missing," Vermont's U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan said.

Nolan says illegal border crossings along the more than 5,000-mile northern border with Canada are on the rise.

"Vermont is now the place where people cross the most often illegally on the northern border," Nolan said. "So this has got our attention; it's a priority for our office. We're a northern border state."

It's a trend that for residents of border towns, like Richford, can come as a shock.

"From Vermont to Canada? That is surprising because that's really not the dynamic that you would expect," said Joseph Wills of Richford.

Vermont lies in what is called the Swanton sector for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The sector includes Vermont; Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence and Herkimer counties in New York; and Coos, Grafton and Carroll counties in New Hampshire.

Nolan says in that area alone there has been a more than 50 percent increase in illegal apprehensions between this fiscal year so far and the last fiscal year. Nolan links these increases to a change in Canada's visa policies, giving visa waivers to those from Mexico and Romania.

"It's hard to know what everyone's motive is but oftentimes the way that they are able to find this path into the U.S. illegally is by linking up with these smuggling organizations," Nolan said.

She says her office's goal is to target smuggling organizations, with dozens operating in Quebec, that make money off bringing people illegally into the U.S.

But for those in Richford, just a few miles from the border, it's not something they always think about.

"Typically it is safe," Wills said. "I mean, Richford has the same problems as any other town in Vermont but just by virtue of being near a border. It doesn't seem that big a deal."

But with more than 3,000 people caught coming through the border illegally last year, Nolan says the two countries need to work together.

"We want to help Canada in any way we can, just as I know they want to help us in any way they can," she said.

It is important to keep in mind that the Department of Homeland Security in June committed to strengthening security along the northern border, as well.

While illegal entries from Canada into the U.S. have been on the rise in Vermont, one state over in New York, Canadian authorities have seen an uptick in the number of people crossing into Canada.

For more than a year, we've shown you images from Roxham Road in Champlain, New York. Hundreds of refugees stream across the border there each month into the waiting arms of Canadian authorities. Nearly 20,000 of them took a combination of buses and taxis to reach the crossing last year.