CHAMPLAIN, New York — Mexican citizens are increasingly being arrested for illegally entering the United States from Canada, and the majority are going through a specific part of Vermont and northeastern New York, according to federal law enforcement officials.
In the area, known as the Swanton Sector, 822 people were stopped while traversing fields and forests between official crossing points, more than the total, 758, arrested for crossing in all seven other regions on the Canadian border. Mexicans and Romanians make up 565 of the 822 known illegal entrants.
Norm Lague oversees operations at Champlain Station, the busiest of Swanton Sector’s eight offices. During a tour of the region this week provided to the Washington Examiner, Lague said his station’s intelligence unit had concluded more than half of Mexicans and Romanians they arrested had flown into Canada by way of its Electronic Travel Authorization program. The three-year-old program allows citizens from certain countries to enter without first obtaining a visa. People from those two nations are not allowed to enter the U.S. without a visa, but they are legally entering Canada and sneaking across the border from there.
“A majority of the people who we’re apprehending from these countries have leveraged this program,” said Lague. “It’s a pathway that we discovered years ago was starting to shift as far as people being smuggled from the southern border to Canada and then coming south. And I think that trend, once it gets well known … I can see that trend continuing, most definitely.”
No wall or fence exists on the northern border — only the occasional barbed wire or short stone wall separates the countries.
“They’re figuring maybe it’s cheaper to fly into Montreal and just get smuggled in,” Lague, patrol agent in charge of the Champlain Station, said. The distance between California and Texas is half the length of Washington to Maine, and thousands fewer Border Patrol are stationed there.
In November 2016, Canada rescinded its requirement that Mexicans obtain a visa before flying in and instead only required an online precheck be completed. Five months later, it expanded the program to Romania and others. More than 50 countries are included in the program now, though only these two countries are among those seeing dramatic increases in illegal crossings.
A total 4,408 people were arrested by Border Patrol agents in fiscal 2019 across the eight regions it divides the northern border into, less than 1% of the southern border’s total arrests the same year.
While the greatest number of arrests took place in its Detroit region, the majority of them were not stopped while illegally crossing from Canada — they overstayed visas, came through the southern border, or had unlawfully resided long term in the U.S.
Mexican arrests at the northern border as a whole topped 7,000 in the early 2000s, then dropped to 1,169 in 2016. In upstate New York, illegal crossings of Mexican citizens has begun increasing since late 2016, from 65 in fiscal 2017 to 173 in 2018 and 336 in 2019.
The number of Romanians arrested anywhere on the northern border had remained at or under 30 total each year for 20 years. In 2018, the Border Patrol arrested 196. In 2019, that number jumped again to 259, and 88% of those arrests were in Swanton.
Lague said he thinks the increases in crossings by Mexicans and Romanians will continue to increase in the next year due to Mexican and American efforts to block migrants from arriving at the southern border. Arrests across the southern border dropped from 132,000 in May to 40,000 in September due to a decline in attempted crossings. He said that will prompt some to look for other parts of the continental U.S. to breach.
“Any enforcement standard that is adhered to on the southern border is going to have a direct correlation on the numbers up here,” Lague said. “If you’re gonna charge 5, 6, 8, $10,000 to move a group through [the southern border], I’m sure [smugglers] can negotiate the plane tickets [to Canada] in there, too.”
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