Yankee Classic: US/Canadian Border Crossings 25 Years Ago
From Yankee magazine January 1984
Right on the edge of Lake Champlain, a few miles north of Alburg, Vermont, is a quiet country lane called the Line Road. As it crosses into the United States from Canada, it becomes a dirt road and veers away from the lake, heading through fields bordered by forest. A rickety fence made with wooden posts and wire runs along the north shoulder of the road and marks the borderline.
Early in the morning of July 16, 1978, tiny white lights began blinking on and off behind the blue lines crisscrossing the illuminated white panels in the communications center of the United States Border Patrol in Swanton, Vermont. To the men on duty it appeared that a cruising car was tripping sensors planted along the Line Road area of their sector. Suspecting that the car was there to pick up an illegal alien sneaking across the U.S.-Canadian border who was late for a rendezvous at a predetermined spot, they alerted agents on routine patrol in the area. They began to close in on the wandering car. At the same time, another patrolman encountered a young woman walking alone along the Line Road. She had blonde hair and blue eyes but carried an Iranian passport issued to Shahrzad Sadegh Nobari. The circumstances seemed unusual, and the patrolman brought her to the Swanton station for questioning, while other agents picked up the errant car and driver.
“She was the coldest person I have ever met,” recalls Doug Kruhm, Assistant Chief Border Patrol Agent for the Swanton sector. “Her eyes were like chips of ice.”
Through their computerized connections with federal agencies, Swanton’s agents soon discovered that the woman was Kristina Berster, allegedly a member of the Baader-Meinhoff gang, the terrorists whose disciples, among other heinous acts, had killed German banker Jurgen Ponto and kidnapped German industrialist Hanns Schleyer in 1977. “Everyone became interested in her,” says Kruhm. “Members of the German police came here in no time flat to question her. We gave them a small piece of paper we found in the room where we had put her. The paper listed names of people none of us knew, but the Germans seemed to recognize them. She was taken out of our hands very quickly, and no one told us much. Then, several months later, I read in the papers that the Germans bad captured several of the gang’s leaders.”
Kristina Berster was put on trial in Burlington, Vermont, and William Kunstler defended her. Agent Kruhm remembers Berster saying, “When I was in Paris, I was told that to get into the States all you had to do was walk through Vermont’s northern border.” Under the probing of U.S. Attorney William Gray, she testified, “They gave me a plan, with a map they drew, to enter from Noyan, Quebec, to Vermont.”
The agents of the Swanton sector may have begun to wonder if maps with routes for illegal entry 10 the United States were being widely distributed abroad. In 1982 they intercepted 2,012 illegal aliens slipping over from Canada. Compared to the 100,000 aliens illegally crossing our Southwest border each month, Swanton’s arrests may seem small in number, but their traffic in illegals has increased 40 percent in the last three years. The overwhelming majority seem headed for New York City.
While not all the illegal entrants making the French-Canadian connection are dangerous terrorists of the Baader-Meinhoff ilk, neither are they solely migrant labor, like the preponderance of “wetbacks” driven from Mexico by the poverty there. The ways south from Montreal have long been known to Mafia hoods, Greek ship-jumpers, and narcotic traffickers from Latin America.
Illegal immigration has long been a massive headache for the United States government. It is estimated that there are as many as 6,000,000 illegal aliens in the United States today. There is presently no law against hiring them and, since many will accept less than the legal minimum wage, some take jobs that unemployed Americans would gladly take. Once almost eradicated, sweatshops are markedly on the increase again.
Initiated to address these issues, the Simpson-Mazzoli bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate, but the Democratic leadership of the House, under Speaker Tip O’Neill, has pigeonholed it, allegedly because it might give offense to Hispanic-American voters. The Senate version of the bill would grant amnesty to those illegal aliens who could prove entry to the United States before 1980; it would also prohibit the employment of illegal aliens under penalty of fine and/or imprisonment. In a recent editorial The New York Times said of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, “There’s no measure before the new session of Congress that more deserves public attention or prompt enactment by the House.”
Whether the bill is enacted or not, the often rueful duty of the Border Patrol is to enforce the law, turning back all those who would enter the United States illegally.
In manpower, the Swanton sector of the Border Patrol is the largest of eight sectors along our northern border with Canada. At any time, day or night, about 12 of Swanton’s 55 agents patrol the sector’s 40 I-mile-long stretch of the border from Colebrook, New Hampshire, to Alexandria Bay, New York. The country along this stretch of the border is sparsely settled. Many of the people are of French-Canadian origin, and those who are not farmers work in light manufacturing or logging, or cater to an increasing year-round tourist trade. The towns and small cities on the U.S. side are often clustered around village greens with veterans’ memorials. Their town meetings deal with local issues. The land is still heavily forested here and there, dotted with swamps, and gentled by long-worked farms.
One night in December 1981 Doug Kruhm sat knee-deep in a snow drift. He felt himself just about freezing to death after sitting for two hours in the night’s 25″ temperature. Dawn was still three hours away, yet he kept his eyes glued to the nightscope trained on the field in front of him. A deep ravine divided the field and split into two gullies, cutting the field roughly into thirds. Patiently, shivering in the darkness, Kruhm watched for a sign that Sam Bishop was smuggling five Guyanese across the U.S.-Canadian border located a half mile to the north. Although Bishop already had been caught twice, he was out on bail. The Border Patrol had received a tip that he was running the Canadian connection once again.