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Yankee Classic: US/Canadian Border Crossings 25 Years Ago

Seismic and infrared sensors work in much the same way. Judiciously hidden along routes used for illegal entry, they can monitor the amount and direction of illegal activity. “The best devices we’ve developed, however,” says Chevalier, “are the closed-circuit television cameras. Our technicians thought of using them two years ago, and we were the first sector in the country to use them. Soon we’ll have a new kind of camera. It’s so sensitive it can show the rungs on a barn’s ladder from across the lake in a thunderstorm at night. The pictures will come directly to monitors here in this room. Each one of these cameras will equal six or seven patrolmen for an equivalent amount of observation and effectiveness.”

For the most part, however, sensors are not directly responsible for apprehensions. They are used to predict where and when aliens are entering the United States. “It’s an ever-changing game,” says agent Kruhm, “and with a limited force, good will is a necessity. Local contacts count for a lot, and a good agent will be a friend to the people in his sector. He should know who wants to be friendly and who wants to be left alone. But it’s hard to know who is what sometimes. One of my best contacts is the gruffest, grouchiest, most cantankerous farmer I’ve met here.”

The Border Patrol’s surveillance has benefited by the addition of television, sensors, and computers. It has also employed subtraction to increase its chances of nabbing infiltrators. Last August a brouhaha was raised when NBC news reported that the infamous “Agent Orange” – the dioxin-containing defoliant of the Vietnam War – had been used along the U.S.-Canadian border.

The State of Maine promptly collected soil samples which it had analyzed by an independent laboratory, but no trace of Agent Orange was discovered. However, the International Boundary Commission (IBC) asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate. On August 10 Michael F. Wood of the Compliance Monitoring Staff, Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances, conducted an inspection at the IBC’s office at the U.S. Department of State. He reported that “from 1956/7 to 1977 the International Boundary Commission used herbicides as part of their activity in maintaining a 20-foot vista between boundary monuments along the United States-Canadian border.” He noted that a “review of IBC records and discussion and interview with Mr. Moore, Engineer of the Commission, did not reveal any use of Agent Orange.” He also reported that Mr. Moore had said that purchase records had been thrown out or archived, since six years had elapsed since the last use of herbicides on the border. And he pointed out that Agent Orange was never registered in the United States and was never commercially available in this country.

Despite help from local contacts, sensors, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Doug Kruhm’s job is not an easy one as he takes his turn behind the engine of the big green and white LTD of the Border Patrol. It is made difficult by the increasingly sophisticated techniques of smugglers who not only bring in aliens for a price, but who also actively recruit people in their native countries. The smuggler’s normal fee is about $1,200 to $2,000 but, perhaps realizing that few people from Third World countries can afford that much, a few smuggling rings now operate on credit. So the rings send emissaries to underdeveloped nations. There they promise villagers plane tickets to Montreal or Toronto, guides to take them across the border, rides to New York or other large cities, apartments once they arrive, and jobs to support themselves. The catch, of course, is that once the aliens are set up in the United States they become indentured servants to the rings who brought them here.

Policies on both sides of the Canadian border also contribute to an increase in the illegal traffic. Citizens of 76 countries can enter Canada without a visa. And in the large ethnic communities of Montreal and Toronto, it is a fairly simple task for an alien to contact a smuggling ring. Many of the airport cab drivers are more than willing to help their native sons and to earn finder’s fees in the process. On the American side, there is a waiting labor market for illegal aliens. The homes of many wealthy and – presently – law-abiding citizens are staffed by illegal aliens who were recruited and smuggled in to become domestic servants. Referring to service and manufacturing industries, Larry Teverbaugh, Chief Patrol Agent of the Swanton sector observes, “These groups don’t want to lose the aliens’ help. The illegals have experience in these fields.”

Chief Teverbaugh is a handsome man with a strong nose, pale blue eyes, and salt-and- pepper hair. Close to retirement now, he first entered the Border Patrol in 1960 and came to Swanton in June 1980. His office is immaculate and the phones on his desk are at precisely the correct angle to his chair. “There is no way,” he says, “that we would or could round up all the people illegally crossing our borders and remove them from our country. I don’t think the American people are ready for that or that they would stand for it.”

In order to preserve our present immigration policies, Swanton’s border patrolmen drive 80 to 90 miles a day, working particular eight-hour shifts for periods of two weeks. “All together,” says Chief Teverbaugh, “our agents drive about 90,000 to 100,000 miles a month. That’s a lot of mileage, and we didn’t have a mechanic when I first came here. We have our own maintenance man at the station now, and he saves us a lot of money. More sensors and remote-controlled cameras will allow us to keep up with the increase in illegal crossings, but there is no real substitute for the agent who knows his territory.”

Based on reports he receives from various sources and the physical signs left along trails and roads that cross the border, Chief Teverbaugh estimates his agents stop about 75 percent of the people illegally entering his sector. Doug Kruhm agrees. “Many of the trails are almost ethnically owned,” he adds. “We used to have a lot of Greeks coming through Beecher Falls, Vermont, until we caught 15 in a 30-day period and impounded all their cars. Now Haitians come through Champlain, Portuguese through Alburg, Guyanese through Roxam Road near Champlain, and Turks and Armenians through Alburg Springs. Aggressive prosecution of smugglers like Sam Bishop has helped to keep the numbers reasonable, though.”

When aliens are caught, if they are not smugglers as well, they are guilty of crossing the border without inspection, a criminal misdemeanor, and of being here without a visa, a deportable offense. Usually they stay in jail in Plattsburg, New York, or Burlington, Vermont, for four days until a U.S. magistrate sentences them to the time they have just served. The maximum penalty, however, is six months in jail and a $500 fine. Then the District Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issues an “Order To Show Cause,” and the aliens either agree to leave voluntarily or they are deported to their native countries. If they are smugglers, however, they have committed a felony, and the maximum sentence is two years in a federal penitentiary and a $5,000 fine.

“Most of the aliens we apprehend are not bad people,” says Doug Kruhm. “Few of them are hardened criminals. They are people from impoverished areas who are seeking a better standard of living, or they are leaving their countries for political reasons. The world would be a much better place if we could improve the quality of life everywhere to the point where people would be content to stay in their own societies. But I am not so idealistic that [ see that day coming soon. Until then, I think we have to hide by some controllable and equitable system of immigration.”

Agent Donald A. Peck agrees. “It can be tough work emotionally,” says Peck. “Everyone you apprehend has a story, and it’s usually a sad one. They’re running from hunger or oppressive governments and have spent all their money in getting this far. But the law says they can’t come in here, and my job is enforcing the law.”

Updated Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

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