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Canada sees surge in people crossing from U.S. illegally

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 05. 2017 8:35PM
A family that said they were from Yemen is met by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer as they cross the U.S.-Canada border leading into Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada, on Sunday. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

The number of illegal crossings from the U.S. into Canada through northern New England and eastern New York has surged recently, but a key border patrol executive said it’s unclear if this is driven by President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, some New Hampshire police departments are cooperating more closely with the U.S. Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but not all of them are.

Paul Kuhn is the patrol agent in charge of the Beecher Falls (Vt.) Border Patrol Station, which is part of the Swanton Sector Vermont that also includes border stations in Massena, Ogdensburg, Champlain, and Burke, N.Y.; and in Newport, Richford, and Swanton, Vt.

The Swanton Sector office provides law enforcement support for all of Vermont; in Coos, Grafton and Carroll counties of New Hampshire; and in New York’s Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence and Herkimer counties.

Kuhn said he is aware of more than 1,000 visitors who crossed illegally since Oct. 1, 2016, from the U.S. into Canada through the Swanton Sector, which would be the entire region.

“Right now it’s a high number,” said Kuhn who declined to speculate on whether Trump’s travel ban and other get tough policies were a major factor.

Kuhn said the number of illegal stops has gone up and down over time and often without any obvious cause for the spike other than economic conditions.

“The truth of what’s happening is we have had ebbs and flows in this type of thing for probably the last six years I’ve been up here,” said Kuhn, “and while right now the number going into Canada is high it’s been that way for about a year.”

A leading immigrant attorney in New Hampshire said many of his Spanish-speaking clients worry about deportation but fleeing over the border to Canada is not a popular solution.

“They think more about going back on their own to where they came from or going to a state that is more hospitable to immigrants who are not citizens,” said Enrique Mesa of Manchester.

The U.S. Border Patrol works with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and U.S. State Department to try and see patterns of illegal immigrant behavior.

Kuhn said there’s been smuggling of people and materials between the two countries since the 1800s.

Cpl. Annie Delisle, a media-relations officer with Canada’s National Communication Services, said in a recent e-mail that “Although the RCMP is not in a position to provide specific numbers, we can confirm that there has been an increase in illegal migration in Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia, with the largest increase being seen in Quebec.”

Delisle added that “Crossing the Canadian border without reporting at a port of entry is illegal and is an offence under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Any person committing this offence may be arrested and subject to applicable penalties. When an individual who has illegally entered between the ports of entry claims to be a refugee, they are transported to (Canadian Border Services Agency) where they are dealt with accordingly.”

Top Canadian officials, however, say they will not tighten the nation’s border to deter migrants crossing illegally from the US into its country.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the issue had not risen to a scale that required hindering the flow of goods and people moving across the border.

Hundreds of people, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, have defied winter conditions and walked across the border, seeking asylum.

It is not common to have so many asylum seekers in the United States looking for refuge in Canada over such a short period.

“We are concerned and we will deal properly with the extra hundreds (crossing illegally),” Goodale told reporters at a televised news conference in Emerson, Manitoba, on Saturday. “But the full border deals with 400,000 people moving in both directions every day. It also handles $2.5 billion in trade every day.

“It is critically important for us to make sure that it is strong and secure. At the same time, it needs to be efficient and expeditious.”

Last year the New Hampshire Legislature passed a law giving trained border patrol agents the powers of state police officers in Coos County.

Safety Commissioner John Barthlemes swore in those agents in late January.

“This law reduces liability, strengthens our relationships with our state and local partners, and helps better serve the communities where we live and work,” said Swanton Sector Chief Patrol Agent John C. Pfeifer.

Meanwhile, Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said his officers are instructed not to inquire about anyone’s immigration status unless a felony or violent crime has been committed.

“There’s no New Hampshire law that covers that,” he said, “why would we ask your status if we can’t enforce that law?”

If officials with ICE have a warrant for someone in the country illegally, Nashua police will serve the warrant, Lavoie added.

Police in other towns such as Salem and Pelham have said they do make inquiries about immigration status and will turn over to ICE anyone who does not have proper identification.

Operation Stone Garden is a federally funded grant program in which state, local, and county law enforcement officers assist U.S. Border Patrol with border security.

Among U.S. border states, New Hampshire’s grant of $99,333 was the smallest in the nation with Maine ($514.929) and Vermont ($200,460) getting considerably more in 2014, the most recent year that information from all states was available.; Union Leader Correspondent John Koziol and Reuters contributed to this report.

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