Pubdate: Fri, 27 Nov 2009
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2009 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Maria Sacchetti, Globe Staff


Some Yearn For The Old Days As Patrols Soar Near Canada

NEWPORT, Vt. - The seaplane burst out of nowhere Tuesday in the skies
above Lake Memphremagog, swooping low across the Canadian border and
banking over a stand of bare trees.

In the past, such a flight over the still waters might have attracted
little notice. But on this day, three US Border Patrol agents in a
small boat spotted the plane and sprang into action, taking pictures,
radioing authorities on land, and alerting specialists in California
to track it on radar.

Elderly residents remember when the Border Patrol was just a handful
of men. But in recent years the modern, high-tech patrol has surged in
Northern New England amid rising concern that the open mountains,
lakes, and hayfields are vulnerable to drug running, illegal
crossings, and potential terrorists attempting to sneak in through

In the patrol's Swanton, Vt., sector, which includes Newport, the
number of agents has tripled to more than 300 since the Sept. 11,
2001, terror attacks, increasing their visibility on backcountry roads
and at highway checkpoints heading south. The agency is erecting
stations and buying trucks, boats, aircraft, and snowmobiles -
generating reactions that range from annoyance to gratitude.

"We can't take the chance that the footprints we see are somebody
coming here to live the American dream or somebody coming here to
destroy the American dream," said Fernando Beltran, the agent in
charge of the office in Newport, a town of 5,000 on the lake, which
straddles the international border. "We can't be wrong once."

Across the entire 4,000-mile northern border, the number of agents has
soared from 300 eight years ago to more than 1,800 today, still a
small percentage of the more than 20,000 agents nationwide. Most are
assigned to the US-Mexico border.

But in Vermont, the shift has been dramatic. Green-uniformed agents
zip across Lake Memphremagog on new Jet Skis, surprising sunbathers
whose boats drift over the watery border.

They stop traffic nearly 100 miles south of the border at the
checkpoints, where they ask travelers about their citizenship status.
This month, they are sealing off two streets in the nearby border town
of Derby Line, dividing a neighborhood to prevent illegal crossings.

The patrol's presence is transforming this section of the northern
border, which receives far less public attention than the southern
border, where bloody drug-related violence and illegal crossings from
Mexico are common. But for US authorities, policing the Canadian
border presents challenges of its own, such as below-freezing
temperatures and running into deer hunters as they patrol the thick

Some townsfolk embrace the Border Patrol, saying it has increased
security and invested in a struggling area by buying land and creating
jobs. Others are glad the patrols prevent illegal workers from
slipping across the border and taking jobs.

"I'm glad they're doing something about it," said Jeff Shelton, a
27-year-old unemployed asbestos-removal worker, as he lingered on Main
Street in Newport, hoping to ask a local contractor for a job. "There
ain't no work around here."

But some said they miss the freedom they once had along the border,
where neighborhoods overlap the line.

"I'm not too happy about their shutting off the streets," said Betty
McQuillen, the owner of a flower store, referring to the street
closings in Derby Line. "It's been like one community, and now it's

Many are also upset about the checkpoints occasionally set up farther
south, along Interstate 91, near White River Junction, Vt., and across
the border in New Hampshire, along Interstate 89 south. Agents have
not caught terrorists, but they have snagged drug runners and
immigrants who were here illegally.

The ACLU of Vermont considers the checkpoints unreasonable searches,
and says the results do not justify the intrusion into travelers'
privacy. The group also worries about safety. In 2004, in New York
State, four people were killed when two drivers failed to stop and
crashed. Agents say they post alerts on the roadways well in advance
to prevent accidents.

"Our freedom of movement is one of those core freedoms that we take
for granted," said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU of
Vermont. "When you encounter a checkpoint 94 miles south of the
Canadian border, it really gives you quite a jolt."

Mark Henry, operations officer for the patrol's Swanton sector, which
covers 295 miles of border from New York through New Hampshire, said
the checkpoints increase border security. Federal law requires
noncitizens to carry their documents, and failure to comply is a
misdemeanor punishable by fines that range from $150 to $1,000, or 30
days to six months in jail.

Henry said the penalties are rarely imposed, but he said the checks
make a difference.

"We don't run traffic checks 24 hours a day," he said. "They're a
valuable tool to secure our borders. That's what they're there for."

Agents in the Swanton sector confiscated 7,930 pounds of marijuana in
the budget year that ended Sept. 30, almost double the amount in 2005.
Overall arrests, however, dropped from 1,932 in 2005 to 1,017 in
fiscal year 2009, a decline the agency attributed, in part, to the
increased patrols.

This week, in the backwoods and along the waterways of Vermont, it was
evident the northern border differs dramatically from the border with
Mexico, a 1,900-mile stretch of desert, river, and mountains that is
heavily patrolled and is often demarcated by walls and barbed wire.

In Vermont, on the edge of the tiny town of Holland, only a white
marker and a sign warning "Arretez!" - French for "stop" - designate
a boundary that is otherwise an open stretch of yellowed grass. Next
to a vacant farmhouse, agent Tim Sevall noticed all-terrain vehicle
tracks scratched into the ground, raising suspicions.

A week ago, agents from the Newport station uncovered a couple of
duffel bags in the woods near the border, filled with a potent type of

In September, acting on a tip, they caught fugitive Juan Carlos
Guzman-Betancourt, a 33-year-old Colombian national who had entered
illegally from Canada. He had criminal convictions in other states, an
outstanding burglary charge in Nevada, and had been deported three
times, according to federal court documents.

It is unclear what happened to the seaplane this week, but agents said
they would continue to search for it. The patrol works seven days a
week, 24 hours a day, even patrolling on snowshoes in the dead of winter.

To Melissa Pettersson, who owns a gift shop in downtown Newport, the
increased security is necessary, but it makes her wish for the old
days, when the biggest controversy in town was the decision to install
stoplights on Main Street.

"As much as we may dislike it, times have changed," Pettersson, 52,
said with a sigh as she assembled a red and gold bow for a holiday
decoration. "At the macro level it's a good thing. But at the micro
level, it's like what happened to our little town? There are
helicopters flying around." 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D