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All original content courtesy of Stanstead Journal, published on the border since 1845

U.S. Entries 1997
Derby Line, Vermont

Trucks: 100,720
Cars: 753,030
Riders: 1,749.680
Walkers: 17,189

Canada Entries 1997-98
Stanstead, Quebec

Vehicles: 805,358
People: 1,575,610

The Watchers
The Canada/United States border on the old CPR railroad bed at Beebe, Quebec, looking in to Vermont. The railbed is now a bicycle trail on both sides of the border, but users must take a 3-mile detour to report to federal customs/immigration authorities before resuming their journeys. © 1999 John Mahoney

NEWPORT VT | He didn't actually book anyone when I rode along with the Vermont State Border Patrol this past summer. Senior agent Marty Hewson explained that the day had been exceptionally slow.

After giving me a tour of the state border patrol office, which is fully equipped with the latest in forensic equipment, Hewson launched into stories of the force's glorious escapades.

In 1991, officers apprehended Billy Greer for carrying $1,319,700 over the border into Canada near Baldwin's Mills to pay for barrels of hash found floating in the St. Lawrence Seaway. Greer has since spent seven years in Canadian prison, and is now being moved to serve the rest of his 25-year sentence in the States.

Other stories included Canadians who were caught smuggling liquor into Canada in a most innovative way - through a hose system that ran underground under the borderline into Beebe. In an even more ingenious twist, the liquor had been brought to the border in water cooler bottles.

The American Border Patrol, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, was founded in 1924 with aims to "detect and prevent the smuggling and unlawful entry of aliens into the United States."

The Vermont sector, whose office is located in Newport, patrols a total of 25 miles along the border from Island Pond to Richford. The sector is also responsible for the seven miles of Lake Memphremagog in Vermont, and for the state's interior, which continues down to the Massachusetts border.

Protect State property

Hewson explained that border patrol officers are mainly concerned with illegal entry, but due to smuggling incidences, are allowed to seize drugs and other illegal goods - which would normally be under the jurisdiction of U.S. Customs authorities.

All Border Patrol officers start out on the southern border - the boundary between Mexico and the US - after approximately 20 weeks of basic training in Georgia. In training, the officers learn the basics of law enforcement - police sciences, firearms, and Spanish for regional purposes. After at least six months of duty at this location, officers are allowed to relocate to the Canadian/American frontier.

At the Newport office, officers work five days a week during one of three ten-hour shifts - 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., 2 p.m. to midnight, or 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. The job is flexible, explained Hewson, and each officer has his own vehicle.

Officers essentially drive around often remote and overgrown areas along the border looking for suspicious individuals or situations. They are also alerted to areas where sensors have been set off at the sensor headquarters in Swanton.

"The main radio calls out the number of the sensor that has been set off," stated Hewson. "The closest officer has to respond, and go check it out."

According to Hewson, there are three different types of sensors - ones that are set off by the weight of the object or person crossing the border, a magnetic sensor that is only set off by vehicles, and an infrared sensor. Officers are alerted to suspect situations by other means as well.

"In most areas we have a good rapport with the border residents," Hewson said. "They'll call us up if they see something suspicious."

Hewson's daily routine is to patrol the side roads and look for signs of illegal entry such as tire tracks, footprints or matted-down grass. If something looks suspicious, officers will perform what they call "cutting the sign" - they follow the suspect tracks, and attempt to determine the direction of travel.

Step forward, two back

Hewson explained that it is nearly impossible to cite border patrol success rates.

"When I worked at the southern border, we used to say for every one apprehended, two get away," he laughed.

Although the northern border is twice the size of the southern border, only 300 officers are assigned to the north, compared to 8000 in the south.

"There used to be a lot more smuggling on the northern border," Hewson explained, "but now with the Indian reservation in Cornwall, most of the business has moved there."

Hewson stated that the decline in smuggling is also due in part to the fact that the Canadian government lowered the cigarette taxes approximately five years ago.

If border patrollers actually catch individuals entering the U.S. illegally, the first step they must take is to ask them what nationality they are. They then inquire about immigration documents, if applicable, although the majority of perpetrators do not carry any.

"We get a lot of people who are entering the States for economic purposes," Hewson stated. " Some seek political asylum from their home countries but we don't encounter too many of these people."

Those guilty of entering the country illegally are subject to one of two procedures. The first, and most common, is an administrative proceeding where the guilty party must sign a release form, and is not given a criminal record. Most of the paperwork can be done on the spot, said Hewson, as many officers carry the proper documentation with them.

It is rare that persons entering the States illegally are convicted in a criminal court. Mainly those who have previous convictions or who have been deported are put in holding cells located at the Vermont headquarters, and are tried in front of an immigration judge.

Fast times in Newport

Although patrolling the Canadian/American border may not seem like the world's most fast-paced job, Hewson said that it can be dangerous as officers patrol the border area alone.

"That's why we have back-up and strong connections to the State police and the customs officers."

Hewson recounts a story where one border patrol officer was severely injured in a shoot-out while helping out the Vermont State police. He also said that six officers were killed "in the line of duty" on the southern border.

Despite the danger, however, in his 15 years with the force, Hewson said that he has enjoyed his time.

"I've met a lot of people, it can be dangerous but it has its ups and downs like every job. It's interesting," he stated. "I get nervous too at night when it's dark out but that's when I have to count on my training. It's hard to generalize, and I don't want to make them sound docile, but most of the people we deal with are cooperative."

Except for the Russians

Although Hewson had to call for back-up when dealing with a group of Eastern Europeans attempting to enter the States from Canada, the Mafia men eventually surrendered to the border police. An isolated event, Hewson explained, most days are much quieter.

The day before the Journal's ride-along, however, the Border Patrol only had three separate cases of illegal entry, all of which were administrative. On average, the Vermont border patrol apprehend approximately 300 different cases - many of which are administrative in nature.


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posted 10/27/99