WASHINGTON COUNTY – The southern border of the United States with Mexico has captured the nation’s attention and many of its resources.
While the spotlight may not always shine on our boundary with Canada, the work done in this part of the country is crucial for national safety.
In the first part of a series, our news team took a look at how border patrol agents keep watch over the rugged terrain of the edge of Maine’s Washington County.
With undeveloped woodlands and choppy seas, patrolling Maine’s border with New Brunswick is no easy task.
“Maine’s a very big, beautiful state with all sorts of rural and, you know, wooded areas,” said Mark Phillips, a U.S. Border Patrol agent and public affairs liaison for the Houlton Sector.
Officials said Maine is unique in that its border patrol sector covers all of the state.
Not including the coastal part, the land border with Canada is nearly 300 miles.
At the Calais & Saint Stephen, New Brunswick border, you’ll find U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the physical checkpoints, while border patrol agents are on the ground stopping illegal activity.
“On the southwest border, they have a very high volume of apprehensions down there. We don’t see that up here,” said Phillips.
Still, here in Maine the number of people caught entering the country illegally is rising.
According to numbers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there were 52 apprehensions in fiscal year 2018, that’s up from 30 in 2017, and 25 in fiscal year 2016.
And with rising numbers, agents keep in mind the terrain they’re dealing with.
“It’s just rugged and remote. A lot of parts of it are difficult to access, so we need special vehicles and tools,” said Caleb Pippin, a border patrol agent.
Much of Washington County’s border is made of water, either the ocean or a river.
Aside from the usual ports of entry, officials said there are three train crossings in the greater Calais area that don’t have an official checkpoint. Trains cross there two or three times a day.
In those areas, there’s a bridge crossing that marks the border between Canada. The U.S. trains from nearby paper mills are expected to check in with the port of entry in Calais but the trains are not physically inspected.
Instead, areas such as that, and further north closer to Houlton, have technology like real-time cameras and ground sensors.
“The ground sensors that we have merely indicate that something is going on but not exactly what. With the cameras we’re actually able to see what is going on,” said Phillips.
“We have seen people crossing illegally, just walking across the train trestles basically in the past. And so we’ve had some people that we’ve arrested,” said Pippin.
Closer to Amity and Houlton, the border turns into more of a true land border, an area known as “the slash” that is a gap in the wood line between the two countries.
Officials said near Amity about five years ago, border patrol agents stopped a man associated with the Hamas terrorist group who was in the woods for three days.
And while Maine’s geography offers challenges, it aided in his capture.
“That happened in October,” said Phillips. “It was kind of cold … got pretty tired out there after three days so he was ready to get caught.”
Of the 21,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents stationed nationwide, about 200 are here in Maine.
They said they do the best they can with the resources that they have.
“The geography of it is that it’s a lot of area to cover and not as many resources as we could use,” said Kevin Kellenberger, a supervisory border patrol agent.
In Part 2, which airs on Thursday, our news team takes a look at boat patrols along the marine border, and how international commerce works.