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Sep 15, 2016 6:07 PM

NH1 News Investigates: Protecting our Northern Border by Land, Sea & Air

NH1 News

Securing the borders to prevent drugs, illegals and terrorists from flowing into the US is one of the biggest challenges facing the United States today. You know it’s a topic that has dominated the presidential race. However, the focus has been mostly on the Southern border and a debate about building a wall. We wanted to find out what’s being done to protect our Northern border.

That job belongs to US Customs and Border Protection. There are three uniformed components—Air and Marine, Border Patrol and Field Operations. We’re focusing on these operations in what’s called the Swanton Sector. This sector covers parts of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire’s borders with Canada. 295 miles of border length—92 of them are water. And this entire area is covered by just 300 agents.

“It does seem like a lot of space for 300 guys but through technology, through intelligence gathering, and stuff like that, we can leverage the manpower we have,” says Brad Brant, Special Operations Supervisor, Swanton Patrol Sector.

We let them show you how they cover all that ground—on land, at sea and up in the air.

“Our primary job is to protect and serve the American people. We’re like that first line of defense”– Gerhardt Perry, Air Interdiction Agent, CBP Air and Marine Operations.

“We operate in the shadows. That’s where we’re most comfortable.” – Norman Lague, Patrol Agent in Charge, Swanton Sector.

“Up here the border is a slash and a bunch of boundary markers.” – Brad Brant, Special Operations Supervisor, Swanton Patrol Sector.

“We’re on the slash right now. This zone right here is called the International Boundary Commission Zone. It’s ten feet from the line to the North and 10 feet to the South.” – Dave Lacey, Border Patrol Agent, Swanton Sector.

“I’ll pan out so you can see what we’re up against here. The landscape, geography, the foliage—all these things come into play, It’s very inhospitable terrain. It provides unique challenges—especially to the agents on the ground, so when we’re flying above it, we can see a lot more. We can cover a lot more area.” – Gerhardt Perry, Air Interdiction Agent, CBP Air and Marine Operations.

“It’s very rough driving. It’s rocky, and there’s a lot of bogs, beaver dams, so it’s almost impassable.” – Dave Lacey, Border Patrol Agent, Swanton Sector.

“You don’t know who it is, you don’t know who is crossing.” – Norman Lague, Patrol Agent in Charge, Swanton Sector.

“Smuggling—human trafficking, drug smuggling, weapons of mass destruction—it could be anything.” – Gerhardt Perry, Air Interdiction Agent, CBP Air and Marine Operations.

“… but we have to do our best to catch everyone because we can’t determine with technology we can’t look at the picture and say, we can’t say terrorist, drug dealer, prior deport. We can’t say that until we actually interdict that event, stop it from happening and go back and research and determine who we have.” – Brad Brant, Special Operations Supervisor, Swanton Patrol Sector.

“We’ve got to be right, 100 percent, right? We only get that one chance that one opportunity.” – Kevin Packwood, Professionalism Service Manager, Port of Champlain.

“Up here we use our intelligence, we use our technology, and our experienced manpower to do our jobs.” – Brad Brant, Special Operations Supervisor, Swanton Patrol Sector.

“With the presidential candidate about the wall—I’m the wall. That’s how I feel. I’m the wall.” – Dave Lacey, Border Patrol Agent, Swanton Sector.

“We look at patterns, trends. We look at information that we’re getting from the agents that are actually out in the field, our sensor crews, and our ATV crews. We take all of that information and with the technology that we have at hand, we build virtual fencing.” – Norman Lague, Patrol Agent in Charge, Swanton Sector.

During our tour—that virtual fencing is put to the test. A call from the Port of Entry about a possible illegal border crossing.

RADIO CALL: “Have you encountered any females? They have a vehicle there with luggage and clothing for a female but no females in the car.”

That female didn’t set off any Border Protection sensors and surveillance systems, but the driver of the car in question finally confesses to helping an 18-year-old from Mexico cross the border…

“We’re looking at a smuggling event right now. Whether it’s organized or not, not sure at this time… We suspect there’s a female somewhere in the woods right now,” says Lague.

Now it’s up to Border Patrol agents to find her. Fortunately, a tip from a border town homeowner leads agents to the right doorstep.

“It’s not an uncommon story,” says Lague. He adds, “This whole stretch that I’m going through at different points has been used for alien smuggling.”

There’s another critical stretch of boundary, agents watch closely—Lake Champlain. Why? Anyone who sails through, can connect to the Hudson River and make it down to New York City—and beyond.

“Did you know the ICW then goes from New York City all the way down around Florida to Brownville Texas? And that’s unchecked [by U.S. Customs and Border Protection]. So with that thought in mind, this is the only checkpoint for boats coming into this part of the country,” says Norman Stetson, Border Patrol Agent, Swanton Sector.

The agents who protect our border region from drug traffickers and human smugglers admit their job is extremely challenging and dangerous, but their passion and dedication to protecting our country are boundless.

“They’re relentless. They want to get their product, whether it be human or drugs, they want to get their product across, our job is to stop them,” says Lacey.

Here are some statistics to give you an idea of how much they stop at the border.In the 2015 fiscal year, 2,626 illegal aliens were apprehended across the Northern border. 341 of them in the Swanton Sector. That’s almost one per day.

US Customs and Border Protection can’t say how many got through, but if those people were caught by their cameras, agents are looking for them.

Drug smugglers and human traffickers aren't the only threats U.S. Customs and Border Protection faces at the northern border. We take you behind-the-scenes at the Port of Champlain to show you what other threats they handle on a daily basis.

On average, 700 container trucks pass through Port of Champlain every day.

Officers in the 9 booths at the primary arrival area for commercial vehicles have the daunting task of making sure NOTHING rolls through that could threaten our region and our nation.

“We’re it. We’re the line,” Kevin Packwood, Professionalism Service Manager, Port of Champlain.

Acting Area Port Director Don Yando adds, “What is in the truck? Where is it coming from? Where is it going? Who’s driving the truck?”

If the information doesn’t add up…

“This is a controlled area, so the driver has no choice but to pull over into the garage area, go inside and speak with an officer in there,” says Yando. “From there, the truck could be offloaded and examined further.”

Yando then shares some examples of what people have tried to drive through the border: “We find drugs, we find weapons. We find merchandise that is not manifested, so the importer is trying to fool us because they don’t want to pay that high duty.”

Yando says eight percent of the container trucks—that’s about one out of every 12—will contain a food or product not allowed in the United States.

“These are goods that cannot come into the United States because another government agency has set standards and we’re making sure that those standards are met for these products. In this case, they’re not, so we’re seizing them,” says Yando.

CELINE: “So at the end of the day it’s about safety.” YANDO: “Safety, protecting the American public from harmful products.”

Products deemed harmful by agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, including children’s clothing with buttons that contain too much lead, and counterfeit goods.

“It’s not uncommon for us to see shipments of extension cords or Christmas lights with a counterfeit UL label on them,” says Yando. “So that means the wires are of substandard quality. So if you have those Christmas tree lights and they have a counterfeit UL label on them, you plug them in at your Christmas tree at home, your whole house could go up in flames.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses import specialists to identify these products as well as unwanted pests and pathogens.

“We inspect fruits and vegetable commodities like grain, corn, bulk commodities like that,” says Agricultural Specialist Jason Langlois. He adds, “We also look at lumber for pests.”

Langlois shows us some examples of goods that have been pulled from trucks:

“You can see in some of these, see the holes? Right there. And you can see where they’ve been boring in here. That is a big deal. We have Asian Long-Horned Beetle. What they do is they attack the trees.”

“Some of the citrus fruit would have diseases on them that we don’t want to get down into Florida or California. They would pretty much decimate the crop down there, where we wouldn’t be able to export any fruit to other countries.”

CELINE: “Is it hard to keep up with the latest kinds of pests, the latest diseases, everything that you need to be looking out for? It seems like this would be a very fluid list. LANGLOIS: “It does. It changes almost on a daily basis.”

“We’ve got to be right 100 percent of the time, right? We only get that one chance,” says Packwood. “You’ve got to be on your game every day here. You have to, you don’t have a choice.”

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