With migrant “encounters” at the southern border much in the news, the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Swanton Sector along the northern border has recorded encounters increasing at a rate never seen before.
The Swanton Sector encompasses 24,000 square miles at the northern border. The sector includes the entire state of Vermont, six upstate New York counties, and three New Hampshire counties abutting the provinces of Quebec and Ontario along the Canadian border. From October 2022 to January 2023, the rate of encounters increased 846% from the previous year. These crossings, like some of those at the southern border, are extremely dangerous. The northern border presents harsh winter weather conditions with high risk of hypothermia. The lives of border agents are also at risk as they conduct search and rescue missions in the sector.
Vulnerable migrants, including families with young children, are risking their lives as they encounter temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. The Swanton Sector chief patrol agent reported: “It cannot be stressed enough: not only is it unlawful to circumvent legal means of entry into the United States, but it is extremely dangerous, particularly in adverse weather conditions, which our Swanton Sector has in incredible abundance.”
The Swanton Sector is not the only northern sector experiencing increases in border apprehensions. The Grand Forks Sector, including Minnesota and North Dakota, reported 90 apprehensions from October 2022 through December 2022. The total apprehensions were 80 for the year before. The individuals crossing the northern border represent close to 20 nationalities. They generally will fly into Canada before trying to cross into the United States through areas of vast wilderness to avoid highly populated checkpoints on the border. While the numbers at the northern border may pale in comparison to those the southern border, the cold and snow make these crossings uniquely hazardous.
Of course, the flow of refugees is not just one way. Canada is also seeing a substantial increase in the number of irregular land crossings, especially at the New York-Quebec border. Due to the inconsistent increase in land crossings, Canadian patrols are experiencing problems managing that influx. Last year, the count was 39,000 crossing from New York to Quebec, with nearly 5,000 crossing in January of this year.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between the United States and Canada, individuals must seek asylum in the first country they enter. Those who attempt to cross at official ports of entry will be turned back. But those who cross at irregular border areas can end up resettling as they await adjudication of asylum claims in Canada. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to discuss changes to this agreement with President Joe Biden during their planned meeting in March 2023.