How secure is the northern border? Valley News Live investigates.
Its 861 miles of farm fields, dense forest, swamps, lakes, rivers, ravines and hills: the portion of the U.S. – Canada border for which agents in the Grand Forks Sector are responsible. We’ve brought you the problems securing our borders from both the U.S. and Canadian sides. So just who and what is out there keeping us safe? Valley News Team’s Bradford Arick heads north along the 49th parallel with the help of the Border Patrol
“We are going to build the wall 100% and Mexico is going to pay for the wall, don’t worry,” said Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.
The focus of this election cycle has all eyes looking south at the U.S. – Mexico border. But what about our northern border? How safe is that?
“This is just a vacant lot but it's one of our major thoroughfares for traffic going north,” explained Bryan Magers, a Supervisor with the U.S. Border Patrol.
I started my journey at a now abandoned border crossing at Noyes, Minnesota. There’s just a gate keeping people out.
“So a lot of those Somalis we were just talking about, they'll come here because as you can see it's just a straight shot in,” described Magers.
He said many times agents encounter more people flowing north into Canada than the other way around.
The Border Patrol’s own stats show for the Grand Forks Sector, almost 800 illegal aliens were caught last year, with almost 2/3 of them of Mexican nationality. With Canada lifting visa requirements for Mexican nationals next month, the fear is that illegals already deported by the U.S. will simply walk across the largely unguarded areas. There are reports too of as many as 50 terror organizations operating in Canada.
“And by building these relationships with them, they're able to notify us of things happening within our general areas of responsibility to more effectively patrol the border,” said Magers.
He added because the agents live in the small border towns, what’s known as the ‘Resident Agent Program’, the residents trust them, and are more than willing to call when something doesn’t look right.
“The thing about national security, it's in all of our interests,” he said.
We went past smaller border crossings like the one at Neche, North Dakota before heading to the Pembina Gorge. It’s steep, rugged terrain and our guide said there are trails through it connecting both sides of the international border.
“It's got to be an easy avenue for someone to run a pound of cocaine or ‘china white’ or something across,” Reporter Bradford Arick pointed out.
"Is it easier than crossing say a place where there isn't a road? The answer is absolutely. However once again it's a matter of enforcement,” responded Magers.
Our last stop began with a short hike. We went down through a ravine, a creek bed and out the other side to wide open fields. There was the international border: a small line of grass between dirt fields separates the U.S. from Canada.
"I'm straddling the border right now? So half of my body is illegally in another country right now?" asked Arick.
"That is correct,” replied Magers.
Looking over the nothingness, and how easy it is to cross the border, I asked, what’s to stop an ISIS terrorist from simply walking through the grass?
“Us is the answer to your question. We’re America’s first line, we're the front line. But up here the distance is an ally to us. We’re able to respond because of the time it takes for someone to travel from one point to another,” said Magers.
We passed dozens of other border patrol agents throughout the afternoon, and their presence is certainly known in the communities along the border. Would the agents like more resources? Everyone I asked said yes. But right now, they feel they’re doing an effective job keeping you and me safe.
I asked Border Patrol agents what they thought of Trump’s comments, and Congressional testimony painting the northern border as being a bigger security risk. They responded they can’t discuss politics and their main mission will always be stopping terrorism.