Rise in Illegal Migrant Crossings Concerns Vermont Border Towns

Source: LP Media / Chris Feeley

The small border towns of Vermont have always had a unique relationship with Canada due to their proximity. While the shared border has facilitated beneficial tourism and trade over the years, residents have recently grown concerned over a marked rise in illegal migrant crossings coming from the north.

Though border security falls under federal jurisdiction, these remote communities now find themselves on the frontlines of the issue. With limited resources, they struggle to balance compassion for the migrants with the rule of law. This complex situation highlights the unintended consequences of broader migration trends.

Steady Rise in Northern Border Crossings

In recent years, illegal border crossings along the U.S.-Canada border have risen steadily. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data, more than 12,200 migrants illegally entered the U.S. across the northern border in 2023, representing a 240% increase from 2022.

Source: Nasuna Stuart-Ulin

Approximately 70% of these unauthorized border crossings occurred along the 295-mile Swanton Sector spanning upstate New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Residents of towns near the Vermont border with Canada, such as Swanton and Alburgh, have observed suspected human smugglers, known as “coyotes,” transporting migrants across the border.

Increased Activity and Sophisticated Operations

Residents of Swanton, a town of 6,500 located a mere 10 minutes from the Canadian border, report a troubling increase in illegal border activity over the past three years. Locals like Chris Feeley, an avid hunter, report going from rarely encountering other people during hunts to regularly spotting smugglers and migrants.

Source: Chris Feeley

Feeley has formed connections with Border Patrol agents, who he now has “on speed dial” in order to report the groups he spots crossing the border just 250 yards from his hunting spot. Kaitlynn Pease, a 22-year-old volunteer firefighter who works at a gas station less than a mile from the Canadian border, describes a “regular parade” of vehicles waiting in the early morning to transport migrants who have just crossed.

Reasons Behind the Rise in Migrant Crossings in Vermont

The rural, wooded terrain surrounding the border provides ideal cover for migrants attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. Lawrence Rainville, a local dairy farmer, reported recently spotting migrants crossing through his cornfield at night using night-vision equipment.

Source: LP Media

Source: LP Media

The woods and foliage along the border allow migrants to cross while evading detection by border patrol agents. Once across the border, migrants can make their way to nearby roads and parking lots where getaway vehicles are waiting to transport them into the interior.

Limited Resources and Staffing

Border patrol resources and staffing levels have not kept up with the increase in illegal border crossings. With only 295 miles of border to monitor, the Swanton Sector experiences 70% of illegal crossings for the entire northern border. However, border patrol staffing and resources have not increased sufficiently to address this surge.

Source: LP Media

Residents report that border patrol agents and helicopters are not consistently monitoring the border, allowing many migrants to cross undetected. Residents like the Rainvilles have stepped in to alert border patrol to illegal crossings on their property, but more agents and technology are needed to gain operational control of the border.

Strain on Public Services

The influx of migrants entering small border towns like Swanton and Alburgh has put a significant strain on local public services and resources. These rural communities have limited infrastructure and personnel to handle large population increases. Local emergency responders report being frequently called to provide medical assistance or transport migrants to hospitals.

Source: Chris Feeley

Volunteer firefighter Kaitlynn Pease says emergency calls related to migrants have increased dramatically in the past several years. “We’re a small volunteer fire department, so when we get toned out for that, it takes us away from being able to respond to other calls in our community,” she explained. The additional demand has impacted the department’s budget and volunteer hours.

Rising Tensions Within Communities

Long-time residents of the small, tight-knit communities express feeling unsettled by the changes. Many report fearing for their safety and property. “I don’t go outside by myself much at night anymore. It’s just nerve-wracking. Maybe they’re good people, but you don’t know their intentions,” said Kristy Brow, who runs a dog boarding business near the border.

Source: U.S. Border Patrol Swanton

However, others recognize that migrants are fellow human beings in need of compassion. The issue has highlighted divisions within communities and created tensions between neighbors with opposing views. While some local businesses may benefit economically from increased traffic and demand for goods and services, many residents argue the costs outweigh any financial gains.

Perspectives From Residents Living Near the Border

The increase in migrant activity has caused concern among some residents. Kristy Brow, who runs a dog boarding business on 21 acres of land in Highgate Springs, stated that she does not go outside alone at night anymore due to fear of the unknown intentions of migrants traveling through the area.

Source: U.S. Border Patrol Swanton

Brow’s trail cameras have captured multiple groups of migrants on her property, and she said that Border Patrol helicopters frequently fly low over the area searching for migrants. Kaitlynn Pease, an assistant manager at a gas station located less than a mile from the Canadian border, reported regularly seeing “getaway vehicles” waiting in the parking lot of the station in the early morning to pick up migrants who have just crossed the border.

Government Response to Border Security Concerns in Vermont

Border Patrol has increased surveillance along the border, deploying helicopters and working with residents who report suspicious activity. Agents now have closer partnerships with locals, relying on reports of migrants crossing through private property.

Source: Veronica Gabriela Cardenas

Border Patrol credits residents with helping them catch migrants, though some residents feel frightened by the increased activity. To combat sophisticated smuggling operations, Border Patrol agents monitor vehicles with out-of-state license plates that linger near the border, as these are often used to transport migrants into the U.S. after they have crossed illegally.

Long-Term Solutions Needed for Underlying Issues

While increased border security and patrols may temporarily curb crossings, lasting solutions must tackle the fundamental reasons why migrants undertake the perilous journey north. Many are fleeing violence, persecution, poverty and lack of opportunity in their home countries.

Source: Twitter(X)/@USBPChiefSWB

U.S. foreign policy and cooperation with migrant-origin countries should aim to establish political stability, strengthen human rights protections, and expand economic opportunity and access to basic resources. By improving conditions in migrant homelands, the motivation to undertake dangerous border crossings would decrease.

A Pandemic Across Quiet Border Towns

In the wake of the pandemic, communities across the United States have seen an uptick in illegal migrant crossings along the northern border. While larger border towns may have the resources to handle the influx, smaller rural communities in states like Vermont are struggling under the strain.

Source: Reynaldo Leanos Jr.

As the federal government works to address broader immigration issues, leaders in northern border towns will need to seek out local solutions that balance compassion for migrants with concern for their citizens’ well-being.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

Sally, a dynamic and viral writer, has taken the literary world by storm with her exceptional storytelling prowess. With an uncanny ability to tap into the collective consciousness of her readers, she crafts narratives that resonate deeply and linger long after the last word is read.

Born with a creative spirit, Sally honed her writing skills from a young age, cultivating a unique voice that blends emotion, wit, and social insight. Her work spans a wide spectrum, from poignant short stories that tug at the heartstrings to thought-provoking essays that challenge conventional thinking.

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