NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)—The U.S.-Mexico border has been a topic of much debate this election season. But should our national attention be more focused toward our neighbors to the north?
The Canadian border, just 300 miles from New York City, presents its own challenges, the scope of which CBS2’s Maurice DuBois saw firsthand during an exclusive tour earlier this week.
All that separates the two countries for miles at a time is a split rail fence that you’d find in any ordinary backyard. During DuBois’ tour, Border Control Division Chief Bradley Curtis spotted a horse that can cross the border with no trouble.
But the four-legged border jumper is the least of our concerns, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
“We see alien smuggling. We see narcotic smuggling. We see currency smuggling,” Border Patrol Operations Officer Brad Brandt said.
Agents said much of that activity is heading directly to New York City and our suburbs where the product is sold on our streets.
“There is a significant amount of violence that is associated with these drugs,” Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Michael Laravia said.
Large quantities of high potency marijuana can be particularly problematic. Drug runners sneak across the border in the secret compartments of vehicles.
But drugs, as dangerous as they are. are just a part of the story.
“Our primary mission of course, is to stop a terrorist,” Brandt said.
And some spots could be easy points of entry.
“There are radicalized groups that are in Canada — that is a tremendous concern to us,” Curtis said regarding terrorism threats.
They said Canada’s more open-door policy toward Syrian refugees is also of concern.
“Up here we’re encountering people from every single country,” Curtis said. “They’re coming across on snowmobiles. They’re coming across on ATVs. Of course, we have 95 miles of water boundaries, so people come across on boat, canoes, anything you can think of.”
And although technology is pretty widespread throughout the border, border patrol agents said they use everything at their disposal to mind the front lines.
“I’ve arrested people here, there,” Curtis said as he walked through wooded terrain with DuBois.
Everything from foot patrols to ground sensors to hidden cameras in the woods are monitored at a command center in Swanton, Vermont.
The command center is manned “24 hours, seven days a week, 365,” Curtis said.
Agents say they win daily battles. In the last year, agents seized more than 10,000 pounds of marijuana and millions of dollars in illegal currency coming into the U.S.
Going out of the country, they stop shipments of a wide variety of illegal guns.
To win the larger war, agents say, they need more troops.
“We’ve actually asked to double the man power. There’s only so many border patrol agents in the country allowed. We’re competing with the southwest border,” Curtis said.
The sector currently only has about 300 agents covering about 300 miles, including a large Indian reservation that’s an attractive route for smugglers. With so much ground to cover, the agents said they rely heavily on the people who live along the border to alert them to any suspicious activity.