If you are in Hawaii this week, don’t call me. I don’t want to hear about it. I am cold and miserable in Texas with what appears to be an historic ice storm and it is presently 27 degrees. I know that some people love the cold weather but I am definitely not one of them.
As I sat at my desk watching surveillance cameras in El Paso last night I watched as several people walked across the Paso Del Norte bridge all bundled up against the below-freezing temps that had created a relatively still night at the port of entry. As I thought about the cold temperatures, I was drawn to look into something few of us ever consider; what about our northern border? Is anyone crazy enough to brave the arctic cold?
As it turns out, there are a lot more willing than I thought. According to a brand new report from U.S. Border Patrol, between October 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022, there has been a 743% increase in apprehensions and encounters compared to the same period last year!
Combined apprehensions and encounters in Fiscal Year 2023 have already surpassed that of Fiscal Year 2022 and recent trends represent a sustained increase in illegal border crossings as we head into the harshest winter months.
Swanton Sector's terrain along the International Boundary with Canada includes rural and remote areas and ranges from mountains to lowland swamps. During the regional winter, which encompasses an extended season due to the sector's geographic location and weather patterns, sustained sub-freezing temperatures subject both large and small bodies of water within our area of operations to freezing over. Unpredictable storm fronts bring ice and significant snow accumulation throughout the extended winter season. These geographic and weather features can make traversing unfamiliar territory perilous.
Additionally, the risk of hypothermia from sustained or even brief outdoor exposure to near-freezing temperatures in wet or windy conditions is significant.
Hypothermia can develop in as little as five minutes in temperatures of minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit if you're not dressed properly and have exposed skin, especially the scalp, hands, fingers, and face.
These environmental challenges, coupled with the sharp increase in illicit cross-border traffic, are generating great concern for the potential loss of human life.
In recent press releases, Swanton Sector highlighted several instances of family groups and individuals rescued from cold-weather-related crises and trauma. Unfortunately, these types of events have not diminished as Swanton Sector Border Patrol continues to encounter family groups with children (aged as young as a few months old) crossing uncertain terrain in single-digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures.
In many cases, Border Patrol Agents tasked with detecting, identifying, and apprehending individuals attempting to unlawfully cross the border end up rescuing them and rendering potentially life-saving aid—all while the Agents are selflessly placing themselves in harm's way.
Many individuals seeking to cross illegally are ill-informed of the dangers and poorly outfitted for the weather and terrain they encounter in Swanton Sector. In the midst of the region’s coldest months, January and February, the stated risks have only increased.
The snow makes one thing easier.
A week ago agents from the Van Buren Station were alerted to several subjects making an illegal entry into the United States near Caswell. Agents responded to the area and found footprints in the snow. Through investigative steps, agents confirmed that an illegal entry from Canada had been made. Subsequently, agents were able follow the footprints and apprehend the group, consisting of seven adult males from Mexico.
Trained Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) agents assessed the group and evaluated one of the subjects for frostbite. One of the subjects showing signs of frostbite was transported to a local hospital, treated, and released. Five of the subjects were first time offenders processed for misdemeanor. Two of the seven had previously been removed from the United States, and were therefore had felony violations. All subjects were subsequently processed for removal.
The next day, agents from the Calais Station responded to illegal cross-border activity near Lambert Lake. Responding agents observed a suspicious vehicle and stopped the suspected vehicle for an immigration inspection. Agents discovered that all six adult Vietnamese passengers had made illegal entry into the U.S. and were subsequently arrested. Further investigation revealed that the vehicles’ operator was a U.S. citizen and subsequently detained under suspicion of human smuggling.
Events like these highlight the disregard smugglers have for the life and safety of individuals they attempt to bring into the United States.