By Tom Ozimek
Illegal border crossings have soared more than sevenfold in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, officials said, with agents apprehending more illegal aliens in New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont in two months than in the previous two years combined.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) said in a statement that, between Oct. 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2022, the Swanton Sector recorded an increase in apprehensions and encounters of around 743 percent compared to the same period in 2021.
So far in fiscal year 2023, which began on Oct. 1, 2022, the number of apprehensions has surpassed all of those logged during the prior year, according to CBP, which described the trend as a “sustained increase” in illegal crossings.
The Swanton Sector encompasses the northern border of the United States, specifically the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and northeastern parts of New York. It includes rural and remote areas, as well as mountains and lowland swamps. When combined with sustained sub-freezing temperatures and unpredictable storm fronts, the terrain and weather patterns present hazards for border crossers that can easily prove fatal.
“These environmental challenges, coupled with the sharp increase in illicit cross-border traffic, generate great concern for the potential loss of human life,” CBP stated.
Amid the jump in illegal crossings, agents operating in the sector have continued to encounter family groups with children, some as young as young as just several months old, CBP stated.
In December, border patrol agents in the Swanton Sector rescued a group that included a family with small children, who became disoriented in sub-freezing temperatures as they crossed the border illegally from Canada into the United States.
Many people undertaking the perilous trek during freezing winter months are unaware of the dangers posed by the weather and terrain, CBP said.
“Swanton Sector’s greatest concern in carrying out our mission of border security is the preservation of life—the lives of community residents we are sworn to protect, the lives of our Border Patrol Agents carrying out the mission day-in and day-out in the field, and the lives of the individuals, families, and children we are charged with apprehending as they attempt to circumvent legal processes for entry,” Swanton Sector Chief Patrol Agent Robert N. Garcia said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the transnational criminal organizations that stand to profit from the increased flow of human traffic care only about profits and have no concern for the welfare of those whose plight they seek to exploit for financial gain,” he added.
In another incident in December, a border patrol agent witnessed an illegal immigrant from Haiti collapse on the side of the road in North Troy, Vermont, and proceeded to call for emergency medical assistance while administering first aid.
The individual was taken to the hospital and treated for hypothermia and other medical issues that were caused by prolonged exposure to rain and cold temperatures, CBP said.
“The dangers posed by trying to cross the border illegally, especially during winter months are very real and can be fatal,” Patrol Agent in Charge, Michael Shick, said in a statement at the time.
“This was a perfect example of the work that agents encounter and are prepared to deal with on a daily basis. Although this incident resulted in a rescue, the reality is that this situation could have ended in a recovery and as we get deeper into the winter months the likelihood of these types of encounters ending poorly rises exponentially,” he added.
Hypothermia, which is caused by falling body temperature and can result in disorientation and difficulty moving, is a potentially life-threatening condition.
“Reckless endangerment: In freezing temperatures over uncertain terrain, families with children, from just a few months old, continue to illegally cross from Canada into the U.S. The risk to human lives–including Border Patrol agents–is increasing,” Garcia said in a post on Twitter.
Illegal immigration has soared under President Joe Biden’s watch, with unauthorized crossings topping 2.3 million in fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
The number broke the previous record of illegal crossings by over 1 million and was more than twice the highest level notched during the tenure of President Donald Trump, who made stemming the influx a major part of his policy platform.
The number of illegal immigrant encounters across the U.S. southern border for December 2022 rose to a monthly record, with CBP reporting a figure that topped a quarter of a million.
The 251,487 encounters, according to CBP data, surpasses the previous record of 241,136 in May 2022.
Despite the record-breaking figure, CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said that the Biden administration’s efforts at the border have been effective.
“The December update shows our new border enforcement measures are working. Even as overall encounters rose … we continued to see a sharp decline in the number of Venezuelans unlawfully crossing our southwest border, down 82 percent from September 2022,” Miller said in a statement.
“Early data suggests the expanded measures for Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans are having a similar impact, and we look forward to sharing the additional data in the next update.”
Miller’s remarks refer to the Biden administration’s recent border changes, which include a parole program to focus on Venezuelans that was begun in October 2022.
The program allows up to 24,000 Venezuelans to enter the United States under parole authority, which grants them entry and work authorization for a year, but isn’t a legal status.
At the same time, the number of illegal immigrant deaths in fiscal year 2022 rose to a record high. CBP recorded 880 fatalities—the highest number since data became available in 1998. The second highest number on record, logged during fiscal year 2021, was 566.
The most deadly border sectors have traditionally been the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and the Tucson Sector in Arizona, with the river and summer heat claiming the most lives as human traffickers leave the sick and injured to die.
Former President Donald Trump said recently that, if elected in 2024, he would order the U.S. military to crack down on Mexican drug cartels, which are involved in human trafficking.
Trump said on Jan. 5 that he would designate cartels as foreign terrorist organizations and block their access to the global financial system, while asking Congress to pass laws that would punish drug smugglers and human traffickers with the death penalty.
Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.