Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I think race is definitely a factor in the immigration issue.

Because from the way the topic is framed in the media, Nativists, political stand point it seems that the issue is only about illegal immigrants from Latin America, and even more specifically, Mexico.

Nobody seems to be much concerned about security along the Canadian border where most of the drugs confiscated by federal agents in Montana come from people crossing the border at legal ports of entries, which begs the question: Do most smugglers try to sneak their wares into the U.S. from Canada through these legal crossings, or are the agents just not finding those who are crossing illegally?

The answer seems to be a little of both, according to Mike Milne, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He notes that the vast majority of people coming into the United States do so at legal border crossings, which could be part of the reason for the larger number of drugs confiscated there.

For instance, on a typical day nationally, 1.1 million people are processed through our points of entry,” Milne said, adding that the figure includes both northern and southern borders. “Those who are coming here between the legal crossings are A) entering the U.S. illegally, so they already have a violation there or B) are entering illegally because they’re up to no good in other ways. They’re smuggling narcotics, currency or other items.

Are we perfect and catching everything? The answer is no. … Are the borders impenetrable? No. But we’re making them more secure and have more resources available now.

Those realities are reflected in statistics compiled for the Havre sector, which covers 454 miles of the Montana-Canadian border, according to Ramon Rivera with the border patrol’s office in Washington, D.C

At legal ports of entry in the Havre sector during fiscal year 2007, which runs from Oct. 1, 2006, through the end of this month, agents confiscated marijuana 20 times, methamphetamine four times, cocaine six times, and psilocybin mushrooms, poppies and Oxycontin once each.

By comparison, during that same time frame at non-legal points of entry like trails or rural roads between the two countries the agents were involved in only four incidents involving marijuana, and one each of mushrooms and heroin. Only one of those incidents amounted to a quantity large enough n almost 19 pounds n to be considered something other than personal use.

Alex Harrington, spokesperson for the Havre sector, said it’s not just that more people go through the legal entry points; it’s also that the main mission of the border patrol is to search for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, not drug smugglers.

Our main mission is to look for illegal aliens and terrorists, and if the people we stop do have something on them, that’s good for our agents but it’s not the main reason we stop people,” Harrington said.

Confiscating small quantities of street drugs seems to be typical for what’s also happening at the legal border crossings in Montana, where agents typically make one or two large drug busts each year.

“They’re coming through with marijuana, coke or ecstasy in their pockets because they’re users,” Milne said. “But we’re certainly looking for and celebrate when we find our commercial loads.”

He expects more smugglers will try to cross the border via Montana in the future, since agents have been working the Washington-Vancouver border hard during the past decade. He warns that these drug dealers typically are well financed, dedicated and resourceful, which makes them “a formidable foe for law enforcement.”

“The pressure we put on them in western Washington has pushed larger amounts, specifically marijuana, into eastern Washington and parts of Montana,” Milne said. “It’s like that carnival game, where you whack a mole and it comes up somewhere else. We put pressure in one area, and they pop up somewhere else, quite possibly between ports of entries. It’s a moving target and we have to adapt and apply our resources based on risk management.

The border patrol will tell you they don’t have enough officers to stand arm to arm, so we have to use our intelligence, training and experience.”

Since 2003, the office of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has almost tripled the size of the force on the 4,000-mile Canadian border, from 300 to 928. Overall, that that means each person is responsible for 4.3 miles.

In the Havre sector, which stretches from the eastern Montana border to the Continental Divide, its 92 agents equates to an average of about five miles per agent.

Havre generally ranks in the middle of the agent/per mile ratio of the eight sectors along the northern border. To its immediate west, the Spokane sector has 122 agents who patrol 307 miles of border, creating an agent-to-mile ratio of about 2.5 people per mile. The sector to the east, which basically covers the North Dakota border, has only 105 agents to patrol the 861 mile border, which equates to about eight miles per agent - the largest agent-to-mile ratio on the border.

The 863-mile Detroit sector has 122 agents, or 7 per mile; the Houlton, Maine, sector has 105 agents patrolling 611 miles of border, or about 6 people per mile. On the lower end of the scale, the Blaine sector, which covers western Washington, has 123 agents patroling 252 miles of border, or 2 people per mile. Buffalo, N.Y., which includes Niagra Falls, has 113 people for 341 miles, or 3 miles per agent. and the Swanton, VT., sector, which covers 295 miles of border, has 146 agents, or two per mile.

And with all this emphasis on catching terrorists or weapons of mass destruction, is it a success or failure of the Havre sector that it’s made only one arrest of an individual wanted for questioning in connection with possible terrorist activities?

“They’re not pounding on our door, but we are here just in case,” Harrington said. “It only takes one terrorist, one individual with a grudge against the United States, to come across with something on them.

“We want to make sure another 9/11 doesn’t happen.”

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