On the snowy New York-Canada border, the local sheriff is calling on the U.S. Border Patrol to target more people behind what locals call a growing crisis: The number of illegal border crossings in the area in the past five months is nearly 10 times the same time. last year, and those crossing the border are at risk of freezing to death.
From Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, about 2,000 migrants crossed the border between Canada and New Hampshire, Vermont and New York south through the forests, compared to just 200 crossings during the same period the previous year.
The migrants are mostly from Mexico and can travel to Canada without visas before crossing illegally into the US, often to reunite with their families.
Last weekend in Clinton County, New York, Sheriff David Favreau’s team helped the Border Patrol rescue 39 migrants whose clothes had frozen to their bodies.
“We’re seeing more and more people, and it can be deadly terrain if you’re not familiar with it,” Favreau said.
He said responding to such rescues has strained his department’s resources, which are already stretched thin to cover residents of his rural county of 80,000, which shares about 30 miles of border with Canada’s Quebec province.
“The only way we can really cover and protect [the northern border] is boots on the ground,” Favreau said.
Just last week, Customs and Border Protection added 25 agents to the area, Swanton Sector, to deter migration. But Favreau and other locals who spoke to NBC News in Mooers, N.Y., said that’s not enough.
Mooers Fire Chief Todd Gumlo said he recently helped rescue two Mexican women stuck in an icy marsh in the middle of the night. Gumlow, along with Border Patrol, local police and emergency responders, were able to administer first aid and take the women to a hospital to be treated for frostbite and mild hypothermia after they lost their shoes in the swamp, he said.
“The preservation of human life comes first in my department. We put [immigration status] in the back of our minds,” Gumlow said.
The Mooers/Champlain region is a cluster of small residences and employee farms where, according to locals, “everybody knows everybody” and properties can be several blocks apart, adding to a sense of unease among some locals witnessing the mass migration to the region .
Migrants traveling south often seek shelter in empty sheds and barns to protect themselves from the cold, according to local first responders.
Muers resident April Barcombe said she has had migrants show up on her doorstep and is now saving up for security cameras.
“It’s not something I would normally do,” she said. “But it makes me think. And with the kids and family I have to install cameras.
While most locals who spoke to NBC News said they understand that most migrants passing through the region are not a threat, neighbors are keeping their eyes open for unusual activity.
“People are scared,” said a Champlain County resident. “It’s the fear of the unknown. They are [neighbors] worried about their safety because they don’t know these people.
Most of the migrants are Mexicans who are often blocked from crossing the US southern border and think they will have an easier time flying to Canada and then crossing into the US from the north.
According to a CBP spokesperson, the Swanton sector was the site of more than 67 percent of all migrant crossings at the northern border across all eight sectors through February.
Unlike the southern border, where more than 16,000 Border Patrol agents staff about 2,000 miles, about 2,000 border agents patrol the 5,000-mile US-Canada border, which includes Alaska’s land borders, making it the longest international land border in a world.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a letter Tuesday to step up law enforcement along his state’s 31-mile border with Canada or give his police force more authority to do so.
“Over the past several months, the state of New Hampshire has sought to assist the federal government in securing our northern border. These offers of help have been repeatedly rejected. The Biden administration has cut funding and hindered the state’s ability to help patrol the northern border,” Sununu said.
A CBP spokesman said the additional agents that were just sent to the Swanton sector will help deter migration.