By: Bethany Blankley
While record numbers of foreign nationals continue to enter the U.S. through the southern border every month, one of the tiniest states by geography and population is also being impacted by the surge: Vermont.
Mexican cartels are now increasingly flying foreign nationals who arrive in Mexico from all over the world to Quebec from Mexico City, Border Patrol and law enforcement officers told The Center Square. Cartel scouts help them make their way from Canada into northern states illegally, they said. Vermont, which is seeing record-breaking illegal entries, has a population of roughly 645,545 people.
More than 306,000 foreign nationals – nearly half of Vermont’s population – were apprehended or evaded capture from law enforcement at the southern border in November, according to preliminary U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Center Square. They are primarily crossing in Texas.
While Border Patrol agents in Texas are aided by state Department of Public Safety officers and local law enforcement working through Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star, Vermont has no such border security operation.
But Vermont, which falls in the Swanton Sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, saw a 676% increase in apprehensions of illegal foreign nationals in October compared to last year, according to Border Patrol data.
Swanton Sector Chief Border Patrol Agent Robert Garcia said agents apprehended 334 people from 19 countries in October, and the “upward trend continues.”
The sector relies on tips from Vermont residents who report suspicious activity, Garcia said. On Tuesday, he thanked North Country residents for lending Border Patrol agents their “eyes” by making 112 suspicious activity reports in November. He said their calls helped agents make 139 arrests of illegal border crossers. Of Vermont residents, he said, “YOUR call can be the one that helps keep us all safe.”
Garcia also is encouraging residents to call 1-800-689-3362 to report suspicious border-related activity.
Two recent examples show how Vermont residents are helping BP agents.
On Nov. 18, a concerned citizen’s report led to the apprehension of five people who illegally entered the U.S. near Champlain, New York. Records revealed one of them, a Romanian citizen, had an extraditable arrest warrant from Wisconsin for failure to appear on an identity theft charge.
On Nov. 14, BP agents rescued illegal foreign nationals in freezing temperatures after receiving a 911 call. They encountered six people near Troy, Vermont. Four were children under age 5. While they were able to take them to safety, Swanton BP Sector said in an announcement, “This is NOT a safe or acceptable way to enter the United States.”
But it’s not just Vermont residents who are helping Swanton BP agents. Canadian Mounted Police are as well.
On the night of Oct. 27, Royal Canadian Mounted Police notified Swanton BP agents that two people had entered the U.S. illegally in a remote and rural area in the town of Highgate Center, Vermont. A BP agent responded and observed a driver of a blue Hyundai sedan with out-of-state registration stop at an intersection roughly half a mile south of the international border. The agent then saw two people come out of a ditch near the intersection and enter the sedan. After stopping the vehicle and performing a records check on the driver and passengers, the agent learned all three were Colombian citizens who’d previously been arrested for previously illegally entering the U.S.
This time, the driver, Sebastian Buitrago-Valero, 23, a Columbian national with a Chicago address, was arrested and charged with unlawfully transporting individuals he knew entered the U.S. illegally. On Nov. 10, he was indicted by a federal grand jury, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont recently announced.
Buitrago-Valero had been previously arrested for illegally entering the U.S. last November. However, under Biden administration policies, he was released into the U.S. pending immigration court proceedings, the U.S. Attorney’s Office notes.
His passengers entered the U.S. illegally again after they’d been arrested for illegally entering the U.S. earlier in 2022.
Of the 20 CBP Sectors nationwide, Swanton encompasses roughly 24,000 square miles and covers three states. It includes all of Vermont, six counties in New York (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Hamilton, and Herkimer) and three counties in New Hampshire (Coos, Grafton, and Carroll).
It’s the first international land boundary east of the Great Lakes and is adjacent to the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. It includes 295 miles of international boundary, of which 203 miles is land border and 92 miles is water border, primarily along the St. Lawrence River.
To its west is the Buffalo Sector, which encompasses most of New York and four other states. To its east is the Houlton Sector, which encompasses Maine.