Federal agents broke up an immigrant smuggling operation on the U.S.-Canada border in Vermont this week, exposing what appears to be a growing option for illegal immigrants desperate to get into the U.S. but worried about getting caught by stiffer security along the southwestern border.
While illegal immigration across the northern border happens it’s usually migrants from outside the western hemisphere, analysts said.
But in this latest instance the smuggler — a Honduran — was nabbed transporting 11 Guatemalans and four Mexicans, authorities said.
Two of the Mexican migrants were repeat offenders, having been deported multiple times before, yet were attempting to sneak back in. A 4-year-old girl and a pregnant woman were also apprehended.
“There has always been smuggling across the northern border, because it is much less fortified, but typically it involves people from other parts of world, not Mexico or Central America,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies. “The smugglers always look for the path of least resistance, and this may indicate that they consider the northern border to be a better option to avoid apprehension.”
Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the trends at the northern border.
If the arrests do signal a new front in the battle to stop illegal immigration, it’s because the southwest border is increasingly secure.
That makes the northern border more attractive, particularly for migrants with criminal records or previous deportees, who may be more willing to pay the higher fees smugglers charge to enter from the north, Ms. Vaughan said.
“In addition, the smugglers probably view Vermont, which has a strict sanctuary policy and has prevented local law enforcement agencies from working with ICE and the Border Patrol, to be a good territory for them to work in,” she said.
Ms. Vaughan said smugglers are likely offering package deals, including flights to Canada, transportation to and from the border and space in stash houses on both sides, and then transportation to their final destination in the U.S. The smugglers may even work up fraudulent documents or connect the illegal immigrants with willing employers.
In this case the accused smuggler, Hector Ramon Perez-Alvarado, was himself in the U.S. illegally, officials said.
Agents spotted Mr. Perez driving a minivan, making repeated trips from the Four Seasons, a local motel, to the border and back again. He would pick up a load of people, bring them back to Room 205 at the motel, then return for a new group, agents said.
The agents spotted some of the illegal immigrants in the woods running from the border to the pickup spot along the road, Matthew Palma, a Border Patrol agent, said in an affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint filed in federal court Tuesday.
When agents finally stopped Mr. Perez, he had six people with him. Another nine were back at the motel room — including a 4-year-old Mexican girl and a woman who was eight months pregnant.
Two of those nabbed — Noe Perez-Ramirez and Alberto Alvarado Castro — had snuck in after having been repeatedly deported. Mr. Alvarado also had four burglary convictions and had served 180 days in jail for one of his previous illegal entries.
“Our agents did an outstanding job thwarting this smuggling attempt,” Swanton Sector Chief Patrol Agent John Pfeifer said in a statement.
The northern border gets less attention than the southwestern border, chiefly because of the differences between Mexico and Canada.
More than 408,000 illegal immigrants were nabbed last year breaching the southwestern boundary, while just 2,283 were caught at the northern border.
Still, lawmakers are looking for more effort on the northern border. Homeland Security is due to send a new strategy for securing the northern border to Congress later this year.
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