(The Center Square) – Houlton Sector Border Patrol agents apprehended 13 foreign nationals and one U.S. citizen last week in two separate smuggling attempts.

The northern Customs and Border Patrol sector covers 611 shared border miles with Canada and over 3,500 miles along the Atlantic coast. It anchors the northeastern corner of the U.S. border with Canada and encompasses the entire state of Maine. Given that much of its territory is remote, its agents patrol some areas on foot using snowshoes and rely on residents to report suspicious activity.

On Jan. 19, agents were alerted to several people illegally entering the United States near Caswell, Maine, not at a port of entry. They responded and found footprints in the snow. After tracking the footsteps and using other investigative tools, they confirmed a group had illegally entered the U.S. from Canada. They then tracked the footprints and reached a group of seven adult male Mexican citizens whom they apprehended. The Mexican nationals, instead of entering the U.S. southern border through Mexico, flew to Canada to illegally enter through Maine instead, BP said.

Five of the men were first time offenders and processed for Title 8 USC 1325 violations for entering the U.S. illegally. Two had previously been removed from the U.S. and were in violation of 8 USC 1326, a felony violation. All men were processed for removal to be sent back to Mexico. One had suffered frostbite and was admitted and treated at a local hospital.

On Jan. 20, agents responded to illegal cross-border activity near Lambert Lake. Upon arrival they observed a suspicious vehicle and stopped it for an immigration inspection. They then discovered six adult Vietnamese nationals inside who’d illegally entered the U.S.

Upon further investigation, agents learned that the driver was a U.S. citizen.

The driver was detained under suspicion of human smuggling in violation of 8 USC 1324, a felony offense. The driver was released, pending an investigation. All six Vietnamese were arrested for violating 8 USC 1325. They were first time offenders and processed for removal from the United States.

CBP also said all of the Mexican and Vietnamese nationals who were arrested and processed for removal were also each fined $5,000 for entering the U.S. illegally.

“We may not have the large influx of illegal entries here in Maine, such as we are experiencing on the Southwest Border of the United States, but there certainly is transnational criminal activity occurring here,” Chief Patrol Agent William Maddocks said in a statement. “My team will make every effort to deliver maximum legal consequences and penalties to those we arrest in violation of federal law.”

The sector is also warning that “extreme cold temperatures during winter months can quickly lead to life threatening conditions,” like hypothermia, and even death. Smugglers have no regard “for the life and safety of individuals they attempt to bring into the United States.”

Maddocks also encourages residents and members of the public to report any suspicious activity near the border by calling 1-800-851-8727.

He also posted information on social media describing the harsh winter conditions in which agents work that pose “some sort of risk to life or limb.”

“Frozen waterways can be one of the most treacherous due to dynamic freezing and thawing cycles throughout the winter. Although testing ice before crossing can reduce that risk, it is never 100% safe,” he said. Agents patrol the border after extensive training, preparation, and planning in the event that someone falls through the ice, he said.

They also rely on snowshoes, he said, “to get us where we need to go when other equipment can’t get us there, allowing agents to accomplish our mission of national security. Maine has some of the highest levels of snow fall in the continental U.S. and navigating through the deep snow would be almost impossible without them.”

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