PLATTSBURGH, N.Y.—One night this past winter, Lynne Lamon of Plattsburgh, New York, was driving up the U.S.-9 northbound by Canada’s border when she noticed three young men walking on the side of the road.
The men were dressed poorly for the subzero temperatures and wind chill from Lake Champlain. Their down vests were tattered and leaking feathers.
Lamon pulled over, rolled down the window, and told the men to get in and warm up.
“They were so thankful. I turned on what you call an English-Spanish app on my phone so that we could talk. They were happy about that.”
Lamon drove the men to a local restaurant, bought them breakfast, and gave them water for the trip north.
The men said they wanted to go to the nearest U.S. port of entry, but Lamon said, ‘No. You will be taken in [by federal border officers] and brought back to Plattsburgh.”
“Why are they going to Canada? I don’t know,” Lamon said of the three men. “They didn’t have any relatives there. They walked forever, like three months. They had sneakers on that were frozen [to their] feet.”
Like many U.S. citizens, Lamon believes it’s a moral imperative to lend aid to illegal immigrants, despite the legal consequences.
“I’m an old hippie” at heart, she told The Epoch Times.
However, Federal Statute 8 U.S. Code Section 1324, makes it a crime to transport illegal immigrants in the United States.
“What this means is that if you give a ride to someone who is in the United States illegally, then you could be charged with transporting illegal aliens. Such a federal violation could lead to fines and up to five years imprisonment,” according to the law office of Abdel Jimenez based in Florida.
Regardless, there’s money to be made in transporting illegal immigrants.
Some American citizens will offer rides for hundreds of dollars, fueling a quiet passage along Canada’s 3,500-mile land border with the United States.
Some, like Lynne Lamon, do it out of kindness.
In Derby, Vermont, hotel employees Matt and George said they have seen people charge illegal immigrants as much as $500 for rides to metropolitan areas.
Sometimes, the families are so large that several vehicles are needed.
One local man told The Epoch Times he made $400 driving an individual from Derby to Boston.
Matt and George said illegal immigrants are a nuisance when they crowd into the small hotel lobby after being dropped off by Border Patrol.
Since Border Patrol “has to drop them off somewhere, they drop them off here–or at gas stations,” George said. “They bring their luggage—garbage bags. They have little kids; they don’t have car seats. They don’t have anything.”
“They don’t want a room. They’re looking for rides to Boston, New York, or Miami. Those are the biggest places they want to go,” Matt said.
While some do spend money on a hotel room, most illegal immigrants will loiter in the warm lobby for hours for a private ride.
Few choose to stay in Derby, Matt said.
“Most go to White River Junction [Vermont] to the Greyhound Station. We have no taxis here. So many locals will make a fortune off it because they will take them to places they want to go.”
Matt said he doesn’t see giving rides to illegal immigrants as “aiding and abetting” illegal immigration.
“They’re here legally now [whereas] Border Patrol before would arrest them,” George said. “They privately find a person and pay them to get to Greyhound or Amtrak—whatever.”
In fiscal year 2020, Border Patrol agents arrested 32,376 illegal immigrants along the U.S.-Canada border, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data.
During the pandemic, border encounters plummeted to about 27,180 but surged again to 109,535 in fiscal 2022.
Illegal Crossings Both Ways
Along the northeast border with Canada, the Swanton Sector incorporates some 24,000 square miles, including all of Vermont, six New York counties, and three New Hampshire counties.
In Clinton County, New York, population 79,596, Sheriff David Favro said there’s been a rising tide of illegal immigration throughout the county in recent months.
“It is going both ways. What’s happening is some local groups are working to assist the families trying to get up into Canada with legitimate cause. Then there’s traffic being kicked back from Canada into the United States,” Favro said.
Favro has remained outspoken about illegal border crossings since his department and Border Patrol agents apprehended 39 illegal immigrants in one weekend.
He believes it’s a humanitarian crisis in the making.
“The problem is—especially this time of year—[the weather] can be so unpredictable,” Favro said.
“We have had a couple of weekends where it was minus 50 degrees [Fahrenheit]. They’re not properly clothed. They’re cutting through woods, walking through swamps. Their clothes are freezing to their bodies. They’re getting hypothermic. Some have had frostbite and issues with extremities. They’re bringing young children. It creates a bad environment; they’re not prepared for it.”
Dangerous Weather and Open Borders
Favro described efforts by law enforcement as humanitarian, giving aid to illegal immigrants entering the United States through essentially open borders.
He said too often they arrive ill-prepared for the long journey through New York.
“We’re not advising them what the condition is, the terrain, and where they’re headed. It’s the opposite of a humanitarian effort,” Favro said.
In February, Border Patrol recorded 367 field encounters in the Swanton Sector in January during minus 4-degree temperatures.
The January total had “surpassed the preceding January apprehensions for the past 12 consecutive years combined,” according to CBP.
Before January, the Swanton Sector experienced an “uninterrupted seven-month streak of sustained encounter increases—part of an upward trend dating back to the beginning of FY22.”
Many encounters involved families with young children, “including infants, illegally crossing from Canada into the U.S.”
The CBP added, “As we progress deeper into winter and continue to address the ongoing pace of illicit cross-border traffic, the level of concern for the lives and welfare of our Border Patrol agents, and those we are encountering—particularly vulnerable populations—continues to climb.”
Frozen to Death
Favro said law enforcement recently found an illegal immigrant who had frozen to death in the wilderness.
“We may find a body or two after the snow melts stuck under the snow. We fly with helicopters and drones to watch the wooded areas. Still, you miss some,” Favro told The Epoch Times.
“We’ve had a family that got lost in a swamp. They called 911. It was cold—in the teens. They were knee-deep in water. They wore polyester clothing that didn’t hold up well in cold temperatures and water. The clothing freezes to their body. They’re in peril.”
Canada’s emergency line picked up the call and “kicked it back over here to the U.S.,” Favro said. The local fire department responded with a search and rescue team.
He said that any deaths are likely to occur due to exposure to the extreme cold and elements.
Rejected From Canada
In 2021, Canada’s immigrant population exceeded 8 million, directly resulting from the government’s Immigration Levels Plan, which seeks to add 460,000 new immigrants annually.
Immigrants now make up nearly 25 percent of Canada’s population of 38.25 million citizens.
Favro said many illegal immigrants end up being rejected by the Canadian government and will try to make their way back to the United States across the northern border.
“We’re getting those heading southbound rejected by Canada for various reasons,” Favro said.
“For some, it may be a criminal history. Some may have illegally entered Canada before. They are trying to sneak back into the United States and go through the woods, the swamps, the water—anyway they can. It poses a complication.
“Usually, if they take off in a dead run in the middle of the night, they know they’re doing something wrong.”
Favro said Swanton Sector is the most active illegal crossing area along the northern border. Clinton County encompasses nearly 30 miles of the sector.
Every encounter with an illegal migrant is an unknown quantity, he said.
Favro said many nonprofits and advocacy groups will provide travel funding and ticketing for illegal migrants, but then they are on their own.
“What complicates our lives more than anything is you have this mix of migrants—north- and southbound. We’re stuck right in the middle of it,” Favro said.
One Plattsburgh hotel employee told The Epoch Times that she’s a former resident of Roxham Road in Champlain, where illegal immigrant crossings are now common.
“I didn’t see many [illegal migrants] coming back this way” at the time, the concierge said. “I see a lot of them going to Canada. They’re dressed wrong for the winter in this area.”
The concierge said when she’d go out to her shed, migrants would often be huddled inside.
“They’d be sleeping in my shed. At least it was warm,” the concierge said. “They get dropped off here in Plattsburgh. They’ll stay here at one of the hotels. They’ll group up and take a cab to Roxham Road. They’ll get dropped off and walk across” the border into Canada.
“I’ve seen them come from Guatemala, Guam—all those areas. It’s just people trying to make a better life for themselves.”
Further up the rural backroad, an elderly woman named Wanda stood on the front porch of her daughter’s farmhouse as an icy rain began to fall.
Wanda said she often sees illegal migrants walking the length of Roxham Road, carrying suitcases or pushing baby strollers.
“It’s scary for me because I have grandkids and horses and cows in these barns. They’re out here all hours,” she said.
‘Just want it to stop’
In the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, 49 miles drive from Derby, Police Chief Tim Page said illegal immigrants have been slowly showing up in the community after crossing from Canada.
The town’s Welcome Center recently helped four illegal migrant families by purchasing tickets and arranging transportation to New York City and Plattsburgh.
“I didn’t know how they were getting here. I learned it was the Border Patrol that was dropping them off here. So I called the Border Patrol to find out why they were doing that,” Page said.
The agent told Page he “didn’t have a choice.”
“He needs to get these people to areas where they can get transportation. The communities [along the border] are inundated. They’re asking to spread [the responsibility] around.”
“So far, people have been seeking travel information and arrangements. I haven’t had anyone who wants to stay in this area yet. It still poses a problem for us finding transportation for them—food, housing if they need to spend the night here.”
Page said Border Patrol informed him that the situation would “continue to happen and probably more so because they had an unexpected surge at the northern border.”
“What are the marching orders? I don’t know. This particular individual [said] they’re overwhelmed. They only have so many resources, so I asked if he could bring them to larger cities that could handle them. He said he doesn’t have the resources to get them to other places. He’s bringing them wherever he can. We’re one of the closest places.”
While several local social service agencies have offered to help, their resources are limited, and local law enforcement is spread thin, Page told The Epoch Times.
Frustrated, Page called Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, on the phone, saying the situation was beyond the community’s ability to handle on its own.
“Fortunately, he put something in motion. Things are in the works. I’m not sure where they are at this point,” Page said.
Not a Crisis–Yet
In the meantime, Page views the situation as a potential crisis.
“If it becomes untenable, then we’re in trouble. We need to handle it before it gets to that problem. Smarter people than me are going to solve it. I hope they do it soon. That’s all.”
He said most illegal immigrants so far are Haitian or Mexican nationals bound for Canada and a new life.
“There’s a concern—and there’s empathy. We can use a little of both. In the end, [the migrants] are human beings,” Page said. “I’m worried about my community right now. I have people to protect. That’s my focus right now.”
He has his own political beliefs, too, on how to handle the problem, but keeps them separate from his daily tasks.
“I have a job to do here. And that’s what I’m going to do,” Page said.
With 13 full-time police officers on staff, the St. Johnsbury police department concentrates on two square miles of the downtown.
At the moment, the officers are “crazy busy” with calls, Page said.
Page said the illegal immigration problem adds another layer of responsibility and the potential for a public backlash, “That’s the part I’m worried about and trying to get ready for,” he said.
Ideally, Page said he just wants the problem “to stop.”
“That would be the best thing.”
In Quebec, Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Corporal Tasha Adams said the agency regularly faces “sporadic upticks” of people attempting to cross the border southbound.
“On many occasions when our officers are patrolling the border, they encounter individuals or are dispatched to find people suffering from hypothermia and frostbite. Many times these people are in Canada legally (on visitor status or otherwise) and attempting to get into the U.S. illegally between designated ports of entry,” Adams said.
With every encounter, Adams said RCMP officers are at risk conducting rescues as the terrain is unsafe and mountainous, with many ravines.
“Additionally, the climate is such that there are often large amounts of snow to trek through. Once rescued, because they are legally in Canada, these individuals are placed in the care of medical personnel since no criminal offense was committed,” Adams said.
She said the migrants are often ill-equipped for the harsh weather in Canada and the northeastern United States.
“Although I cannot explain why this is the case, these people are clearly misguided or misinformed when it comes [to] the factors they should consider,” Adams told The Epoch Times.
The trend has put a strain on resources. RCMP officers are also concerned about safety as “often there are children with their families.”
Adams said several factors influence immigration trends, adding that the situation is constantly changing.
“We have intelligence on global illegal migration trends to help us better prepare for these possible scenarios. The RCMP takes a multi-layered approach to monitoring and responding to activity along our borders using the resources, technology, intelligence, and partnerships at our disposal,” Adams said.
“This model of border security means that we deploy our border enforcement resources to the areas of greatest risk between the ports of entry. The RCMP continually reviews its operational priorities to ensure that sectors are adequately resourced.”
At the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center, associate Mary Foster said the sudden influx of migrants “started last week” with a family of five Haitians.
“All of a sudden, they’re here. It’s like, OK. It’s all brand new to us in St. Johnsbury. We help as much as we can. I know they were supposed to take a bus early this morning to go somewhere,” Foster said.
“They had money, I know, to pay for the hotel room. Yes, they had warm clothing. So far, it’s been people with children passing through. We don’t have that many resources here to help them.”
Discover St. Johnsbury Director Gillian Sewake said the new arrivals all had specific destinations in mind.
“So, we’re navigating bus schedules. We do have the RCT bus that stops here and we just make sure they’re getting to their final destination from there,” Sewake told The Epoch Times. “We’ve had a bunch of community partners who’ve been able to provide translation services, and it’s been great.”
“Folks have indicated it’s going to continue,” Sewake added. “We are mobilizing the resources so that we’re more connected. It caught us off guard, but we have great services here and are happy to support this. We’re a bus stop, so we deal with folks in all life circumstances.”
Bad for Business
Matt and George said illegal immigrants showing up at the Derby Hotel has been bad for business.
“I get so frustrated. It’s awful,” Matt said.
And while the migrants don’t appear hostile, “they just keep coming at you with their phones and translators, trying to communicate with you. And they put it right up to your face.”
“It’s more of an inconvenience and a bother than anything else. We’re babysitting [illegal immigrants]. Our goal is to get them out of here. The majority of them are not guests,” Matt said.
“After three hours, we tell them they have to leave. Sometimes, we’ll send them to the Newport [Vermont] police station,” George said.
Newport Police Chief Travis Bingham declined a request for comment from The Epoch Times.
Matt said every illegal migrant who enters the lobby is a problem for the employees. And they never know what to expect.
One migrant wore a GPS bracelet; Matt said he had no idea why.
“What we’re finding is it’s a pain in the butt and looks bad for business,” he said. “They could be a threat. They could be the nicest people in the world, but you don’t know.”
“With Trump, you didn’t see it as much.” Matt said. “For some reason, there’s been an uptick, and they’re moving now. There’d be months we’d have nothing. Now, it’s picking up like mad. Something is going on and making them move.”
The increase in numbers has been “shocking to Vermonters,” known for their tolerance toward newcomers, he said.
Even so, “it’s never been this bad,” Matt said of illegal migration.
Matt said when the illegal migrants begin to congregate in the lobby, “it’s going to be a hell of a day now because you have to deal with them.”
“They’re so demanding. They need so much attention. They feel entitled.”
Worse, he fears hotel employees will quit if things don’t improve.
“There is so much pressure on us because they always come at us saying they need help. You’re pretty much focusing only on them,” Matt said.
In the rustic town of Canaan, Vermont, about two miles from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, Maurice’s Motel manager Bob Lemieux said all has been quiet on the northern border so far.
“I don’t notice anything. All I hear is what’s on the news,” Lemieux said. “I’ve heard over in Plattsburgh, New York, they’ve had issues with people crossing the border. I’ve heard of an issue from Derby, which isn’t very far. I don’t hear anything around here.”
“It doesn’t concern me much at all. I wouldn’t know anything if it weren’t for what I heard on the news. “It’s a small town, and not much happens here.”
In Plattsburgh, Favro said it’s been a community tradition to welcome newcomers. But even that is coming under strain with the influx of illegal immigrants.
Some locals now fear an increase in associated crime.
“We have families—rural north country New York up here that are very trusting, open arms, nice, caring people that now are potential victims,” Favro said. “We’re getting migrants that are cold up here—even right now, it’s 40 degrees in the daytime. But at night, it’s 21 or 22 degrees. It’s cold.”
“They’re breaking into barns, storage sheds, and campers in storage until summertime. They’re walking into homes at night. Our concern is an innocent family person will try to protect their family—there will be harm at some point. And that’s going to be life-changing.”
Favro said illegal immigrants usually carry a cell phone courtesy of the federal government.
“We’ve got a garbage can full of cell phones. They think they’re tracking devices and don’t want them to know where they are,” Favro said.
While the financial cost of illegal migration is “insignificant” at the local level, as a country, “it is exorbitant,” Favro said.
“We’re all paying a significant price for this. These people have to be taken care of with medical, housing, food, and transportation, with law enforcement reasons on all sides of the border and in between. So there’s a much higher cost than the average American knows about.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about people. You’ve got to help everybody until you can figure out the threats. And then you have to mitigate the threats. We’re up against impossible odds. It takes only one person to slip into the crowd and create harm to the community of the United States as a whole.”
In the tourist town of Woodstock, Vermont, 117 miles south of Plattsburgh, Police Chief Robbie Blish said illegal immigration remains a distant problem for the community for now.
“I don’t see how it can’t [change]. When you start hearing about the numbers coming across the northern border, communities up there will have to shift those numbers down to us. I think it’s only a matter of time,” said Blish, a 12-year member of the Woodstock police force.
“White River Junction is a major hub. On the other side, you have Rutland. So, we’ll see it flowing one way or another on Route 4. Woodstock is not far from that either.”
Blish said illegal migration is a serious problem that requires a decisive solution.