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Human trafficking at northern border prompts concern from lawmakers, advocates, and others

Border Patrol agents are seeing a sharp rise in illegal crossings along sections of New York’s northern border, according to court documents from recent federal prosecutions. The trend, which agents describe as “an unprecedented influx of human trafficking,” has prompted responses from law enforcement, immigrant advocates, and politicians.

Between October 2022 and January 2023, Border Patrol agents recorded an almost 850% increase in apprehensions and encounters with people crossing the border near Swanton, Vermont, compared to the same period a year ago. Many of those immigrants were families with children, according to a report in the Burlington Free Press.

U.S. Representative Claudia Tenney, a Republican representing Central and Western New York, visited with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Buffalo and Rochester to discuss the issue. Tenney, who recently joined the Northern Border Security Caucus, a coalition of 28 members of Congress concerned about “the increased human and drug trafficking along the U.S.-Canada border,” criticized President Joe Biden’s open-border policies.

However, advocates for migrants say that rhetoric like Tenney’s will hurt sectors heavily worked by immigrants, such as dairy farming, which she purports to represent. They call for humane and dignified immigration policies.

Despite sub-zero temperatures, the number of illegal crossings along the northern border has continued to increase. Over the four months ending in January, Border Patrol agents recorded over 1,500 encounters with people suspected of crossing into the country illegally through the CBP’s Swanton Sector. In January alone, there were 367 encounters and apprehensions, surpassing the total for the 12 previous Januaries combined.

Many of those crossing the border come from Mexico, Haiti, and Guatemala. Some fly into Canada from Mexico before making the trek across the border. Smugglers are making thousands of dollars to pick up these people.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

The nonprofit Migrant Justice in Burlington, Vermont, says the increase in crossings is a result of draconian restrictions that the U.S. employs against people seeking refuge from violence and poverty. “Every migrant who dies attempting to enter the U.S.,” the group says, “is a casualty of inhumane U.S. policy.”

Organizations that assist immigrants settling in Western New York and the North Country report that they have not seen an increase in people requesting services. Instead, they see Tenney’s calls for hard-line immigration enforcement as rhetoric.

Jessica Maxwell, the executive director of the Workers Center of Central New York, based in Syracuse, calls for a more reflective approach to the situation. She says that the militarization policies on the border have done nothing to stem flows of migration and contribute to human rights abuses. She also says that the situation seems to be a reflection of deep racism against immigrant communities.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government has promised to accept nearly 1.5 million immigrants by 2025. The number of people entering from Canada’s border with the U.S. has surged, according to the Canada Border Service Agency, with the Quebec and Ontario provinces, which border New York, seeing the largest numbers of people entering.