The rescue from a flooded swamp last week of nine men who had illegally crossed into Minnesota from Canada underscores a dramatic increase in the number of undocumented immigrants entering the United States across the northern border.
Since the start of fiscal year 2023 on Oct. 1, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol says agents have encountered 100 migrants in the Grand Forks sector, which includes the international border in North Dakota and Minnesota. This should be compared with 81 meetings in the entire financial year 2022 and 90 in the financial year 2021.
The 100 migrant encounters in the Grand Forks sector are among 3,830 encounters along the entire northern US border this fiscal year, a 41% increase over all of 2022.
Recent news reports have highlighted Border Patrol agents encountering thousands of migrants in recent months, most of them from Mexico, trekking across the Canadian border into the northeastern United States
But even in the Border Patrol’s quieter Grand Forks sector, the agency is looking to add agents amid a surge in illegal crossings.
“While in the past the northern border may not have been the sanctuary people were looking for, what they realize is that the southern border may be too difficult to cross, but if I go to the northern border, it will be easier,” said Border Protection Agency spokesman Steven Bansbach. “And they find out it’s not because it has its own weather-related issues, as well as cops to find you.”
Statistics show that 70% of Border Patrol encounters in the region this year have been with Mexican migrants. Bansbach noted that the northern U.S. border, which stretches more than 5,000 miles, has 1,900 border agents, compared to 16,500 along the much shorter southern border.
“You have all those places in between [the legal ports of entry] — there’s no fence, so it’s all just land,” he said. Some believe the northern border is easier, he said, and that “you just have to go that far and you’ll be in the United States — and “then far’ turns out to be much more than a few minutes here and there.”
Early Tuesday morning last week, according to CBP officials, an emergency call was made from the Lost River State Forest near Warroad, Minn., and went to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Canadians alerted Minnesota authorities, prompting several dozen people from local law enforcement agencies to rush to the scene.
Jared Berg, acting patrol agent in charge of the Border Patrol’s Warroad Station, said authorities found two men on the side of the road suffering from hypothermia. The agents and rescuers then found seven others stuck in a swampy marsh. Authorities crossed a ditch in ATVs and rescued them in boats.
“It’s a tough environment this time of year if you don’t have the right gear and clothing,” Berg said. “Some of them had some winter coats and winter-related gear, but once they got wet, it didn’t help at all.”
The Border Patrol reported that seven of the men were Mexican citizens without immigration documents to enter the United States legally and were transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Two others, who also lacked immigration papers, received medical treatment for exposure; authorities were unable to establish their nationality.
Berg said most of the encounters here on the Minnesota border are not search and rescue operations. He said the Grand Forks sector will have job openings to fill staffing needs, but declined to say how many.