United States Customs and Border Protection says it arrested 27 people who illegally crossed into Maine from New Brunswick, in what might be the single largest “apprehension event” for border agents in that state.
The 27 people, described as Romanians, were arrested after crossing the border near Union Corners, Me., last Friday, according to a news release issued by US Customs and Border Protection. They were eventually sent back to Canada.
The Romanians were traveling in four vehicles, and border agents stopped them shortly after they crossed over.
“This is the largest singular apprehension event in recent history for the US Border Patrol here in Maine and may very well be our largest ever,” said William J. Maddocks, chief border officer for the Houlton section, in an email statement.
“This multi-family group made an organized attempt to illegally enter the United States, with the stated intention of establishing residence somewhere on the East Coast. To state otherwise would be speculation, however investigations into this event will continue for some time to come. “
Maddocks said there’s no indication that any members of the group were victims of human trafficking.
Vehicles seized, fines issued
The group of 27 people traveled across the border using sport utility vehicles and minivans, which were seized, along with a “large sum” of undeclared currency, Maddocks said.
US border agents “expelled” all members of the group to Canada, in full co-operation with their counterparts in the Canada Border Services Agency, he said.
Maddocks said the US Border Patrol, in consultation with the US Attorney’s Office, decided not to pursue criminal prosecution, but the agency imposed “civil penalties” against all adults involved in the amount of $5,000 each.
“I hope the disruption of this event, and the penalties imposed upon those violators, sends a message of deterrence for those who would attempt to circumvent the legal immigration processes,” he said.
It’s not clear where the Romanians were taken after being sent back to Canada. There are also no other details about the people in the group or the Canadian side of their journey.
Cpl. Hans Ouellette, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick RCMP, said Thursday afternoon he had no information about the incident.
The Canada Border Services Agency wouldn’t answer questions, saying it was bound by privacy rules not to discuss specific cases.
But people who are returned to Canada by US border agents are assessed under provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, agency spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said in an email. They have to meet requirements of the act to stay in this country.
Activity not common along border
Union Corners is a community that straddles the border just east of the town of Hodgdon, Me.
On the other side of the border lies the community of Union Corner, about 20 kilometers southwest of Woodstock and about 115 kilometers west of Fredericton.
Jamie Williams lives on Union Corner Road on the New Brunswick side in a home that once served as a Canadian customs checkpoint, with the boundary line just nine meters from the back door.
She said she didn’t hear or see anything happen last Friday, but added that activity along the border isn’t uncommon.
“We don’t see a lot of Canadian border services [agents] … but the United States side has always heavily patrolled the area,” Williams said. “Like we see their vehicles on the road that runs parallel to ours, we see them multiple times a day and they also have a helicopter that patrols the border.”
Union Corner Road runs southwest and then curves to the left and runs directly along the US border, with another road, named Lincoln Road, also running parallel on the US side.
Williams said there is an orange railroad tie fence that blocks most of the border, but there is a 10-foot opening where the two countries—and two roads—are only separated by a ditch.
“In reality, if no one’s patrolling it, it’s very easy to cross,” she said. “You can get a car very easily through there, and we also see, like a lot of people sitting on either side of the road, like a person on the Canadian side and a person on the United States side just speaking to each other. “
Williams said prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, people moved relatively freely between Maine and New Brunswick, leading to close family and community networks that transcended the border.
Those connections became strained when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the suspension of cross-border travel. With it, she said, she noticed an uptick in people traveling on Union Corner Road, which is usually very quiet.
Williams said she hasn’t personally seen US border agents arrest anyone attempting to cross, but added it would be difficult to get away with it, especially by car.
“On the American side, the road that runs along there, all of the families that live on that side, very close to the border, they’re all Amish, so none of them drive. So a car sticks out like a sore thumb .”