Border crossings from Canada into upstate New York, New Hampshire and Vermont reached a record number last year, as migrants take advantage of understaffing and the lack of fencing at the northern border.
More than 12,200 migrants were apprehended crossing illegally from Canada last year, a 240% surge from the year before, when only 3,578 were arrested, US Customs and Border Protection data show.
Much of the illegal crossings — about 70% — occurred along the 295-mile Swanton Sector, which includes upstate New York, New Hampshire and Vermont, the data show.
In that sector, 3,100 people from 55 different countries have been apprehended since October alone — more than the total of the past four fiscal years combined, Robert Garcia, the chief patrol agent for the sector, posted on X Friday.
Experts say the migrants who make it to Mexico and can afford a $350 one-way plane ticket from Mexico City or Cancun to Montreal or Toronto are making their way south to cross the northern US border — where they are less likely to be turned away than those who cross the southern border.
The US border with Canada is much longer than the border with Mexico, and the ports of entry are often understaffed as the CBP focuses on the surge in migration at the southern border.
Additionally, there is no fencing along the northern border, much of which is simply woods and dirt paths.
“The northern border has pretty much been ignored,” New York Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake), who represents Clinton County, told the New York Times.
He added that the federal government was “failing on immigration, and they’re failing the people that live along the border.”
In Clinton County, residents have increasingly spotted migrants walking across their fields and backyards, or lugging suitcases down back roads.
Some have sought shelter inside residents’ barns and garages to escape the cold.
Many are staying in Plattsburgh, the largest city in the county, hoping to afford a $90 bus fare into New York City, according to the newspaper.
A gas station in the city has become an unofficial meeting spot for migrants strapped for funds, and local motels are often forced to take migrants in during the winter under a rule that requires them not to turn away travelers when temperatures drop below freezing.
Those frigid conditions have also proved deadly to migrants hoping to enter the country.
At least a dozen migrants — including families, children and one pregnant woman — have been found frozen to death in rivers or in the forest bordering the two countries.
In December, US border agents also found themselves giving lifesaving aid to migrants they found in the cold and snow.
Sometimes, though, the migrants seek aid from human smuggling operations.
In Syracuse, federal prosecutors have filed a series of cases aimed at taking down smuggling networks, detailing in court documents how smugglers help guide migrants through the woods and coordinate drivers with out-of-state license plates to pick them up once they cross the border.
At the same time, an increasing number of migrants have crossed into Canada for asylum there — especially under the Trump administration, when many feared deportation from the US.
US Customs and Border Protection didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, the agency told the Times that the country has forged a close relationship with Canada to counter the influx of illegal migration.
“CBP continuously adjusts to shifting trends while continuing to call on Congress to provide the resources and personnel necessary to sustain and improve our border security,” the statement said.
In March, Customs and Border Protection transferred 25 agents to the northern border to address the surge in migration.
“While the apprehension numbers are small compared to other areas with irregular migration flows, Swanton Sector apprehensions constitute a large change in this area,” a CBP spokesman told NBC News in November.
“The deployed team will serve as a force multiplier in the region and assist to deter and disrupt human smuggling activities being conducted in the Swanton Sector area of responsibility,” he said.
There are about 2,200 Border Patrol agents along the northern border trying to find and stop migrants using sensors, thermal camera systems and drones.
New Hampshire officials are hoping to bolster their efforts with a bill that would permit landowners to post “No Trespassing” signs on open spaces with the exception of recreational use.
The bill would clear the way for suspected undocumented migrants to be potentially arrested by law enforcement for criminal trespassing, according to NHPR.
Meanwhile, in Canada — where Quebec officials warned in January that the influx of migrants entering put the province at a “breaking point” — anyone entering the county through an unofficial port of entry from the US would lose the right to request asylum, under an agreement between the country and the US in March.
Politicians there are also considering implementing a visa requirement for travelers from Mexico.