Derby Line border meeting draws passionate response

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(Host) A controversial plan to ban vehicles from three back streets connecting Derby Line, Vermont to Stanstead, Quebec triggered some testy exchanges last night in the Haskell Opera House, which straddles the border.

VPR’s Charlotte Albright attended the public meeting and has this report.

(Albright) For the first time in a public forum, U.S. and Canadian border authorities released statistics showing that illegal traffic is on the rise through
three unguarded streets that cross the border at Derby Line. In 2006, they say, 44 people were intercepted.So far in 2007, 32 have been nabbed.

Mike Desjardins, an investigator for the US Border Patrol, said the trend is alarming:

(Desjardins) ‘These are violent people and they come through your area without your knowledge. And they come through these unguarded streets probably without our knowledge. You know, we mention how much we see and how much we apprehend but we have no idea how much we miss.”

(Albright) The Border Patrol says it does not want to impede pedestrians, only criminals whizzing through in
cars. They suggested putting planters in the streets. But most of the speakers last night opposed any kind of blockade. Ben Kramer, of Stanstead, said that barriers would not deter criminals, but would drive a wedge between two traditionally close knit communities.

(Kramer) “You want to make me more secure at the price of my freedom? I’m sorry, no. We have to be more vigilant, certainly, but so do you. That’s your job, guys. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

(Albright) Border patrols on both sides of the boundary insisted that they can’t do that job effectively without what they call “low tech” barriers, and said that adding more personnel instead would be too expensive.

They implored the fifty people who attended last night’s meeting to tip them off to any suspicious activity, and to form a committee that will propose ways to close the streets to cars they say are leaking through these security gaps from all over the country.

Derby Line Trustees and Stanstead Cuncilors say they will consider that request at future meetings.

For VPR News, I’m Charlotte Albright.

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