U.S. Northern Border Patrol a Monumental Task

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INTERNATIONAL FALLS, Minn. -- Problems along the U.S. borders consistently gain nationwide attention, but most of the attention focuses on the southern border with Mexico.

However, the border with Canada runs more than 5,000 miles. Although it is much longer, there are fewer people doing the job of protecting our northern frontier.

In International Falls, Minn., a border fence isn't even an option.  Virtually all of the 143 miles covered by Border Patrol agents is water -- much of it in the remote Voyageurs National Park.

It's all part of the world's longest international border, more than 5,500 miles shared with Canada. Much of the frontier is wilderness, making border security a monumental task.

"What we're looking for when we go out on patrol is just something out of the ordinary," said agent Kirk Alia, of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "What we'll just do is follow some people and see where they are coming from and where they are going."

Yet, the vastness and terrain aren't the only obstacles.

"You could be patrolling out here when it's -10 (degrees), -20, and if you have mechanical problems, you are going to be stuck out there for quite awhile," Alia said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has seen a huge increase in resources since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But there are more than ten agents covering the southern border for every one stationed here.

That means that guarding the northern frontier becomes especially difficult a few weeks from now, when the vast water barrier turns to ice.

"In the wintertime it becomes a land border instead of water, where somebody can hop on their snowmobile with a backpack full of drugs and come across real easily and hit the snowmobile trails and be gone," Alia added.

These agents do receive one thing their cohorts on the southern border don't get - help from their neighbors.

"We do rely heavily our Canadian counterparts and our electronics that we can use out on the water and the ice checking for people coming across," Alia said.  "But even with the help from Canadian authorities, vigilance on our northern border is more important now than ever."

--Originally published Dec. 10, 2010. 

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