From Yankee magazine January 1984
Right on the edge of Lake Champlain, a few miles north of Alburg, Vermont, is a quiet country lane called the Line Road. As it crosses into the United States from Canada, it becomes a dirt road and veers away from the lake, heading through fields bordered by forest. A rickety fence made with wooden posts and wire runs along the north shoulder of the road and marks the borderline.
Early in the morning of July 16, 1978, tiny white lights began blinking on and off behind the blue lines crisscrossing the illuminated white panels in the communications center of the United States Border Patrol in Swanton, Vermont. To the men on duty it appeared that a cruising car was tripping sensors planted along the Line Road area of their sector. Suspecting that the car was there to pick up an illegal alien sneaking across the U.S.-Canadian border who was late for a rendezvous at a predetermined spot, they alerted agents on routine patrol in the area. They began to close in on the wandering car. At the same time, another patrolman encountered a young woman walking alone along the Line Road. She had blonde hair and blue eyes but carried an Iranian passport issued to Shahrzad Sadegh Nobari. The circumstances seemed unusual, and the patrolman brought her to the Swanton station for questioning, while other agents picked up the errant car and driver.
“She was the coldest person I have ever met,” recalls Doug Kruhm, Assistant Chief Border Patrol Agent for the Swanton sector. “Her eyes were like chips of ice.”
Through their computerized connections with federal agencies, Swanton’s agents soon discovered that the woman was Kristina Berster, allegedly a member of the Baader-Meinhoff gang, the terrorists whose disciples, among other heinous acts, had killed German banker Jurgen Ponto and kidnapped German industrialist Hanns Schleyer in 1977. “Everyone became interested in her,” says Kruhm. “Members of the German police came here in no time flat to question her. We gave them a small piece of paper we found in the room where we had put her. The paper listed names of people none of us knew, but the Germans seemed to recognize them. She was taken out of our hands very quickly, and no one told us much. Then, several months later, I read in the papers that the Germans bad captured several of the gang’s leaders.”
Kristina Berster was put on trial in Burlington, Vermont, and William Kunstler defended her. Agent Kruhm remembers Berster saying, “When I was in Paris, I was told that to get into the States all you had to do was walk through Vermont’s northern border.” Under the probing of U.S. Attorney William Gray, she testified, “They gave me a plan, with a map they drew, to enter from Noyan, Quebec, to Vermont.”
The agents of the Swanton sector may have begun to wonder if maps with routes for illegal entry 10 the United States were being widely distributed abroad. In 1982 they intercepted 2,012 illegal aliens slipping over from Canada. Compared to the 100,000 aliens illegally crossing our Southwest border each month, Swanton’s arrests may seem small in number, but their traffic in illegals has increased 40 percent in the last three years. The overwhelming majority seem headed for New York City.
While not all the illegal entrants making the French-Canadian connection are dangerous terrorists of the Baader-Meinhoff ilk, neither are they solely migrant labor, like the preponderance of “wetbacks” driven from Mexico by the poverty there. The ways south from Montreal have long been known to Mafia hoods, Greek ship-jumpers, and narcotic traffickers from Latin America.
Illegal immigration has long been a massive headache for the United States government. It is estimated that there are as many as 6,000,000 illegal aliens in the United States today. There is presently no law against hiring them and, since many will accept less than the legal minimum wage, some take jobs that unemployed Americans would gladly take. Once almost eradicated, sweatshops are markedly on the increase again.
Initiated to address these issues, the Simpson-Mazzoli bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate, but the Democratic leadership of the House, under Speaker Tip O’Neill, has pigeonholed it, allegedly because it might give offense to Hispanic-American voters. The Senate version of the bill would grant amnesty to those illegal aliens who could prove entry to the United States before 1980; it would also prohibit the employment of illegal aliens under penalty of fine and/or imprisonment. In a recent editorial The New York Times said of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, “There’s no measure before the new session of Congress that more deserves public attention or prompt enactment by the House.”
Whether the bill is enacted or not, the often rueful duty of the Border Patrol is to enforce the law, turning back all those who would enter the United States illegally.
In manpower, the Swanton sector of the Border Patrol is the largest of eight sectors along our northern border with Canada. At any time, day or night, about 12 of Swanton’s 55 agents patrol the sector’s 40 I-mile-long stretch of the border from Colebrook, New Hampshire, to Alexandria Bay, New York. The country along this stretch of the border is sparsely settled. Many of the people are of French-Canadian origin, and those who are not farmers work in light manufacturing or logging, or cater to an increasing year-round tourist trade. The towns and small cities on the U.S. side are often clustered around village greens with veterans’ memorials. Their town meetings deal with local issues. The land is still heavily forested here and there, dotted with swamps, and gentled by long-worked farms.
One night in December 1981 Doug Kruhm sat knee-deep in a snow drift. He felt himself just about freezing to death after sitting for two hours in the night’s 25″ temperature. Dawn was still three hours away, yet he kept his eyes glued to the nightscope trained on the field in front of him. A deep ravine divided the field and split into two gullies, cutting the field roughly into thirds. Patiently, shivering in the darkness, Kruhm watched for a sign that Sam Bishop was smuggling five Guyanese across the U.S.-Canadian border located a half mile to the north. Although Bishop already had been caught twice, he was out on bail. The Border Patrol had received a tip that he was running the Canadian connection once again.
Kruhm’s walkie-talkie crackled. A border patrolman watching the opposite side of the ravine said, “They’re coming your way. One of them has a wooden leg.”
“Where are they?” Kruhm replied. “I can’t see them.”
“He’s taking them across the field to the West Access Road.”
“That’s your side,” said Kruhm. “Are you sure?”
Kruhm loped through the snow to his car and fired the engine. Searchlights flared across the snow-covered field.
By then Sam Bishop was herding his five aliens up the West Access Road to the Chalet Motel where he shoved them into a stolen Thunderbird idling in the parking lot. As soon as the doors closed, Bishop’s driver gunned the car up the access ramp to Interstate 87 and headed south. Within seconds, Kruhm was in pursuit. He tailed the Thunderbird until it suddenly pulled’ over to the side of the highway. Bishop jumped from the car and dashed into a field where Kruhm followed his tracks through snow that lay in drifts up to his chest. He had no idea if Bishop was armed, and he told himself to be very, very careful.
A mile and a half from the highway, a copse of pine trees bordered a field. Kruhm lost Bishop’s tracks in the bare ground underneath the trees’ snow-laden branches. Carefully he searched the area. Crushed pine needles, bark rubbed from a tree trunk, a fresh scar in the earth from an overturned rock – something would give him a clue. He found it in the crushed moss and lichen on top of an old stone fence. Like an Indian tracker, Kruhm knew from the marks in which direction Bishop had gone. Every sense alert, he followed lhe barely visible trail.
Suddenly he was right beside Sam Bishop, crouched in the darkness. Kruhm dropped on him and handcuffed him immediately. Bishop’s wrists were so large the cuffs barely fit. Only then, when they stood up, did Kruhm realize he had cuffed Bishop’s arms around a cedar log. Rather than remove the bracelets, however, he pulled the log through Bishop’s arms and led him back to the highway.
As a three-time offender, Bishop was sentenced to ten years and a $12,000 fine on July 23, 1982. He is serving his time in a federal penitentiary. Doug Kruhm is still a border patrolman in Swanton, Vermont, where he has been serving since 1971. It seems a long way from Olney, Maryland, where he was born and from EI Centro, California, where he first served as a border patrolman.
When Doug Kruhm first came to Swanton, he had to learn the territory quickly. “I had to get used to three different cultures,” he remembers, “French-Canadian, English-Canadian, and the New England way of life. I was a little apprehensive, but the people here were extremely nice. They knew I was coming before I arrived, and they helped me to find housing. Then I was given a week’s orientation by another patrolman. He showed me the territory and introduced me to informants. As a matter of fact, I apprehended a Czechoslovakian woodcutter my very first day and a Greek who was wearing a suit and snowshoes my second day.”
Activity in the area was not always so heavy. “There were some nights when I first came,” says Kruhm, “that at two or three in the morning I was the only agent on patrol from Buffalo, New York, to Houlton, Maine.
“The day I joined the service I had been working in construction like my father. I happened to be in Washington, D.C., and I saw a Border Patrol poster of two men sitting in a Jeep, looking across a field with binoculars.” Kruhm pauses. “My job has turned out to be a lot different from what I had imagined it would be.”
Remote control television, an array of sensing devices developed during the Vietnam war, and computers have changed the nature of the Border Patrol’s methods in the Swanton sector. The heart of this new technology is the station’s communications room. It is dominated by a four-foot- high, U-shaped console of electronic equipment and by Raymond Chevalier, the sector’s Supervisory Communications Operator. A large man, he sits on a chair with wheels, pushing himself from one set of machines to another, quickly responding to the sensors’ alarms, agents’ calls, or the computers’ chatter of information.
Chevalier is proud of his setup. Facing the curve of the U-shaped console, a wall of white panels stretches across the room. The panels are milk-white, like illuminated tabletops for viewing slides in a camera store, and are marked with blue lines drawn by a grease pencil, each line representing a road or trail across the border. Every once in a while a tiny white light blinks on behind one of the blue lines. “That’s what we’ve got bugged,” says Chevalier, pointing to the panels. “Our sensors cover about 175 miles from New Hampshire into New York. We also are in constant touch with our eight substations, all our vehicles, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the police in every state we cover, and the FBI. We can even talk with local sheriffs and game wardens.”
The magnetic sensors, about the size and shape of a large Thermos bottle, are buried in the ground near roads and along trails through woods. So sensitive they can detect a belt buckle or a shoe nail 30 feet away, they emit microwave signals when triggered. A thin antenna, which looks like a reed and is the only part of the device above the ground, sends the signal to Swanton’s communications room where it causes a light to flash on the panels. “See where the road forks?” asks Chevalier, pointing to a blue line that branch… “We have sensors along both roads so we can tell which way the subject is moving. If they go away from the port of entry, where they should register after crossing the border, then we know they are trying to sneak into the United States.”
Seismic and infrared sensors work in much the same way. Judiciously hidden along routes used for illegal entry, they can monitor the amount and direction of illegal activity. “The best devices we’ve developed, however,” says Chevalier, “are the closed-circuit television cameras. Our technicians thought of using them two years ago, and we were the first sector in the country to use them. Soon we’ll have a new kind of camera. It’s so sensitive it can show the rungs on a barn’s ladder from across the lake in a thunderstorm at night. The pictures will come directly to monitors here in this room. Each one of these cameras will equal six or seven patrolmen for an equivalent amount of observation and effectiveness.”
For the most part, however, sensors are not directly responsible for apprehensions. They are used to predict where and when aliens are entering the United States. “It’s an ever-changing game,” says agent Kruhm, “and with a limited force, good will is a necessity. Local contacts count for a lot, and a good agent will be a friend to the people in his sector. He should know who wants to be friendly and who wants to be left alone. But it’s hard to know who is what sometimes. One of my best contacts is the gruffest, grouchiest, most cantankerous farmer I’ve met here.”
The Border Patrol’s surveillance has benefited by the addition of television, sensors, and computers. It has also employed subtraction to increase its chances of nabbing infiltrators. Last August a brouhaha was raised when NBC news reported that the infamous “Agent Orange” – the dioxin-containing defoliant of the Vietnam War – had been used along the U.S.-Canadian border.
The State of Maine promptly collected soil samples which it had analyzed by an independent laboratory, but no trace of Agent Orange was discovered. However, the International Boundary Commission (IBC) asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate. On August 10 Michael F. Wood of the Compliance Monitoring Staff, Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances, conducted an inspection at the IBC’s office at the U.S. Department of State. He reported that “from 1956/7 to 1977 the International Boundary Commission used herbicides as part of their activity in maintaining a 20-foot vista between boundary monuments along the United States-Canadian border.” He noted that a “review of IBC records and discussion and interview with Mr. Moore, Engineer of the Commission, did not reveal any use of Agent Orange.” He also reported that Mr. Moore had said that purchase records had been thrown out or archived, since six years had elapsed since the last use of herbicides on the border. And he pointed out that Agent Orange was never registered in the United States and was never commercially available in this country.
Despite help from local contacts, sensors, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Doug Kruhm’s job is not an easy one as he takes his turn behind the engine of the big green and white LTD of the Border Patrol. It is made difficult by the increasingly sophisticated techniques of smugglers who not only bring in aliens for a price, but who also actively recruit people in their native countries. The smuggler’s normal fee is about $1,200 to $2,000 but, perhaps realizing that few people from Third World countries can afford that much, a few smuggling rings now operate on credit. So the rings send emissaries to underdeveloped nations. There they promise villagers plane tickets to Montreal or Toronto, guides to take them across the border, rides to New York or other large cities, apartments once they arrive, and jobs to support themselves. The catch, of course, is that once the aliens are set up in the United States they become indentured servants to the rings who brought them here.
Policies on both sides of the Canadian border also contribute to an increase in the illegal traffic. Citizens of 76 countries can enter Canada without a visa. And in the large ethnic communities of Montreal and Toronto, it is a fairly simple task for an alien to contact a smuggling ring. Many of the airport cab drivers are more than willing to help their native sons and to earn finder’s fees in the process. On the American side, there is a waiting labor market for illegal aliens. The homes of many wealthy and – presently – law-abiding citizens are staffed by illegal aliens who were recruited and smuggled in to become domestic servants. Referring to service and manufacturing industries, Larry Teverbaugh, Chief Patrol Agent of the Swanton sector observes, “These groups don’t want to lose the aliens’ help. The illegals have experience in these fields.”
Chief Teverbaugh is a handsome man with a strong nose, pale blue eyes, and salt-and- pepper hair. Close to retirement now, he first entered the Border Patrol in 1960 and came to Swanton in June 1980. His office is immaculate and the phones on his desk are at precisely the correct angle to his chair. “There is no way,” he says, “that we would or could round up all the people illegally crossing our borders and remove them from our country. I don’t think the American people are ready for that or that they would stand for it.”
In order to preserve our present immigration policies, Swanton’s border patrolmen drive 80 to 90 miles a day, working particular eight-hour shifts for periods of two weeks. “All together,” says Chief Teverbaugh, “our agents drive about 90,000 to 100,000 miles a month. That’s a lot of mileage, and we didn’t have a mechanic when I first came here. We have our own maintenance man at the station now, and he saves us a lot of money. More sensors and remote-controlled cameras will allow us to keep up with the increase in illegal crossings, but there is no real substitute for the agent who knows his territory.”
Based on reports he receives from various sources and the physical signs left along trails and roads that cross the border, Chief Teverbaugh estimates his agents stop about 75 percent of the people illegally entering his sector. Doug Kruhm agrees. “Many of the trails are almost ethnically owned,” he adds. “We used to have a lot of Greeks coming through Beecher Falls, Vermont, until we caught 15 in a 30-day period and impounded all their cars. Now Haitians come through Champlain, Portuguese through Alburg, Guyanese through Roxam Road near Champlain, and Turks and Armenians through Alburg Springs. Aggressive prosecution of smugglers like Sam Bishop has helped to keep the numbers reasonable, though.”
When aliens are caught, if they are not smugglers as well, they are guilty of crossing the border without inspection, a criminal misdemeanor, and of being here without a visa, a deportable offense. Usually they stay in jail in Plattsburg, New York, or Burlington, Vermont, for four days until a U.S. magistrate sentences them to the time they have just served. The maximum penalty, however, is six months in jail and a $500 fine. Then the District Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issues an “Order To Show Cause,” and the aliens either agree to leave voluntarily or they are deported to their native countries. If they are smugglers, however, they have committed a felony, and the maximum sentence is two years in a federal penitentiary and a $5,000 fine.
“Most of the aliens we apprehend are not bad people,” says Doug Kruhm. “Few of them are hardened criminals. They are people from impoverished areas who are seeking a better standard of living, or they are leaving their countries for political reasons. The world would be a much better place if we could improve the quality of life everywhere to the point where people would be content to stay in their own societies. But I am not so idealistic that [ see that day coming soon. Until then, I think we have to hide by some controllable and equitable system of immigration.”
Agent Donald A. Peck agrees. “It can be tough work emotionally,” says Peck. “Everyone you apprehend has a story, and it’s usually a sad one. They’re running from hunger or oppressive governments and have spent all their money in getting this far. But the law says they can’t come in here, and my job is enforcing the law.”