By Ryan Honl 

Roseau County Residents Fearful and Uncertain of Action at the Northern Border


by Ryan Honl

In a particularly cold spell two weeks ago, as reported on April 22, nine illegal immigrants crossed a quiet wooded area of the Canadian border north of Salol. It didn’t go for them as planned. The locals know the last thing you should do is wade through waters without winter clothes in freezing temperatures. The leader of this infantry-sized squad obviously didn’t plan well. According to Roseau County Sheriff Steve Gust, he heard the leader turned tail and ran back into Canada, whereabouts unknown, while the nine others ultimately ended up in US Border Control custody.

Asking what Sheriff Gust would say to those folks that live in that area and are fearful and concerned, he said “They’re trying their best I guess at this point. It’s tough to monitor that area of the country. I guess the only thing we can do is try to be more proactive on that and be out there more. It’s more reactive than proactive. The sad part you know is what you don’t know. You’re not going to stop it 100%. To me it’s nothing new. I feel for people out there who don’t know what’s going on. Again, I can’t say when it’s gonna happen again. As for our guys (in the Sheriff’s Office) we will be out there and will be proactive.”

The statistics according to the Customs & Border Protection Website itself are staggering. For example, in just March of this year there were 15,774 encounters at the northern border compared to 7,822 in 2022 and only 1,989 just two years ago. That is an 8-fold increase in 24 months. The statistics yet unpublished on the website for April will include the nine who crossed in Roseau County. The numbers of border agents have certainly not increased 8-fold since then. There are currently approximately 2,000 northern border patrol agents working its 5,000 mile length which includes Alaska. The Canadian border is the longest border between any two countries in the world. Compare that with the Mexico border that is 2,000 miles long with 16,000 agents.

So what’s the real number if you include the ones counted as “got aways?” Nobody knows. The recent nine who crossed illegally near Salol were only apprehended because they themselves called emergency services.

When reaching out to a few locals living near Salol none wanted to be on the record for fear of the illegals and their smugglers knowing who they are and where they live. The fear and hesitation are understandable.

When asked if illegals could be bringing drugs across the border, Sheriff Gust said, “It’s not a matter of if. They are.” To illustrate the openness of the border, he related a story about a man in Williams who was ferrying drugs across Lake of the Woods from Canada. He was eventually caught but it is unknown how many trips he successfully made previously. Asked what he knows about US Border Patrol actions he said, “They’ve got some boats out there. The US Coast Guard has a boat in Warroad. You’re not going to catch 100% of them.”

There was also another incident last fall. According to Sheriff Gust, “It sounded like a guy stayed in a motel in Warroad. He stayed there until next morning to pick (the illegals) up in a van. Those that were coming across the border were caught by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). I’m not sure of what they did with them.” As for the guy with the van on this side of the border, “They caught him. If there’s something they can charge them with they will.” And that was only because he got the van stuck in the mud.

Once someone is caught they tend to end up in an information black hole to the public. Very little information is available to the public about what happens to them. Supposedly they end up being deported back to Mexico due to former President Trump’s actions with Title 42 which the Biden administration continues to use and has been controversial but as far as their names, nationalities, final destination, and their real purpose for crossing the border such as in this latest incident, it’s unclear. There isn’t any record of any recent crossings where the Border Patrol at the Roseau section of the border actually proactively apprehended illegals walking through the woods.

Steve Bansbach, US Customs and Border Protection Public Affairs Officer in Washington DC, responded by phone to questions concerning this latest crossing. When asked if the border patrol is making any changes with the recent crossings, he said, “what we’re trying to do is educate the public. We have a great partnership with a lot of the local agencies up there. Our biggest asset is the public. If they see something say something is something that we always try to preach to them. What we’re trying to do is make sure that they’re aware that we’re doing everything we can to try to stop any illegal crossings but if they see something there is no harm in them calling and have us come out to check that everything is safe. There are no changes necessarily that are happening. We are vigilant. We do have technology that is working on our side so we do have things in place but there are gonna be those opportunities where people are gonna try and slide by and try to travel under the cover of darkness so we always try to make sure that the public is aware that they can call us and we can come out and check.”

Asked if there are currently any monitoring systems at the border or if can you just walk across he said, “We do have patrols that are always on patrol around those regions. We do know there are certain places that people like to cross illegally. They’re using the same person in Canada and that person only knows one route for them to get to the US. So they take their flight most likely from Mexico up to Winnipeg. They land there. They check in with the Canadian customs there and then they just head south to the border where they meet up with a smuggler who’s only interested in getting that money. Once they have that money in hand they tell them, ‘ok walk in this direction for 20 minutes.’ If you actually look at a map it’s about 4 hours. And that’s the concern we have is you’re walking for four hours. You’re tired. You could become dehydrated. Depending on the wind chill factor or how cold it is you can start developing hypothermia. Right now the Red River which flows north is kind of flooding the plains out there. So when people walk they don’t realize that they just step right into a bog and they have no idea how deep it is or if they’re going to be able to get out. They may have a parka or winter jacket on but you know once that’s wet, sopping wet, it’s of no use to you and just weighs you down and you can develop hypothermia faster with that. So our officers are vigilant. We do have the systems available to go ahead and let us know when people are coming across the border illegally and we can respond.”

As far as finding anything more out about this recent crossing? “Right now all that we released was what we have on the incident at this point,” said Mr Bansbach.

Meanwhile local county resources are stressed. Along with the responding deputies the LifeCare Medical Center had to respond and arrange Life Flights for two of them. And according to Sheriff Gust the vast majority of crime in Roseau County is related to the drug trade whether that be assault, domestic disputes, or robbery. With cartel smugglers operating in Roseau County it is uncertain if any drugs come with them. At the southern border it is a matter of routine for them to cross with drugs. His department will certainly not grow 8 -fold either. They have their hands full and the occupants of the jail are a testament to that. Currently there are 14 and the court is packed with criminal cases. And Sheriff Gust pointed out that the number of assists to local police departments has grown from just 28 in 2017 to over 500 last year.

Fortunately Border Patrol took the nine illegals that crossed into their custody but it still costs the county resources in manpower to track the illegals down. As pointed out in the previous Times-Region article the burden ends up on local law enforcement. Having deputies working extra hours to rescue and help apprehend illegals doesn’t help. As the numbers show, far less attention is given to the northern border compared to Mexico. That is no solace to locals who now have human trafficking operations flowing through their properties in Roseau County. Especially as the summer months come and there’s no need for them to call 911 due to freezing to death.

It’s not the Sheriff’s Department job to protect the border. That’s the job of the US Border Patrol. But Sheriff Gust does have some advice. “The border is narrow. Maybe open it up 50 yards so you can see more. Do it by air. Supposedly there’s sensors around but they’re not gonna tell us where they’re at.” If there are sensors they certainly didn’t stop this latest crossing.

Senator Klobuchar’s office in DC responded, "I am working across the aisle to secure our borders and prevent human smuggling. I recently introduced bipartisan legislation with Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn to help address cross-border human trafficking and I continue to press the administration to prioritize anti-smuggling efforts at the Canadian border, including when I questioned Secretary Mayorkas about this at a Senate oversight hearing. We must continue working towards comprehensive immigration reform which includes more resources to secure both our borders."

Representative Fischbach’s office responded with her support of House Resolution 2. HR2 is titled “Secure the Border Act of 2023” put forward by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-2023) co sponsored by 8 other republicans. HR 2 would “deploy technology to the southern and northern border” and “increase the number of Border Patrol agents and provide bonus pay” among other provisions. With no support from the democrat controlled Senate and a veto by President Biden, the Act has no chance of passing. And so the problem lags on.

As of the writing of this article, nobody from Senator Smith’s (D-MN) office responded to request for comment on this latest border crossing though Congress is overall responsible for oversight of the Department of Homeland Security which includes the US Border Patrol. Wanting to know if Governor Walz (D) would do anything from a state perspective such as Governor Abbott ( R ) in Texas using state resources to protect the Texas border, there was no response either. President Biden just this week for the first time authorized active army soldiers to help at the southern border as President Trump did but none to the northern border. Locals are left to wonder what their elected representatives are doing to solve this ever growing problem in Roseau County as they ponder who to vote for in future election cycles. There is little to no bipartisan action on anything with the current political climate. It’s up to the voters to elect people that work together for solutions regardless of party.


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