Slipping across US-Canada border can be a snap

Immigrating illegally from Canada to the United States can be as easy as driving across the border. Along the back roads that separate southern Quebec from New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine there are roads and cow paths where border posts do not exist or are only open part time, leaving the rest to electronic sensors.

A little more than a mile separates the hamlets of Athelstan, Quebec and North Burke, N.Y. They are linked by a country lane called Jamieson's Side Road. On either side of the border is a small building, one manned by Canadian Customs and Immigration, the other by the US equivalent.

They are open between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. At other times you can cross into the US on Jamieson's and hope you get to your destination before meeting the patrols from Chateaugay or Trout River Crossing in New York, which are about six miles in either direction.

Quebec farmers going to a restaurant in nearby Constable, N.Y., run the border at night to save about 20 minutes of driving each way. They set off the electronic sensors, but are usually inside the restaurant before the border patrol arrives. They are seldom caught, and if they are, they get a $100 fine.

A sheep farmer on the Quebec side with poor fences has a flock that crosses the border at will. They too can set off alarms.

Montreal and Toronto are the two major centers where immigrants come before trying to sneak into the US. Toronto is separated from New York State by Lake Ontario, and the only way to cross is by bridges into Buffalo or Niagara Falls.

Those border crossings are busy, so illegals can slip through, but they have to run the gauntlet of a well-manned, suspicious, and determined US Customs and Immigration operation. Many of those smuggled in are hidden in cars and trucks.

The border crossing into Buffalo is the busiest along the entire Canada-US border. The illegal immigrants hope the customs officers won't check the load, but they often do. So far this year 700 people have been arrested at the Buffalo crossing alone. The long border south of Montreal is by far the easiest place for illegal immigrants to slip into the northeastern US.

The ''Swanton sector,'' named after the border town of Swanton, Vt., is a 283 -mile stretch from the Maine-New Hampshire border to the Thousand Islands Bridge just west of Ogdensburg, N.Y. Last year the border patrol - which searches for people between the regular crossing points - picked up 2,012 illegal immigrants. Those apprehended represented more than 60 nationalities, but most are from the Caribbean and South America, from such countries as Guyana, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Larry Teverbaugh, who is in charge of the border patrol in Swanton, says there has been a gradual but steady increase in the number of illegal immigrants over the past decade. The majority of his arrests are made not at the border crossings but on the back roads of Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.

The illegal aliens are on their way to underpaid jobs in the New York City area, and they have usually paid for transportation or advice on how to get across the border. It can cost them as much as $5,000, according to a parliamentary committee studying the problem in Ottawa. Canada's minister of immigration, Lloyd Axworthy, says there is a problem and admits that the number of people slipping into the US from Canada has increased over the past year.

But Mr. Axworthy was quick to point out that the number of people crossing the border illegally from Canada to the US is tiny compared to the waves of illegal aliens who assault the US border with Mexico.

Canada has a few illegal immigration problems of its own. One is people who arrive claiming refugee status. It can take up to three years to process the refugee claim, and in the meantime the person usually lives off the state. There are 7,000 such cases being reviewed or appealed. About 350 new refugees arrive every month.

There are also people who come to Canada as visitors and disappear into the woodwork, since the rules governing visitors are lax. It is many of these so-called visitors who make their way south looking for the good life in the US.

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