Shortage of U.S. border patrol officers sparks concern in southwest Manitoba
40 people crossed into Canada in the Portal, N.D., area last fall and winter, officials say
A shortage of border patrol officers in the United States means some parts of North Dakota's border with Manitoba and Saskatchewan aren't being patrolled as often and that has sparked concern in Canada.
Robert Honrud, the patrol agent in charge of the Portal, N.D. U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, said of the 31 patrol agent positions in his office, 22 are currently filled leaving nine vacancies.
"When we have vacancy announcements, we just don't get very many people applying to come," Hondrus said.
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The region is one of the most rural and remote in the mainland United States. Its location, far away from major centres, combined with a climate unappealing to some in the winter months, makes it hard to find recruits.
His jurisdiction is responsible for patrolling about 200 kilometres of the international border with southwestern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan.
"You have to be used to living in the middle of nowhere, so to speak, and some people are fine with that and some aren't," he said. Potential local recruits, he said, are also reluctant to join due to a mandatory three-year stint on the Mexican border all new recruits must fulfil before they can return.
Honrud said that while he has maximized the resources he does have, they are still limited. He said agents rely on technology in some cases to track who might try to come or go undetected.
Debbie McMechan lives near the international border southwest of Melita, Man. McMechan is also the reeve of the Municipality of Two Borders, which shares about 60 kilometres of border with the United States.
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She said while she's not overly worried about the situation, and nor should residents be, she is concerned some, perhaps criminals or asylum-seekers, may try to enter or leave Canada undetected on what locals call "turkey trails" that cross the border.
The trails, previously used by farmers who farmed on land on both sides of the border, are small, unofficial dirt roads that cross the boundary. She said while the RCMP does a good job patrolling in the area, like the CBP, they can't be everywhere.
"They certainly know what's going on in our area and we see them patrolling," she said. "But they've been very up front that they're not able to do what they once were because now their area is so vastly increased."
McMechan worries that Two Borders may not have the resources to handle asylum seekers should they cross into southwestern Manitoba.
Honrud said he knows of about 40 people who crossed into Canada seeking asylum from his jurisdiction last fall and winter. All crossed into Saskatchewan, and none in southwestern Manitoba, he said.
Honrud said the flow of people, however, has slowed down in recent months, he said.
Still, McMechan said area residents always keep a close eye on their fields.
"There's a lot of really diligent people that live out here," she said. "If somebody has a breakdown on their field along the border ... one of their neighbours is going to know about it."
"I think if there was anybody moving on foot, word would soon spread."