BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The number of people illegally crossing the northern border with Canada is on the rise, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is putting out a warning urging people not to cross illegally, especially with the harsh winter weather on the way.
News 4 got exclusive access into Border Patrol’s operations to see how they’re preparing and to see the technology agents are using to crack down on smuggling as well as how they’re patrolling the border.
Just this week, four people were caught illegally trying to cross in dangerous conditions.
“Our cameras did an excellent job detecting it, they guided our agents in with our technology that we are using and they were able to apprehend both subjects, but both subjects were wet from their waist down after crossing the river and it was a cold night,” Brady Waikel, the patrol agent-in-charge of the Niagara Falls Border Patrol Station, said. “What we’re starting to see is the water temps are dropping the last few days they’ve been below 40 degrees.”
CBP said they detected two men from Mexico on rafts illegally crossing into the U.S. Tuesday morning on the Lower Niagara River.
Then, just two days later, another man from Mexico and one from India were arrested for illegally crossing in the same area amid frigid temperatures.
“This is extremely dangerous with the cold weather, the cold water,” Waikel said. “It also highlights the callousness of the smugglers, so in that event there wasn’t a smuggler guiding them, it was someone simply brought them to the river in the early morning in the dark, gave them an inflatable raft and said go that way and good luck.”
CBP reports they processed 90 land border encounters in the Buffalo sector last year, and 286 this year. CBP’s Buffalo Sector goes from Erie, Pennsylvania to Wellesley Island, New York. At Border Patrol headquarters in Grand Island, agents took us inside their International Border Communications Center — showing us the high-tech cameras they have watching the border around the clock.
Customs and Border Protection has 13 tower cameras strategically placed along the U.S. part of the border with Canada. Each tower has four cameras, with radar, night vision, and cameras that track body temperature.
Much of their focus here is on commercial train crossings on the International Railway Bridge over I-190. Right now, there is a large X-ray machine that Customs and Border Protection uses to see if there’s anything suspicious when trains cross. Customs is also in the process of installing a more sophisticated non-intrusive inspection X-ray here to crackdown on smuggling.
With the harsh winter approaching, Border Patrol has the tools to adjust, with ATVs and snowmobiles to patrol and check out blind spots as well as drones to put an eye in the sky. But, federal agents admit there are challenges when major snowstorms hit.
“We will often help the locals and the state agencies as well with just public safety getting the people that are stranded in vehicles that are stranded in homes, we do that quite frequently, but we do still have the border enforcement mission, so we still have to manage the border,” Waikel said.
Even if someone is able to illegally cross successfully, that’s not the end of the story.
“Once someone crosses the border whether it be here or on the Southern Border if they happen to get through without being detected it’s not the end of the story there are additional layers of enforcement that can find them and bring forth a law enforcement resolution,” Waikel said.
There have even been times in which people have illegally crossed Lake Erie and the Niagara River after they froze.
“The only thing that hinders us in our floats is actual icing of the water, we can float up until the water is unsafe to be on it,” Waikel said.
If you see anything suspicious along the border, you can call the CBP Tipline: 1-800-331-0353.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.