Cutting Off Neighbours In One Small Border Town

There’s a spot on the road in Derby Line, Vermont that if you step across you’ve entered another country. The small town borders along Canada. It used to be an invisible line but the times are changing.

The border runs smack through the shared library. There are houses that are in both countries. In the past crossing the border was an everyday occurrence but after 9/11 that started to change.

First came the thick white line running down the street denoting which country was which. In time white pylons appeared. Soon signboards showed up on some streets ordering drivers to turn back and use an official entry point.

Residents of this small town watched as American Border Patrol agents started wheezing by with their sirens blazing after those who ignored the signs.

Last year those border agents made a proposal of erecting a fence. That idea is not making the agents a friend of the residents of Derby Line and Stanstead, Quebec. A fence would change the town’s dynamic of friendly neighbours crossing yards to share a cup of coffee.

“They’re stirring up a little hate and discontent with that deal,” said Claire Currier, who grew up in this border area and works at Brown’s Drug Store, which has operated on the same spot since 1884. “We’ve all intermingled for years.”

Homeland Security is changing the landscape along many towns that share a border and neighbours. 9/11 changed the way border agents viewed those borders. Before 9/11 a mere 340 agents were stretched across the Canadian border. There are now almost that many agents from New York to Maine.

“9/11 changed everything,” said Border Patrol agent Fernando Beltran, the operations chief for Swanton Sector’s Newport station, which includes Derby Line. “This may have been Mayberry before, but it’s not anymore.”

Today the agents have new communications equipment, radiation detectors and three different types of camera-mounted sensors in the uninhabited wooded areas.

Still this town is concerned about the practical issues. They share a water system, sewer system and snow removal services. The fire departments on both sides helped the other town out. With a fence up emergency vehicles could find themselves in trouble traffic wise.

Border agents in the sector that includes Derby Line have arrested people have from 117 nations trying to enter the United States illegally.

Will the Canadian border soon look like the Mexican border? Has the threat of terrorism over ruled peace between neighbours.

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