By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu announced the launch of the Northern Border Alliance Task Force Wednesday, saying New Hampshire has to step up to the responsibility to secure its border with Canada because the federal government refuses to do so.
The alliance will use $1.4 million included in the governor’s budget and passed by the legislature to increase law enforcement coverage, training and equipment along the state’s 58-mile border.
In partnership with local law enforcement, county and state police and Fish and Game, it will add 10,000 more patrol hours to that area through June 2025, said Attorney General John Formella.
Sununu said encounters with individuals on the terrorist watch list at the Land Border Ports of entry on the north border from Washington state to Maine have doubled since 2017, yet federal funds have been cut. And, he noted, watch-listed individuals encountered at the southern border have declined while they have increased to the north.
Sununu cited a statistic that of the 505 such encounters with those of all nationalities at both borders, 429 have been in the north, in the area which runs from Washington to Maine.
Formella said the new alliance will be led by his office and will allow those state and local entities to be supported in their efforts by his office.
“As far as authority to enforce federal immigration law, state and local and county law enforcement officers have the authority to cooperate with the federal government in the enforcement of federal criminal laws. So a law enforcement’s authority to act will depend on the facts of a certain situation,” said Formella at a State House press conference Thursday.
“That could mean stopping to question someone, it could mean detaining someone in a given circumstance until the border patrol can come and get them, but that’s all going to depend on the specific facts of the specific situation they encounter. Part of what we are going to do here is to provide training to them, talk through scenarios so that they have clear guidance on what they can do, and what they can’t do,” Formella said.
Frank Knaack, policy director at the ACLU of New Hampshire, said: “The Governor’s Office and Department of Safety are still unable to show any New Hampshire-specific, cumulative data on northern border crossings, and yet announced today that instead of investing in actual, documented needs of North Country communities – including housing, broadband, and substance use treatment – they are moving forward with the next phase of their project to expand police power and surveillance within the Granite State under the guise of a ‘crisis’ on our border.
“Policies like this have been shown in study after study to further undermine police and community trust, which makes our communities less safe. Make no mistake: we’ll be watching the actions of law enforcement, including how every dollar is spent, very closely,” Knaack said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s Press Secretary, Ty McEachern, said: “Time and time again, the Governor has neglected to fully utilize the money our delegation has provided New Hampshire. Senator Shaheen has been a staunch advocate for enhanced northern border security dating back to her time as Governor and has supported increased funding for CBP throughout her time in the U.S. Senate. Right now, she’s working to increase government funding to stop the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. and for a program that helps state law enforcement aid Border Patrol so they can continue doing their jobs to keep communities safe. Just last month, she traveled to the northern border to hear directly from officials about the challenges they face. She will continue to advocate for increased federal funding for New Hampshire that the state needs.”
Formella said if there is a lawsuit filed against a local department for their work for the alliance, it will be the AG’s office that indemnifies and defends them in court.
“If we did not set this up as an attorney general task force, then each department would be on their own either to use town counsel or go find their own legal representation,” Formella said. He said the support, in this initial effort, is to allow local departments “to feel empowered.”
Within the 25 air miles under this alliance, there are 11 towns and unincorporated places, and Formella said this would not be limited to those places, but prioritized for those agencies.
Rick Dube, police chief for Pittsburg, said there has been an uptick in border activity in recent years and it is very difficult to apprehend suspects in the thickly wooded border region.
“It all depends on the shift, when you run into them,” he said. “It is a cat and mouse game. You get to the right spot at the right time,” he said. Because of the density of the forest “they can be five feet away…and walk right by them. It’s a struggle out there. It’s not like the southern border where you can see a good distance to your right and left.” He welcomed the alliance’s formation.
Sununu said the crisis at the northern border is often overshadowed in the national media due to a lot of attention on the southern border, “and understandably so. There are so many folks that are coming over. We have a massive crisis at the southern border. Whether you are talking about fentanyl, the humanitarian crisis, whether you are talking about the lack of attention and resources that the federal government gives to the southern border, it is affecting all 50 states without a doubt.
“There have been more apprehensions along our northern border in just this past year than the last 10 years combined,” he said. “We do need more targetted resources. We need to provide an all hands on deck approach. We’ve asked the federal government for help,” but he said requests under the “Stonegarden” agreement have been seeing declining funding authorization.
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH visited the border at Pittsburg on Sept. 8 and said she learned there it is definitely a problem with increased encounters in the Swanton sector of which New Hampshire is part. It is a 24,000 square mile region across parts of northern New York, all of Vermont and New Hampshire.
She said she would be working on the problem to get more funding to increase communications capabilities in the border area of New Hampshire, but she said Sununu has been a little late to address the problem as it has increased over time.
Sununu scoffed at that accusation, claiming the problem has been a lack of federal attention and resources to the northern border and he is in fact trying to nip a growing problem in the bud.
“The crisis is really here, it’s on our doorstep and we are not going to ignore it. As much as Washington doesn’t want to help. As much as we have asked our federal delegation to help, they are always willing to go up and take a photo op but they have done absolutely nothing to take this issue seriously enough to put funds, resources where they belong,” Sununu said. “We are going to do our part.”
Formella said part of the problem is “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and this alliance will help understand how big the problem is at the border, here and what the resources needs are.