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On Patrol in Vt., Minutemen Are the Outsiders

A Massachusetts man who identified himself only as Rick J. watches the Vermont-Canada border with others from the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
A Massachusetts man who identified himself only as Rick J. watches the Vermont-Canada border with others from the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. (By David A. Fahrenthold -- The Washington Post)

But, as the patrols began this month, many who know the Canadian border well have said they are dubious that the Minutemen will have an impact.

For one thing, there is much less illegal traffic here. Border Patrol statistics show the contrast well: The post covering Vermont has 295 miles of boundary and made about 1,900 arrests last year.

By comparison, the McAllen, Tex., post -- which has about 40 fewer miles of border -- made 134,000 arrests.

"The odds of them seeing anyone are pretty slim," said Deborah Meyers, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

The terrain is another problem: Lt. Tom Hanlon of the Vermont State Police said the routes the smugglers use in this area are often snowmobile trails hidden in impenetrable backcountry.

"You get 10 feet off the road and you're in a dense forest. You can't see a thing," Hanlon said. "It's not like Arizona, where you can plop down and see for 50 miles."

Nevertheless, the Minutemen have come to Vermont.

They began scouting out potential sites several weeks ago, poking around this hamlet with a downtown almost directly on the border. It was in Derby Line that they had their first problem with the elusive border. On one scouting expedition, member Bob Casimiro said they became, for a moment, illegal visitors in Canada.

Then came their first official patrol two weekends ago, which was dogged by protesters who assembled downtown and shouted slogans such as "Take your hate out of our state." The Minutemen had to patrol a bike path away from town, and then -- as the Boston Globe reported -- got lost and had to ask a local for directions.

Over the weekend, the Minutemen decided to find a spot and stay put. They set up lawn chairs and looked out across a field at the trees. On Saturday afternoon, after several hours of watching, they had seen nobody and nothing suspicious.

"I think I saw a squirrel coming in. That's it," said Craig Courounis, 40, of Farmingdale, N.Y. He joked that the squirrel probably wouldn't be taking anybody's job while in the States.

Soon afterward, Courounis stopped talking as a green car passed.

"I wonder what this car is stopping for?" he wondered aloud. But the car kept going, and Courounis didn't report it.

Frank Shallis, 51, of Bound Brook, N.J., had a neighboring chair on the path. He conceded that it was unlikely anyone suspicious would come down the bike path that day.

"Our little group of three, four, five, 10, people here on this beautiful day are not going to protect the Canadian border," he said. In total, there were 13 patrolling the border. Instead, he said, the protest was about public relations, drawing attention to the federal government's failure. "How come Washington isn't handling this?"

Some locals haven't reacted well to their presence. In downtown Derby Line on Saturday, James Griffin, 62, said he was worried by the idea of outsiders coming to watch the area's borders.

"It's not like we have a bunch of illegal immigrants streaming across the border here," Griffin said, standing within sight of the blue "Bonjour" sign welcoming travelers to Quebec.

Even the Minutemen concede that their welcome hasn't been particularly warm. During their first patrol weekend, Buck said he found a note with a native Vermonter's derogatory term for outsiders -- indicating that someone thought they were already on the wrong side of a border.

"Flatlander, go home," Buck said the note read.


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