'Are You a U.S. Citizen'?... YOUR PAPERS PLEASE!

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 10/21/2009 - 10:17pm.

As dawn broke over Lake Erie, two Customs and Border Patrol agents made their way up the aisle of Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited, which runs from Chicago to New York. They looked at every passenger...

"Are you a U.S. citizen?" one agent asked a man who stood to stretch his legs when the train stopped in Erie.

"Yes," the man said, reaching for his wallet. The agent waved him off and moved farther up the aisle to where his partner was inspecting another passenger's paperwork. After verifying the information by phone, they moved on.

Many people don't think of Erie as a border town, said Agent Robert Signorino, because the U.S. border with Canada sits in Lake Erie in water up to 200 feet deep.

But Erie is a choke point for land and water transportation, agents said. Major north-south bus routes pass through town. Erie is a stop for trains traveling between Chicago and New York. Boaters fish in secluded coves and inlets that dot the shore.

All this appeals to illegal immigrants trying to quietly blend in, officials said.

"We're looking for the immigrant who walked across the border at Dylan, Ariz., ... maybe got a smuggler to bring them up here on their way to Chicago or New York," said Signorino, a Uniontown native who has served with Customs and Border Patrol in Erie for two years.

"They are not expecting to see border patrol agents in Erie, Pa.," said Patrol Agent in Charge Andrew Scharnweber.

But the border patrol has increased its presence in Erie.

The Erie border station, the only one in Pennsylvania, opened in 2004 with six agents. Next year, it will move from its headquarters in an old cruise ship terminal to a facility that will be located near a notorious drop-off for illegal aliens that is in a cove abutting a residential neighborhood. The new office will accommodate 50 agents, up from 30.

The agency was directed in 2005 to track terrorists and halt transport of illegal aliens.

In 2007, 12 agents were added to Erie's original staff of six as part of a nationwide push to add 6,000 agents by this year. The Erie station's coverage area extends from the Pennsylvania-Ohio line to Dunkirk, N.Y., south of Buffalo.

During the fiscal year, from Oct. 1, 2008, through Sept. 30, Erie Border Patrol agents apprehended 558 people, an 8 percent increase over last year, and confiscated 1,330 pounds of marijuana and $18,555 in cash, as well as smaller amounts of heroin and cocaine, Scharnweber said.

The Erie arrests were part of more than 2,600 made in the Buffalo sector of Customs and Border Patrol during that period.

"Intelligence gleaned from these apprehensions has provided a significant increase in our situational awareness regarding both smuggling trends, criminal organizations and their activity," said Agent A.J. Price, spokesman for the Buffalo sector, of which Erie is a part.

The Erie station averages two apprehensions a day, Scharnweber said. Forty-one percent of apprehensions in Erie happen at bus and train stations, Signorino said. The Erie station has three K-9 teams trained to sniff out drugs and another smuggled commodity: people.

"They hide under the dashboard or in the seats of cars," Scharnweber said.

Erie agents made the following arrests during the 12 months ending Sept. 30: 307, or 55 percent, were Mexicans in the country illegally; 234, or 42 percent, were from countries other than Mexico and Canada; 3 percent were considered "aliens from special interest countries," those known to have ties to terrorists or countries that support them.

"It's more difficult to find terrorists. You can't just follow footprints in the sand," Signorino said.

The climate and geography of Erie challenge that mission, said Signorino, who began his career patrolling the country's border with Mexico.

During the day, fishermen stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder along the lake shore trying to hook Lake Erie steelhead. Under cover of darkness, the coves and inlets offer privacy for those trying to enter the country illegally. Border patrol agents travel back roads and suburban streets to reach the shoreline.

Winter along the lake can be brutally cold, making surveillance difficult.

Beefing up Customs and Border Patrol in Erie has had an impact, said Charbel G. Latouf, an immigration attorney.

"They've assisted local police with people who have no identification," he said, "There was a time when local police officers didn't know what to do. ... If there was no crime, they'd just let them go."

Randy Bowers, deputy police chief in Erie, said border patrol agents have acted as interpreters and helped police deal with suspected foreign nationals. Before the border patrol station was established, police called the Immigration and Naturalization Service or anyone they could think of for help, he said.

"We did a lot of waiting," Bowers said. "Having them up here makes a lot of sense."

Nationwide, from January through September, Customs and Border Patrol officers identified and denied entry to 129,779 inadmissible aliens at ports of entry, 23,386 of whom had criminal backgrounds. Patrol officers seized 19,530 fake or fraudulent documents.

When an agent questioned David Hess before he boarded a bus in Erie recently, he said he understood the reason for the scrutiny.

"I'm from Florida. They need them there. It's been completely overrun. You don't know who's coming in," he said as he waited for his bus to Meadville.

Craig Smith - October 11, 2009 - source PittsburghTribune

It's all about controlling your freedom to travel.

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 10/21/2009 - 10:17pm.