Agents strive to keep borders safe

7 years ago

Border patrol stepped up agents in County after 9/11; 200 in County today

     HOULTON, Maine — In 1989, there were nine agents assigned to the U.S. Border Patrol station in Houlton.

     Today, there are more than 200 agents in the sector, which maintains stations in Calais, Fort Fairfield, Houlton, Jackman, Rangeley and Van Buren. Its Border Patrol agents have “Peace Officer” status that includes the entire state.

     That is how much things have changed for Border Patrol agents in the state in just the past 23 years.

     “Everything changed after 9/11,” explained Dennis Harmon, patrol agent in charge for the Houlton sector.

     Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the focus of the Border Patrol has changed to detection and apprehension of terrorists and terrorist weapons.

     Harmon said the general public typically does not understand the difference between the Border Patrol agents and those who work at U.S. Customs and Border Protection field operations.

   Field operations is responsible for protecting America’s border at one of 327 official ports of entry in the United States. Field operations officers are the face of the border for most people entering the United States and enforce the import and export laws and regulations of the federal government.

     Border Patrol agents, on the other hand, are responsible for preventing illegal entry into the United States between the ports of entry, Harmon explained. They are the agents most likely to be seen working out in the field.

     The Houlton sector, located at 591 North St, has two holding facilities to detain any individuals caught entering the country illegally or smuggling in goods.

     “It’s not just about foreign nationals [entering the country],” explained Border Patrol Agent Travis Hall. “We see a lot of citizens trying to smuggle items into the country. And it is always an act of deception.”

     According to Harmon, Border Patrol agents pride themselves on being expert trackers, capable of identifying what type of shoes a person is wearing. Like their counterparts at the Maine State Police, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office and local police departments, Border Patrol agents must also undergo rigorous training with the use of both lethal and non-lethal force.

     All agents carry both a standard issue sidearm and one non-lethal weapon to use in the field. Those types of non-lethal weapons include pepper spray, electronic control devices or batons.

History and Background

     According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, the U.S. Border Patrol was established in Maine on May 28, 1924. The Border Patrol in Maine was under the direction of District One, located in Newport, Vermont. Houlton Sector consisted of 14 Patrol Inspectors located in Calais, Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent, Houlton, Jackman, Mars Hill, Van Buren and Vanceboro.

     The first Chief Patrol Inspector was Charles Grey. Except for the chief and Houlton inspectors, all patrol inspectors operated out of the Port of Entry within their location. Houlton Sector was originally located on Bangor Street; however, in 1940 it was relocated to a temporary building on Park Avenue. It remained there until a new facility was constructed in 1965 at its present location at 96 Calais Road, in Hodgdon.

     Houlton Sector Patrol Inspectors enforced Immigration laws throughout the state, as well as apprehended illegal liquor smugglers during the Prohibition era. Inspectors also routinely checked logging camps in the northwest part of the state to guard against illegal loggers from Canada. During World War II, agents assisted in the capture of escaped prisoners from the detention camp established in Houlton.

     In 1940, due to an increase in Border Patrol funding, Houlton Sector opened several new stations in Maine. New stations were established in Bethel, Guilford, Fryeburg, Madison, Machias and Rangeley. These stations remained open until 1949 when reorganization efforts closed the stations as well as stations in Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent, Mars Hill and Vanceboro. In 1956, Fort Fairfield was reopened and in 1957, a new station opened in Lincoln. After 21 years, the Lincoln station closed in 1978. In 1983 the Rangeley sub-station was reopened and was re-designated as an official Border Patrol Station in 2008.