Overwhelmed by border crossers, federal border patrol agents have begun transporting immigrants to the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center without plans or supplies, according to St. Johnsbury Police Chief Timothy Page.
“We just became aware of it yesterday,” Page said Tuesday, noting that his officers had noticed a few immigrant families appearing in town in recent weeks. He said he received confirmation from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that the agency had indeed transported immigrants to St. Johnsbury.
“We had no idea how they got there,” Page told VTDigger. Those who were left at the St. Johnsbury center sought transportation to Plattsburgh, New York, as well as New York City, he said. St. Johnsbury is about 40 miles south of the Canadian border crossing at Derby Line.
“I just know they were being dropped in the area by the border patrol because they had so many people up at the border lately, and they needed to do something with people because the resources up there were being overrun,” Page said. He did not know where the immigrants were from, nor did he know their immigration status, he said.
Page did not know the current whereabouts of all the people left at the historic train depot in downtown St. Johnsbury, but he told the Caledonian Record some of them may have taken a Rural Community Transportation bus to other locations in the state.
At his press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott said he learned about the situation late Monday night, and his office got in touch with Page.
Jennifer Morrison, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said “approximately a dozen people” had been “seeking asylum” at the northern border and “appeared to have no plan.” She said that anecdotally, most asylum seekers have a transportation plan in place when they cross the border.
“We will stay in constant contact with (border patrol) to address this issue in the most humane yet responsible manner. I think we need to have some conversations on a larger scale about exactly what we're prepared to do,” she said.
Jenney Samuelson, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, said at the press conference that her agency and the Department of Public Safety had previously planned around “housing, food and other services that are necessary (for asylum seekers).”
A team “has begun working with the local towns and agencies in that area to both assess what’s available and to contemplate and put in place what will be necessary if we continue to see an increasing number (of asylum seekers),” Samuelson said.
Border patrol at the agency’s Swanton sector has reported a “major increase” in apprehensions at the northern border in recent months, and additional border patrol agents were recently transferred to the Swanton sector — which covers the length of Vermont’s border with Canada — to deal with the influx of immigrants.
In St. Johnsbury, Chief Page thanked staff at the welcome center for helping the immigrants, and stressed that local residents do not need to worry about the few families who’ve been transported to town.
“There’s nothing that led me to believe we need to fear these people. I think we need to help them,” he said. “It’s not an easy situation for anyone.”
Phone and email requests for comment left for border patrol officials were not returned on Tuesday.
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