Potted Plants Grow at the Base of the Border

A motorcycle gang whizzes by heading for Canada, a sleepy restaurants sits on the edge of town, a small river perfect for wading sits a minute walk north. But you can’t simply just wade in that river, it divides the nations of Canada and the USA.

Bikers in Derby Line, Vermont. Photo by Dodge Landesman

The crisis at the border has become the hot button issue in politics today. However, at the other border, the US-Canadian one in Derby Line, Vermont, the scene is a most tranquil one. A potted plant separates the two nations, as the town sits right along the border, with Main street going down two nations.

Potted plants separate the US and Canada. Photo by Dodge Landesman

Few problems are recorded here, and the whole process seems to be quite different, and even the handling of those who don’t cross legally. It makes one wonder if there is a violation of protocol on the other side of the border, as things definitely seem to be different here. On a sunny weekday things are sleepy in this town of 700 people (Stanstead, Quebec, across the border has almost 3,000 people). One restaurant sits on the American side, two sit on the Canadian side. Having visited both areas, while two nations separate the community, the atmosphere is not different at all. Quebecers on the Canadian side speak English, the signs are in English, aside for the streets which are in French. There is no French restaurant to speak of, just a pizza place that stays open during daylight hours.

Jane Leandre, owner and the singular employee at Jane’s Cafe commutes everyday from the Canadian side to the American one. It is a small, simple restaurant, not open Mondays and Tuesdays, but usually it is quite full before it closes by 2pm. Five items donn the menu, with red and brown simple counters and folding chairs for patrons. She has lived in the area for over twenty years, so she has seen the process change.

“It’s very relaxed here, very few problems. And there’s been no difference with Trump, the real difference was after 9/11. People used to be able to walk in and out freely here, no passport necessary. The hockey teams used to play each other a few times a month. But after 9/11, it would take them over two hours for all them to be processed, on either side of the border. Once a year they’ll still play, but we used to be a lot more cohesive. We still have a community here, but I feel like we’re a little more divided.”

Peter Coppell was also sitting in the restaurant at the time. He goes multiple times a week, and is a retired US customs agents. He has seen it all, having been an agent at the US-Mexico border for five years, before requesting to be transferred to a more relaxed scene. “I got the most relaxed one possible,” he says with a sly smile. Coppell notes that just because the everyday atmosphere is calm, doesn’t mean there weren’t issues to handle at this specific border crossing. Indeed, CBS Local Vermont Northeast Kingdom noted, released some statistics about the Derby Line, VT/Stanstead, Quebec border crossing noting, “So far this fiscal year, there have been at least 267 apprehensions along Canada’s border with Vermont alone, compared with 132 all of last year, according to statistics compiled by federal prosecutors in Vermont.”

Customs Agent Peter Coppell Shares His Perspective. photo by Dodge Landesman

“Things changed since 2016, when Canada waved the visa requirement to Mexicans to strengthen their ties. A lot easier for Mexican citizens to fly over to Montreal, for example, and walk down through this border. We have the plants and of course two stations, but other than that in this town, you can hop across the small stream late and night and probably go undetected. Very few have been successful however, about a few times a year I’ve had to chase some people, one I chased an hour through the woods.

Usually though, they can sneak successfully if they’re quiet and smart. But we almost always got them. The cab companies are required to report if things seem suspicious, the hotels in the area too, and it’s a close knit community so they work with border patrol. I think in the future the problem over here will get bigger, the visa change happened only a handful of years ago. I have apprehended smugglers associated with the Sinaloa cartel here, only twice, but they exist, and they are building a network here.

They get $4,000 per person. I think a lot more subtle crossings have happened that we don’t know about. They’re smarter, they get out of town quick, they know how to cover their tracks, they’re professionals in a sense. As Trump secures the US border, more people are going to utilize this border, from Mexico, for the loop around. I guarantee it. I think I retired at the right time.”

Pat Hunt is the Vice President of Trustees of the Haskell Free Library. It was built around 200 years ago, with a wealthy landowner donating the money to build a library that sits between the two nations, as a symbol to promote Canada and US partnership. A big black line goes along the middle of the library, one side is Canada, the other is the USA. “Especially since security tightened, this place has been a god send to many people. The latin American migrants are always a topic here, they go through the US-Mexico border and yes, many go through the Canadian-US one. But here we have a lot of refugees from countries like Somalia, Haiti, coming through here.

They don’t realize that the asylum process is not as simple as they think. But this serves as a meeting place. Many refugees had the intent to meet their family in the USA, but can’t because the ceiling on refugees has been lowered. But in this library, residents of both nations can meet without a passport. The Canadians enter and exit through the Canadian door, the Americans do the same with theirs. With so many emotional reunions, families can stay here for hours, as long as they want, and many people do. It is a quiet place, patrons of the library let them be. It’s a refuge here, and there is no other place like it.”

The big, black line separates the US and Canada at the Haskell Free Library. Photo by Dodge Landesman