MADAWASKA, Maine — The view out his office window may be a bit different from his last post, but the new supervisor at the Madawaska Port of Entry says he had no problem trading sandy beaches for snowy hills.
Jaime Gray, 35, took over in Madawaska in August, after five years with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Nassau, Bahamas.
“I really wanted to come back home,” the Pittsfield native said. “I was born and raised in Maine, and I wanted my kids to grow up here and have the experiences they would not have in big cities.”
Gray, who has also worked with border protection in Jackman and on the California-Mexico border, said regardless of the post, his job remains the same.
“It’s about making sure the regulations and policies in place are followed,” he said. “We want to make sure things run smoothly.”
Gray started with customs and border protection in early 2000 and has seen his share of the good and the bad at the nation’s borders.
“The people are different, but the scenarios are the same,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people we deal with are good, law-abiding people but then there is that 1 percent with wrongful intentions.”
Working on the California-Mexico border, Gray said, meant dealing with drug and human trafficking.
“I’ve seen people sewn into car seats trying to smuggle into this country,” he said. “There was one young woman they put into a car’s gas tank [and] we found her because she was screaming from being burned by the gas.”
He said catching the people behind such activities is deeply satisfying, though he can empathize with the victims.
“I understand why they want to come into this country,” he said. “But catching the [human] smugglers is a good feeling.”
In the Bahamas, Gray was part of a team based out of an international port of entry in the U.S.
“Flights were coming in from all over the world and then going on to the United States,” he said. “For a lot of those people, coming through customs is the first they see of this country [and] it’s important we make that a positive experience for them because it will directly affect their impression of the U.S. as a whole.”
Madawaska, Gray said, presents new and unique challenges given the amount of daily cross-border commerce and personal round trips people make.
“Much like the rest of the St. John Valley, people in Madawaska have relatives on both sides of the border,” he said. “We are constantly seeing people from both sides going back and forth.”
Making those border crossings as seamless as possible is high on Gray’s agenda.
“Making sure we fulfill our mission while making travel as trouble-free as possible is a big challenge,” he said.
As part of that mission Gray and his staff routinely work and communicate with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border.
“A lot goes on behind the scenes the public never really sees,” he said.
Gray also wants to be a positive presence in the community and already has joined the planning discussions with the organizers of the coming 2014 World Acadian Congress with events in the St. John Valley, New Brunswick and Quebec.
More than 50,000 visitors are expected in the region over the three weeks of the congress, and many will be traveling between the U.S. and Canada.
“I’m really excited about the World Acadian Congress,” he said. “We want to make sure things run as smoothly as possible at the border given the number of people who are anticipated to attend.”
The Madawaska Port of Entry is part of the agency’s Boston field office which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut with 875 assigned officers.