January 28, 2020
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Maine border life goes on under Trump

While border security and enforcement of immigration laws are ramping up under the Trump administration, not much may change in Maine’s northern border communities, where people like Christopher Yockey cross the international line often.

Yockey, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen who lives in Meductic, New Brunswick, teaches middle school history at Southern Aroostook Community School in Dyer Brook.

“I come over the border every weekday. I don’t have any problems,” Yockey said during a shopping trip at the Walmart in Presque Isle with his 8-month-old son, Benjamin, during February vacation. “It’s not as complicated as people think it is.”

Yockey grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and came to Canada for college, attending Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and later meeting his Canadian-born wife.

“I haven’t noticed any sort of change or awkwardness” since Trump’s inauguration, Yockey said.

He and his wife have made just one change recently: They keep a notarized letter in their passports stating that both parents gave each other permission to bring their son across the border when they’re not together.

Other residents and business owners in Aroostook County and Canadians crossing the border also said they have not noticed any difference in their experience.

Joey Couturier, an Edmundston, New Brunswick resident, said he crosses to Madawaska at least once a week. He shops at places like Bob’s Service Center to purchase gas and staples such as milk and bread, which are more expensive in Canada.

Maine’s border with two Canadian provinces spans nearly 299 miles just on land and occasionally sees its share of illegal activity. The most recent incident was last summer, when a Turkish citizen previously deported from the U.S. was caught crossing the border from New Brunswick into Maine in Blaine and later sentenced to 3½ months in prison along with the likelihood of deportation again.

In the fiscal year 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on Maine’s border apprehended 25 adults who were allegedly crossing into the country illegally and seized 137 pounds of marijuana, according to the agency’s annual regional report.

A spokesperson for the CBP declined to speculate about any additional security features or policies that might be added to the northern border in Maine, which is monitored by ground sensors and game cameras.

It is not clear whether any undocumented immigrants have attempted to cross the border in Maine to seek asylum in Canada because of fears of deportation under the Trump administration. More than 452 individuals who had been living in the U.S. crossed through New York into Quebec in January to seek asylum, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. Last year, 23 people sought asylum at land crossings in New Brunswick from Maine, while one individual did in January, according to the agency.

Ramped-up security measures instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought changes to northern border communities in Maine and elsewhere, including additional border patrol officers and the requirement for a passport, passport card or other approved identification document.

Today, people from western New Brunswick communities come to Aroostook County to shop in places like Presque Isle or, as in the case of Yockey, some hospital nurses and others, to work. Both U.S. and Canadian citizens can apply for “trusted traveler” programs that allow them to undergo pre-screening and cross the border with expedited processing.

Occasionally, Yockey said he does get stopped for “mandatory agricultural checks” — inspections for food products that may not be allowed to cross the border.

“Sometimes, they’ll say, ‘We have to stop you,’ but that only happens one or two times a year,” Yockey said. “Also, I teach a lot of their kids, so they know who I am.”

Yockey said he feels equally at home in the shared geography and culture of northern Maine and western New Brunswick and said he and his wife want their son to learn French in school.

“People talk about the region as one.”


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