By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: October 3, 2009
DERBY LINE, Vt. (AP) — For decades, Derby Line, Vt., and Stanstead, Quebec, have functioned as one community.
They share a sewer system, emergency services, snowplowing duties and the border-straddling Haskell Free Library and Opera House, where a skinny black line across the hardwood floor of the reading room marks the international border.
But work began on Thursday to erect a pair of five-foot-tall steel gates across two previously unguarded residential streets — a project that will divide the towns physically but has united them in displeasure.
Border authorities say the gates are necessary to stem crossings by illegal immigrants. Residents say there is enough security as it is, with surveillance cameras and patrols by United States Customs and Border Protection.
“I’ve always considered Derby and Stanstead like brother and sister,” said Mary O’Donnell, 57, of Stanstead, walking into the library on Friday. “We’ve always been on friendly terms. Now, suddenly, 9/11 hits and everybody in the U.S. freaks out. So we’re now going to get some really ugly things at the end of the streets that I don’t think is going to serve much of a purpose.”
The remote-controlled gates will open for emergency vehicles, border agents and snowplows, but they will cut off vehicle access to civilians on Phelps and Lee Streets, which run perpendicular to the border.
“Over the years, we’ve noted that criminal smuggling organizations are bringing people in from all over the world to use those roads in the Derby Line area to smuggle people into the U.S. from Canada,” said Mark Henry, operations officer for the United States Border Patrol.
Many who are caught using the streets to smuggle immigrants have been in possession of maps, downloaded from the Internet, showing the layout, officials say. Last month, a man wanted in connection with thefts worldwide was arrested here. The man, Juan Guzman-Betancourt, told the Border Patrol that he had unknowingly walked across the border into Vermont from Canada after his car broke down.
By then, plans were already in the works for the gates. One gate is being paid for by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the other by the United States Department of Homeland Security.
Residents do not question the need for border security.
“The U.S.A. has the right to take the measures, as a sovereign state has the right to take the measures it deems necessary to protect its borders and its people,” said Andrew Preston, 70, of nearby Baldwin’s Mills, Quebec. “But some of the fallout from that, unfortunately, is that it harms communities like these.”
Roland Roy, a drugstore owner who sits on the board of trustees for the Village of Derby Line, said: “We really don’t consider the border a border. We consider the village as all one.”
Two existing border crossings, one on Route 5 in Derby Line and another along Interstate 91, handle most of the international traffic. The unguarded streets are used primarily by residents.
For now, Church Street, which runs parallel to the others and leads to the front door of the Haskell Free Library, will remain unguarded.