Agents confiscate cache of guns as concerns grow over border insecurity

Photo: U.S. Customs & Border Protection

The flow of millions of undocumented individuals across the U.S. border with Mexico dominates the discussion over the threats posed by illegal immigration. Yet the number of incidents along the northern U.S. border with Canada also continues to increase, mostly under the radar.

Total incidents of illegal border crossings attempted in North Dakota have soared from 548 in 2021 to nearly 4,500 encounters with the border patrol in 2023. A recent case in point involves gun smugglers from Canada that were thwarted by border patrol agents and their K9 partner Odin in the Grand Forks Sector’s Pembina Station.

In the early morning hours on May 15, agents responded to a report of suspicious activity west of the Neche, ND Port of entry. Upon arrival, they observed two individuals absconding from the area into Canada. Agents performed a perimeter search for additional subjects, at which point canine Odin led them to three abandoned backpacks. While searching the backpacks, agents discovered that each contained firearms. The event resulted in the seizure of 65 handguns, 65 pistol magazines, two rifles, one suppressor, and two rifle magazines.

News of the gun smuggling case was released to the public on the same day a congressional field hearing on the impact of the border crisis on North Dakota was convened in Grand Forks. Law enforcement officials pleaded with the members of Congress to send the border patrol reinforcements to take some of the mounting load off local authorities, according to the North Dakota Monitor.

[Cass County Sheriff Jesse] Jahner said federal agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol appear to have less of a presence in North Dakota compared to years prior.

“Assistance from our federal partners when it comes to immigration and immigration enforcement has dwindled from what I was used to in the past,” he said.

That’s causing problems, since Border Patrol has historically provided in-person assistance to the county when it investigates suspected illegal immigration, according to Jahner. Now, interactions between the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and Border Patrol mostly happen over the phone, he said.

Jahner also focused on the fallout from fentanyl and other drugs coming across the southern border to North Dakota, swamping the county’s jails, legal and health care systems. The Forum noted the stark reality of the border crisis’ impact in Cass County alone.

Jahner said overdose deaths have been on the rise and narcotics trafficking has put a strain on the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. The county’s jail houses 348 inmates and is in the process of adding 192 beds to bring capacity up to 540. A large number of those incarcerated are in jail for charges associated with addiction, mental health and homelessness, Jahner said.

“The increase in narcotics trafficking is not only causing loss of life, but also a huge strain on our criminal justice system, driving our crime numbers and placing extreme pressures on jail capacity, addiction services and mental health services, which in most cases we already lack,” he said. “This is not a southern border issue. This is a national security issue and a national drug trafficking issue and an inability to protect our country and our citizens issue.”

North Dakota’s top law enforcement official took the discussion a step further, saying it’s time for the feds to step up prosecution.

Wrigley, meanwhile, called for more federal resources to be directed toward arresting undocumented immigrants.

“It will take a concerted effort of attorneys general, large city DAs, people in law enforcement, sheriffs, chiefs of police, to band together to pursue a federal policy of rounding up,” Wrigley said. “It’s a foul-sounding word, but it’s necessary.”

The shortage of border patrol agents has also had an economic impact on border communities like Walhalla. The U.S. border crossings close down hours before their Canadian counterparts, restricting the number of legitimate visitors going back and forth between border communities.