(WATCH) The Northern Border

Now we head way north, to another U.S. border — one that’s almost triple the length of our southern border. On my recent visit there, Customs and Border Protection’s Russell Eiser told me a New York state law is getting in the way of agents doing the job.

Russell Eiser: A lot of people see the border patrol, they see the southern border, they see the desert, they see the heat, and they forget there’s a northern border. There’s a lot of operations going up here. We have a big footprint up here, the U.S. Border Patrol. We cover the entire border across the northern border, from Canada, from Washington, all the way to Maine. So here at Buffalo Sector, people forget one, the weather. It’s cold. And how we operate here in the winter is different than the rest of the border patrol. The assets we need to operate up here are very different from the rest of the border patrol. Here, it’s all water border. So boats — we need boats. We need guys that can run the boats, we need crew members, we need special skills for our agents to operate here on the border.

Sharyl: Tell me about the Green Light Law.

Eiser: In 2019 here in New York, the government imposed a Green Light Law. So what that is, basically for us — Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol — that prohibits us access to the New York state DMV database.

Sharyl: Driver’s license and tags?

Eiser: Driver’s license, registrations, all that stuff. So if there’s an agent out in the field who sees suspicious activity, whether it’s a boat, plane, vessel — this covers all of CBP from air and marine, to our customs officers at the ports of entry, to our agents in the field between the ports — we’re unable to access that database to see who’s out there. So if we see suspicious activity, we don’t know what we’re coming on. Agents are walking up blind. So it’s a huge thing for officer safety, and it’s very demoralizing for our agents.

Sharyl: Has Customs and Border Protection or Department of Homeland Security lobbied or asked New York state to change this?

Eiser: I know we messaged that to our command staff up in headquarters in D.C. That’s a huge issue for our agents. It’s very demoralizing. So we’ve messaged that. I know we’ve tried to get it. But, you know, we’re in New York state. It’s a blue state. So it’s a little harder to push that agenda.

Sharyl: When you say it’s demoralizing, can you expand on that?

Eiser: Agents feel like they can’t do their job. They feel like they don’t have the backing of the state to look up information, to look at border security. They feel like it’s not a serious thing in the state if they don’t have the backing. Just simple access to the databases. It’s just a simple thing to the public, but it’s a big thing for an agent when it comes to safety.

Sharyl: Obviously, the border’s just by most accounts a messy situation right now. Do you have any thoughts about what’s been happening the past year?

Eiser: It’s been tough on our agents and people see the southern border, and they forget that it impacts the northern border also. So the entire country is a border. Once somebody enters the border illegally — brings contraband, narcotics, weapons, whatever — once they cross the border, they don’t stay on the border. That continues into the United States, into the interiors.

Sharyl: This border isn’t as busy, of course, but why is it so important?

Eiser: I think it’s different because the relationship with the U.S. and Canada is different than that between the U.S. and Mexico. We have that coordination with Canada, so it’s a little different. We get a little different types of criminal activity here. I’d say it’s a little more hidden. It’s a little more discreet. We have to look a little harder. It’s more that needle in the haystack type thing.

Sharyl (on-camera): By the way, New York’s Green Light Law allowed an estimated 265,000 illegal immigrants to get a driver’s license that looks like anybody else’s.

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The Northern Border

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