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Bulking up the Border Patrol

The new Grand Forks Border Patrol Station will make it easier for all of law enforcement in the region to do their jobs, especially federal agents working along the Canadian border.

Chief Patrol Agent Rosa Nelly Hernandez
Chief Patrol Agent Rosa Nelly Hernandez of the Grand Forks Sector of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol office speaks at the grand opening of the Grand Forks Border Patrol Station on Thursday. (Submitted photo)

The new Grand Forks Border Patrol Station will make it easier for all of law enforcement in the region to do their jobs, especially federal agents working along the Canadian border.

That's what Chief Patrol Agent Rosa Nelly Hernandez said Thursday at the grand opening of the new Grand Forks Border Patrol Station west of the city's airport, part of the Department of Homeland Security's new purview of U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement, which included the U.S. Border Patrol.

All the department names are enough to confuse visitors, and make it difficult even for young Border Patrol agents to explain the difference between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection. It's all part of the big increase in national security efforts since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 nine years ago.

Last year, Customs and Border Protection increased its total workforce by 10 percent to 57,519, according to its website. The number of Border Patrol agents rose even more, by 15 percent, to 20,119.

The new building houses about 22 Border Patrol agents and about the same number of intelligence agents for the Border Patrol, a growing division that Hernandez cannot say much about.


The Border Patrol has 238 agents at eight stations in the Grand Forks sector, which guards 861 miles of the U.S. border across northern Minnesota and North Dakota, Hernandez said. That's well more than double the number of agents here before 9/11, she said, as the agency hired fast and furiously for several years.

"We are fully staffed now," she said.

The 34,000 square feet includes a giant garage for 31 vehicles, as well as offices, a booking desk, dog kennels and holding cells for people caught by the Border Patrol.

The $5.75 million building came in about $500,000 under budget, according to Michael Huntress, vice president of Acquest Companies of Buffalo, N.Y, the contractor who owns and developed the property. Acquest leases it to the U.S. General Services Administration, which in turn, subleases it to the Border Patrol. It's based on a Texas model of a "50-agent" building used by the Border Patrol.

Local, state, too

A key part of the Border Patrol's mission is working with local and state law enforcement agencies in keeping the border secure. Since 9/11, goal No. 1 has been anti-terrorism work, but there have not been any significant arrests or problems in that area here, said Hernandez, who has been here 18 months after spending most of her 25 years in the Border Patrol in Texas.

Several local police chiefs and area sheriff department officers showed up for the ribbon-cutting. They routinely praise the Border Patrol for bringing federal muscle and toys to help out in difficult search and rescue operations, as well as criminal investigations.

"These guys are so great to work with," Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild told Grand Forks County Commissioner Spud Murphy. "They always want to work and they have so many big assets."


In the 2008 search for a man who drove into the flooded Park River, the Border Patrol provided expert assistance, by air and with dogs to track possible routes of the victim.

"We had a car chase one night awhile back out in the west end of the county, and these kids, six of them, hit an alfalfa field and they all bailed out of the car and were going to take off running," Wild said. "But as soon as they got out of the car, a big light came down from the clouds, just like it was from God. The Border Patrol had been monitoring the chase on their radio and had their helicopter over head. I can tell you, I doubt those kids will never do anything wrong again."

The Grand Forks sector of the Border Patrol has seven aircraft, some housed at the Grand Forks International Airport, which is about next door to the new building on U.S. Highway 2 and County Road 5. The patrol also has a remote-piloted aircraft, a drone, housed at Grand Forks Air Force Base used to patrol the border.

The Grand Forks sector also has jurisdiction in six other states -- Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas -- but has no agents stationed in those states, Hernandez said.

The Border Patrol's sector office will remain on South Washington in Grand Forks, but it has vacated the office it had been leasing as a station on 24th Avenue South.

The Grand Forks sector continues to run its pilot program of "resident agents," which puts 32 agents living in small towns in the two states, working out of their homes, to bring the Patrol's work home to area communities, Hernandez said.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com .

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