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US Border Patrol to hold information session on illegal crossings

Fri, Feb 2nd 2024 11:00 am

Numerous reports of suspicious activity surface in lower river areas

By Terry Duffy


Responding to increased local concerns stemming from a spike in illegal border activity in the lower Niagara River, officials from the Niagara Falls Station of U.S. Customs and Border Protection have announced plans to hold an informational meeting. The session, which is open to the public, will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at Porter Town Hall, 3265 Creek Road.

Over past months, area law enforcement has been made aware of several instances of illegal activity by residents in the Youngstown neighborhoods alongside the lower river, particularly in the Youngstown Estates area. Reports of discarded rafts found on the shore and complaints of suspicious individuals and activity in the Lewiston and Youngstown areas have become more common since last fall, according to the Lewiston Police, Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and Border Patrol agents.

“We’re working with Border Patrol; obviously there’s a problem,” said Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte, who advised Lewiston Town Board members last month. “They’ve identified the problem and we’ve had numerous instances where we’ve assisted them with people coming over on rafts, and we’ve ended up getting in chases in the village (and elsewhere). We had one on Christmas Day. as well.

“We are working with them; we’re trying to coordinate them. It is an ongoing problem. We are aware of it.”

According to a Jan. 4 post on the Lewiston Police online app, “Last night (Jan. 3) at approximately 10:30 p.m., 4 individuals were attempting to cross the river in a raft near Youngstown from Canada into the United States. The information was out on the radio and Officer Battista of the Lewiston Police Department observed an out of state vehicle in the area and initiated a traffic stop. She identified a single occupant in the vehicle at the time of the stop.

“After tracking the subjects from the raft, they were observed loading into the vehicle that Officer Battista had stopped earlier in the night. A second vehicle stop was initiated, and a total of 5 people were identified inside. One of the subjects ran and was taken into custody. All 5 individuals were arrested by the Border Patrol and the case is pending.

“Officer Battista was working a special detail in coordination with the U.S. Border Patrol to address this very issue in our area.”

Just this week, yet another report of suspicious activity came to the attention of LPD. As per a Jan. 30 report found on the Lewiston Police app, “A raft was recovered in the Niagara River in the area of Youngstown Estates. It may have been used over the weekend by persons attempting to enter the country.

“This activity is continuing as previously reported. The Lewiston Police as well as other agencies are working with Border Patrol. Please be aware and report any suspicious border activity by calling 911 or the U.S. Border Patrol, Buffalo Sector, at 1-800-331-0353.”

Responding to local concerns, officials from the Town of Porter and Village of Youngstown reached out this week to Border Patrol officials who agreed to visit next Thursday and further discuss the issue with the community.

 “What we’re trying to do with this meeting is to get some information out to those that live in the Youngstown-Porter area,” said Brady Waikel, commander of the Niagara Falls Station, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “This is a town hall that is actually being hosted by the Town of Porter and Village of Youngstown. I was asked to come to speak to the residents there.

“I hope to have some more information that day and talk to the public to allay some of the anxiety that we’re seeing up there. A lot of the folks are seeing us and the local PDs, and seeing some of the activity. They’re a little nervous.”

Waikel said one purpose of the session would be to open it up to questions from residents.

“Our public affairs folks are going to be there,” he said. “After the town hall, if you have specific questions, we’re going to have some folks available to answer those.”

Waikel said area law enforcement, including Lewiston Police, Niagara County sheriffs and the New York State Police, have been invited to attend, as is Canada Border Patrol Services.

He noted the Porter information session is the only planned event he is aware of in the Border Patrol’s Buffalo area sector.

In the meantime, Waikel and local law enforcement encourage residents to remain vigilant of any suspicious activity – and do not hesitate to contact police. For more information, residents may call the U.S. Border Patrol Buffalo Sector citizen tip line at 1-800-331-0353, the NCSO non-emergency number at 716-438-3393, or 911 in an emergency.

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