They arrive eagerly at Pizzeria Steve, often clutching a hand-drawn map like tourists hoping for a table in one of Manhattan’s choicest restaurants.
Once out of the cold of a Canadian winter, the family orders — maybe the $26.95 house special all-dressed jumbo pizza — then they sit down and calmly savor their meal and settle their bill, usually with a credit card.
Outside the modest gray clapboard building, officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police park on the little bridge over the fast-flowing Tomifobia River and wait for the family to finish their food.
Once the meal is over, as the group leaves the little restaurant, the cops move in and arrest them.
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The border between Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec is becoming a choice crossing point for undocumented immigrants fleeing to Canada
That part of the border is marked just by a row of 10-gallon flowerpots (above)
It was Stanstead mayor Philip Dutil (above) who put the flowerpots in place. Before that accidental crossings were common. ‘They come with a $5,000 fine,’ he pointed out. ‘So people weren’t happy’
Now everybody’s happy. The Mounties have got their man (at least temporarily), pizzeria owner Hendrik Stremmelaar has got his money, and the immigrant family has crossed safely into Canada, no longer living in fear of deportation from the country they have called home for years.
And, if they knew, the White House would probably celebrate too. After all, there is now one less family of ‘illegals’ for the United States government to worry about.
‘It happens probably once a week these days,’ Stremmelaar told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview.
‘They leave their cars on the other side of the border in Vermont and just walk over,’ he added. ‘I’ve seen Pizzeria Steve marked on their map.
‘A few weeks ago we had one family leave their brand-new Cadillac Escalade in Derby Line.’
Once they are processed by Canadian authorities the pizza-eaters are usually free to go.
The border officers’ union in Canada believes that the country needs to upgrade presence along the United States border after 382 people reportedly made asylum claims at a single entry point in January
RCMP officers look on as an extended family of seven people from Turkey cross the US-Canada border just before dawn on February 28, 2017 near Hemmingford, Quebec
Dramatic photos show asylum seekers flooding into Canada across unmanned borders every day from the United States amid fears of a Donald Trump presidency. An extended family of eight people from Colombia were detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers near Hemmingford, Quebec, last week
Hendrik Stremmelaar, owner of Steve Pizzeria, said ‘it probably happens once a week,’ where undocumented U.S immigrants cross the border from Vermont into Stanstead, Canada, have pizza at his shop and are then arrested by Canadian Mounties – only to be released soon after
This is the new normal on America’s OTHER border, the 3,987 miles that separate mainland United States from Canada. Now undocumented immigrants are flooding north as President Donald Trump ratchets up his invective about the 11 million people who live in the country without official papers.
Just this weekend, the Canadian border officers’ union demanded an extra 300 posts to be created to deal with the influx, saying the border is like ‘Swiss cheese’ because of the number of holes.
But as Trump moves to instigate a new agency to assist victims of immigrant crime, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear his country welcomes refugees who are rejected by the U.S.
The border between Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, the Quebec town where Pizzeria Steve has sold its pies since the 1970s, is becoming a choice crossing point.
That’s probably because part of the border is marked just by a row of 10-gallon flowerpots that bloom in the spring and summer but sit sadly under a pile of snow at this time of year.
And everyone expects there will be more crossing the border in the weeks to come. ‘Let’s put it this way: I certainly don’t expect it to get better,’ Stanstead mayor Philip Dutil told DailyMail.com.
‘I don’t want to comment about President Trump,’ the mayor added. ‘But it seems a little scary over there.’
It was Dutil who put the flowerpots in place on Church Street, some five years ago. Before that there was little to mark the border and accidental crossings were common. ‘They come with a $5,000 fine,’ he pointed out. ‘So people weren’t happy.’
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his country ‘welcomes’ refugees who are rejected by the U.S. under President Trump’s administration
President Trump is moving to instigate a new agency to assist victims of immigrant crime. Left, the entry into Stanstead, Quebec. Right, entry into Derby Line, Vermont, from Canada
Now undocumented immigrants are flooding north as President Donald Trump ratchets up his invective about the 11 million people who live in the country without official papers
Church Street is one of four streets that cross from Derby Line into Stanstead. One has the official border crossing, two more are blocked by newly erected gates.
But Church Street is special. That is where the Haskell Free Library and Opera House stands. Its benefactors, Colonel Horace Haskell and his wife Martha, insisted back at the turn of the 20th Century that it should be built right on the border.
Now a black line of tape on the library’s hardwood floor marks the border. The front door is in Vermont but all the books, with the exception of a few in the children’s section, are in Quebec.
Upstairs in the opera house, the stage is in Canada but the audience sits in the United States. A new fire escape would take everyone into Stanstead in the event of tragedy.
So when Border Protection and Customs officials wanted to put a gate on Church Street, authorities in both Derby Line and in Stanstead objected.
Church Street is one of four streets that cross from Derby Line into Stanstead. It is also where the Haskell Free Library and Opera House stands (above). The front door is in Vermont but most of the books are in Quebec. Upstairs in the opera house, the stage is in Canada but the audience sits in the United States
Inside the Library, the border goes right through the building. Patrons can walk on the pavement to the library but must not cross the road otherwise they are in violation
‘It is a symbol of international friendship and cooperation,’ explained Roland ‘Buzzy’ Roy, chairman of Derby Line’s Board of Trustees. ‘We weren’t having it.
‘And, believe it or not, they wanted us to pay for the gates. We said not a chance.’
Buzzy Roy, who has lived in Derby Line his entire 74 years, is one of Border Control’s harsher critics. On February 6, 2010, he and Pizzeria Steve were at the heart of an international incident that drew worldwide press attention.
Buzzy walked into Canada to get his regular pepperoni pie. As he returned to the United States, pizza in hand, he was stopped by a Vermont State Trooper right outside the library.
Upset by the encounter — especially as he believed the trooper was rude and, even worse, had refused to hold his pizza while he fished for his ID in his back pocket — Buzzy Roy crossed the border twice more that night.
The third time, he was stopped by Border Patrol agents, handcuffed, detained for three hours and slapped with the maximum $5,000 fine — reduced on appeal to $500. ‘OK, so I was being a little provocative,’ he admits now.
Buzzy’s act of defiance came at a time when, nearly everyone agrees, Border Patrol agents were acting with a highhandedness that has since subsided.
Roland ‘Buzzy’ Roy, who has lived in Derby Line his entire 74 years, is one of Border Control’s harsher critics. While he used to cross into Canada regularly for a piece of Steve’s pepperoni pizza, he has, in recent years, had bad experiences with Border Agents – he was once arrested for crossing the border without going through customs
Roy is a local pharmacist in Derby Line who owns Browns Drug Store (above). Canada can be seen through the front door of the pharmacy
‘They had brought in people from outside. Previously it was all locals and everyone knew everyone. Often we would cross the border and they would just wave at us,’ said Roy, a pharmacist who lives over his shop, some 50 yards from the border.
‘We’ll never get to where it was before 9/11, but it is better again now,’ he added.
Scott Wheeler, owner and publisher of the monthly Northland Journal, puts that down to the international pizza incident.
‘Buzzy saved the border,’ Wheeler told DailyMail.com. ‘He lost the battle, but he won the war.’
Since Roy’s ‘pizza incident’, residents on both sides say the situation has improved. Scott Wheeler (pictured), owner and publisher of the monthly Northland Journal, said: ‘Buzzy saved the border.’ ‘He lost the battle, but he won the war’
Derby Line and its library isn’t the only quirk in this part of the world. A couple of miles away in Beebe Plain, on a stretch of Quebec Route 247 the border is drawn right down the center of the road.
For a little less than half a mile, vehicles going east are in the United States while those going west are in Canada. If a resident wants to pay a friendly visit to a neighbor across the street, he first has to go through immigration — and has to do the same again on the way home.
There are still incidents in and around Derby Line. In 2012 a smuggling ring was discovered taking hundreds of Romanian gypsies who had traveled from Europe to Mexico and up through the U.S. to get asylum in Canada, the Spokesman-Review reported.
More recently Haitians from Montreal have been trying to come through for a new life in the United States, said retired Army Sgt. Maj. John Wilson, who lives in Newport, a few miles south of the border.
And a 21-year-old Canadian was sentenced to a year in prison in August after he tripped a border sensor as he pulled a sled loaded with $1.6 million worth of Xanax into the United States.
‘After 9/11 things definitely changed,’ said Wilson, who was born in Canada and fought in Vietnam while still on a Green Card. ‘It was tough on the locals. We had a border that was no big deal. You could just nod to people because the Customs officers knew everybody in town.
Library director Nancy Rumery (above) explains that on their way to the library, Canadians park on Church Street and walk across the border. So long as they go into the library and walk straight back to Canada once they leave they are OK. ‘But if you see your sister-in-law across the street, you can only wave at her. You can’t go over and say hello,’ she said
A black line of tape on the library’s hardwood floor marks the border. The front door is in Vermont but all the books, with the exception of a few in the children’s section, are in Quebec
‘But our Border Patrol has now quadrupled in size and they brought in people who weren’t so familiar and their mission suddenly became to stop people going back and forth without going through Customs. Naturally the locals didn’t like that.’
It’s not so long ago that families in Stanstead would come to the hospital in Newport to give birth, he added. ‘You’d go back and they’d say ‘What a lovely baby.’ Now they’d give you 10 tons of paperwork.’
There are other problems. Illegal opiates are smuggled south, booze goes north, explained Wheeler, whose grandfather served jail time for alcohol-related crimes on the border during Prohibition.
But locally problems are more likely to involve hunters who shoot and injure deer and then want to retrieve their prey after they cross the border.
‘That can be a real hassle,’ one Border Protection Agent told DailyMail.com. ‘Then you have to bring in Fish and Wildlife officers from the other country.’
Dogs can be a problem too. If Fido gets out, he doesn’t realize he’s not allowed to cross the invisible border — and certainly can’t read the signs that warn of the hefty fine his owner may have to pay if she goes looking for him.
Even those who can read make that mistake. Lizabeth LaRoche and her husband Pietro Gambescia found out the hard way one fall night shortly after they moved to Stanstead from Montreal.
They decided to have a night out at the Opera House, so drove up Church Street and turned into the parking lot on the U.S. side of the border.
‘We didn’t know,’ said LaRoche, who describes herself as ‘an ambassador of good bread’ at Les Vrais Richesses boulangerie in Stanstead. It was raining and there were dead leaves on the ground covering the border sign.
Canadians Lizabeth LaRoche and her husband Pietro Gambescia were hauled off to immigration after they decided to have a night out at the Opera House, drove up Church Street and turned into the parking lot on the U.S. side of the border. The forgot to bring their passports
‘Of course we didn’t have our passports with us. We were going to the theater!’
Instead of enjoying a night of folk music, LaRoche and Gambescia were hauled off by immigration. ‘We were held there all evening,’ she said.
Shortly afterwards Mayor Dutil installed the flowerpot border. ‘There should be no mistake now. If you are going to move a heavy flowerpot to drive over the border, you have to know what you are doing,’ he said.
On their way to the library, Canadians park on Church Street and walk unmolested across the border. So long as they go into the library and walk straight back to Canada once they leave they are OK.
‘But if you see your sister-in-law across the street, you can only wave at her. You can’t go over and say hello,’ explained library director Nancy Rumery.
Cameras on both sides of the border monitor comings and goings along Church Street. Occasionally a Border Patrol agent will sit there in his SUV.
There are still joint interests between the two towns. Water is collected in wells in Canada, pumped to a reservoir in Vermont and then distributed between the two towns. They also share a sewer system.
The Border Jets peewee hockey team plays in Canada but draws players from both sides of the border.
But general interaction is way down. ‘I haven’t been to Canada in six weeks,’ said Buzzy Roy, who said he used to cross the border several times a day as a boy.
‘I don’t even go to Stanstead to get my pizza any longer. I have to drive four miles south to Hoagies in Derby instead.’