A view of the border crossing station in Houlton, Maine. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Border patrol agents working the rural border towns on the Maine-Canada border are finding themselves being reassigned 2,000 miles south to the border with Mexico.

The reassignments come as the southern border continues to deal with an ongoing humanitarian crisis as a large influx of migrants continues to seek passage into the United States. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have been detained after arriving at the border, and politicians such as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have visited the border in recent weeks.

Mike Niezgoda, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection’s northeastern operations, confirmed that agents from Maine, such as those at the border crossing stations in Aroostook County, were being transferred.

“Due to fluctuations along the Southwest Border, Houlton Sector has deployed additional Border Patrol agents to the Rio Grande Valley Sector area of operation,” Niezgoda said. “CBP seeks to deter and disrupt human smuggling activities by transnational criminal organizations and ensure our personnel are properly equipped to maintain border security.”

While Niezgoda declined to give an exact number of agents being transferred from Maine, citing law enforcement sensitivities, he said the total number of agents being transferred from northern and coastal sectors was around 300 agents. That number would represent around 12 percent of the total number of agents working in those sectors, according to the most recent staffing data from CBP.

The arriving agents will add to the more than 16,000 CBP agents already deployed at the southern border. According to one CBP official, who requested to remain anonymous due to fears of losing their job, the reassigned agents will spend a month on the southern border and then return to their original post, although they may stay if they request an extension.

“You get sent down, go through a rotation for a month, and then return back,” the official said. “The number of people getting sent down can also vary on every rotation.”

The official also expressed concern for the possible health implications that the reassignments could bring to agents. Thousands of arriving migrants have been turned away as part of the current migrant crisis, under the U.S. Government’s policy of protecting against the pandemic. Many migrant detention facilities are also crammed and without proper COVID-19 testing. Agents in those facilities who return to their normal posts could be at risk of bringing the virus back.

“Significant numbers of agents are getting exposed to the coronavirus,” the official said. “There’s really no other option. Just as nurses take care of patients, so we have to take care of people coming over the border.”