How Secure Is The Border?

US and Canadian flags
CBS
It's midnight; a quarter mile from Lake Champlain on the Vermont-Canadian border and Border Patrol agent George Woodward is setting a trap. With a night vision camera, Woodward says he can detect illegal immigrants sneaking over the border from a mile away - and catch them in the act. But with only a handful of agents to cover these long, open stretches of land, can he?

While watching the lake, Woodward spots two people heading south at high speed down the lake - with no lights on. This is the job of the Border Patrol, trying to stop illegal aliens on the move.

"We're picking up Europeans, Middle Easterners, Africans. Certainly we're looking for any connection to terrorism with anybody we arrest," says Border Patrol Officer Foss.

Since 9/11, protecting our Northern border has become a matter of national security. U.S. intelligence shows Canada's open-door immigration policy provides easy access for Al Queda and other terrorist groups.

If they want to sneak into the U.S., this is where they'll probably do it: 261 miles of woods, fields, and water between New York, Vermont, and Canada, known as the "Central Corridor."

On a hot sunny summer day here on Lake Champlain, on the unseen border between the U.S. and Canada, there might be hundreds of boats on the water, way too many for the Border Patrol to keep track of alone. They need help, and they get it from neighbors on the American shore.

"Very easy to be put ashore by a boat, then have someone with a car pick you up, and off you go," says Nancy Christophers, a lakeside resident.

Christophers has seen dozens of illegal aliens come off the lake, and run right through her garden, some even disguised as fishermen.

"If something looks a little out of the ordinary, we'll call the Border Patrol," says Christophers.

"If it's anybody from out of the area we're gonna find them," adds Woodward.

Back at our stakeout Agent Woodward tracks the suspicious boat to a bridge. Backup units on land scramble to cover the roads leading out. But there isn't enough manpower.

Pre 9/11, there was only one agent to patrol every 11 miles of border nationwide. On the Lake Champlain border, there are no walls or fences to stop illegal aliens, just warning signs on the back roads between Canada and the U.S. that direct traffic to the nearest checkpoint.

Even with new assistance from southern Border Patrol teams on the ground, and Army National Guard in the air, there are still large sections of land that at any given time go unpatrolled.

In high traffic areas, motion detectors and infrared cameras help agents pick the bad guys out of heavy brush and sheer darkness, "Nothing and no one moves in here that we don't know about," says Woodward.

But, high-tech tools are no substitute for bodies in the field. "Interstate 89 on your left, Interstate 87 to New York State on your right, easy, get on the interstate and you're gone," says Christophers.

In the end, Border Patrol cameras lose track of our suspicious boat and the people onboard.

Were they terrorists sneaking into the country, or a couple of kids out for a midnight cruise?

Agents will never know.