The sentencing of a New York man Tuesday in connection with a human smuggling operation based along the Canadian border in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods serves as a reminder that “effective enforcement hinges on real penalties for criminal actions,” according to Border Patrol Swanton Sector Chief Robert N. Garcia.

Granite State Democrats, however, insist illegal immigrants are not targeting the state’s northern border.

Last month, the Senate passed a proposal Republicans say would crack down on illegal crossings from Canada over unanimous opposition from Democrats. The bill, SB 504, would allow landowners to report trespassers to local authorities without risking their eligibility for New Hampshire’s recreational land access tax break.

Democrats have argued federal border agents’ low apprehension rate of illegal crossings, specifically at the New Hampshire border, suggests the problem is a non-issue. Republicans have countered that the statistics at the Swanton sector — which includes New Hampshire’s 58-mile border — show a significant surge in illegal crossing that impacts the state.

The Swanton Sector Border Patrol had more illegal immigrant apprehensions in fiscal year 2023 than the previous 11 fiscal years combined, according to federal officials. And in the first five months of fiscal year 2024 (which began Oct. 1, 2023), “Swanton Sector Border Patrol Agents have apprehended more than 3,100 subjects from 55 countries (more than Fiscal Years 2022, 21, 20 and 19 combined),” reported Garcia, who oversees the sector.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s sentencing of 27-year-old Abraham Hernandez is a real-life example of someone in the state’s northern region “deliberately evad(ing) United States immigration laws,” according to New Hampshire U.S. District Attorney Jane Young. Hernandez was caught in June 2023 by authorities in Pittsburg, N.H., while driving a Honda stuffed with nine illegal immigrants.

Hernandez, who was sentenced to serve six months in federal prison, “smuggled unauthorized immigrants into this country as cargo,” Young said.

“Illegally crossing the northern border through the Great North Woods is dangerous and risks human lives,” Young stated, adding that federal authorities “will continue to target those who pose a threat to U.S. border security and deliver consequences to those who prioritize their own profits over the safety of others and the laws of this country.”

Yet, according to Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), the successful apprehension of human smugglers like Hernandez is uncommon because “resources have been taken away from the northern border.”

“It’s also remote, so by the time officers get to an area where there might be reported instances, people are gone,” Bradley told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last week while testifying in favor of SB 504. “I’ve talked to folks that live on the northern border who’ve outlined exactly that problem.

“The statistics you are hearing, you have to take that into account. Less federal resources for the northern border and the remoteness of it.”

During the Senate debate over the bill, several Democrats downplayed the northern border’s vulnerability, including Sen. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratford), who said Republicans’ concerns reminded her of a scene from the 2004 film “Mean Girls.”

“(It) reminded me of Gretchen — a character in ‘Mean Girls’ — she’s trying to make ‘fetch’ happen, and Regina George rightfully said, ‘Stop trying to make fetch happen, it’s not going to happen,’” Altschiller said.

She also described the issue as a “pseudo crisis.”

“If we’re going to get all whipped up about this ‘pseudo northern border crisis’ with the 21 apprehensions — and, oh, oh, clutched our pearls about how we couldn’t get resources from the federal government, maybe we ought to rethink the fact we’re going to spend $850,000 on the southern border,” Altschiller added.

Her mention of the southern border refers to Gov. Chris Sununu’s successful $850,000 request to send 15 New Hampshire National Guardsmen to Texas to assist with the crush of illegal immigration that has occurred under President Joe Biden’s administration.

Altschiller is not alone. New Hampshire Democratic Party state chair Ray Buckley has labeled the New Hampshire GOP’s targeting of the immigration issue “fascism” and “thinly veiled racism.”

One Granite Stater whose name has frequently come up during debates over the northern border enforcement is Keith Robinson, who runs a family farm in Pittsburg – the same town where authorities managed to intercept Hernandez’s human smuggling operation.

In an email Robinson sent to the Senate, he described his experience encountering illegal immigrants using his family’s farm as a thoroughfare.

“The last couple of years, illegal border smuggling has increased dramatically,” Robinson wrote. “There’ve been many cases I’ve witnessed where I’ve called Border Patrol, and by the time they show up, the illegal aliens are long gone, and there’s no way to document that.”

According to reports, border patrol caught up with Hernandez on June 13, 2023, after Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported seeing individuals carrying backpacks walking south from Canada toward Halls Stream Road in Pittsburg – the same road where Robinson’s farm is located.

As for SB 504, the legislation has yet to receive an “ought to pass” or other recommendation.

According to the House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety’s schedule, an executive session vote originally slated for Friday has been canceled.