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Border Patrol comes to Bemidji

By vehicle, Bemidji is more than 100 miles from the Canadian border.

So what is the U.S. Border Patrol doing in Bemidji?

French Reid, supervisory Border Patrol agent in Bemidji, has been fielding this question a lot lately.

Reid, who arrived in October, was the first Border Patrol agent in Bemidji. He has since been joined by two other agents. They are part of the pilot Resident Agent Program, which includes 12 communities in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"We're focused on information-sharing and partnerships," Reid said.

All 12 communities are within the Grand Forks Sector of the Border Patrol.

If the program is deemed successful, it would likely be expanded, Reid said.

The goal of the Resident Agent Program is to develop partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, including city, county and reservation departments.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said his department learned about the Border Patrol program about 18 months or two years ago.

"We were very supportive of that idea," he said. "It's a great resource of us locally."

Hodapp said the agents in Bemidji provide the community with three more sets of eyes and ears.

"They have a lot of resources that they can bring to certain cases," Hodapp said.

Prior to the Resident Agent Program, Reid said, the parent office at International Falls was responsible for Border Patrol issues in this area.

But agents in International Falls need to be focused on the border itself, he explained. So if there ever was an issue in Beltrami County that could potentially involve the Border Patrol, agents could not always respond.

The relationships cultivated through the Resident Agent Program, however, would prove useful if an incident were to ever occur.

The parent offices, such as International Falls, would respond to the border itself and then Resident Agent offices and their partners (i.e. sheriff's offices) would also respond from the south.

"The focus is to provide a defense in depth strategy," Reid said, describing a "second tier of defense."

Prior to 9/11, agents would more frequently leave their parent offices for calls, he noted.

But now, "our focus has to be first and foremost on the border," Reid said.

He noted that the increased presence is not in response to a known or perceived threat.

Since the Border Patrol came to Bemidji, agents have been developing relationships with local law enforcement agencies and helping out wherever possible. They, working with the Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force, have volunteered for events such as the Annual International Eelpout Festival in Walker and are providing community service, such as directing traffic during last week's Regency Park Apartments fire.

Bemidji-based agents support agencies bordering U.S. Highway 2 between Erskine and Grand Rapids and then north toward the border.

"We're developing relationships and making ourselves available wherever we're needed, if it's not terrorism or immigration related," Reid said.

Those involved in the Resident Agent Program have requested that assignment, Reid noted. Reid said they all are "self-reliant" agents, meaning that they don't have a traditional, permanent office.

"My agents and I are really ecstatic and very privileged to have received the welcome we have here," Reid said. "Law enforcement, the community, everyone has just welcomed us with open arms."