If the five largest ports of entry on the northern border had the number of crossers cut sharply to 85,000 a month collectively (in May) as a result of the virus crisis, what happened to the traffic at the smallest of the many ports of entry on that border?
We called the port at Ambrose, N.D., on the afternoon of July 19 and asked: have you seen any cars today?
The answer was no.
Then we called the port at Hannah, N.D., and asked the same question, and got the same answer. In this case two Customs and Border Protection officers were on duty, we had not asked about staffing at Ambrose. My phone calls were probably the most interesting events of the day.
Border-crossing data provided every month by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed that there were four ports of entry on our northern border that are open eight hours a day which saw an average of fewer than one entering car passenger a day during the month of May, and one (Sarles, N.D.) that saw an average of exactly one passenger each day, for a total of 31. Each of the five, according to their websites, is open from nine to five, seven days a week. Pedestrians, bus, and train passengers were not noted in any of these locations for May 2020.
Here are the numbers of persons arriving, all in autos, at the five ports during the month of May of this year, and in May last year:
|May 2020||May 2019|
|Night Hawk, Wash.||18||879 (+14 pedestrians)|
|Willow Creek, Mont.||19||455|
|Sarles, N.D.||31||440 (+7 on a bus)|
These are very small operations even in normal times; last May these ports were seeing from 5.5 car passengers a day (Ambrose) to 28.4 such persons a day (Night Hawk) and one wonders why these expensive operations have persisted over the years.
It would obviously be an inconvenience to the three aliens (probably Canadians) if the Ambrose POE were to be closed and they had to use the one (Fortuna, N.D.) about 30 miles away. But does it make sense to keep open a port of entry, with a staff of one or two, seven days a week, with these numbers?
Presumably it is easier, if more expensive, to maintain the usual hours of operation at these places rather than to close them down until the crisis passes. Or maybe Customs and Border Protection does not want to offend the White House, which wants to open the economy, by closing even the tiniest ports.
At one of the ports I asked if CBP gave them any paperwork to do during these long, lonely hours, and was told, yes, they have some work involving cross-border auto sales regarding traffic at other ports. Apparently no immigration paperwork is given to those other ports, a practice called "remoting" that took place during the days of the old INS. At a time when immigration paperwork is coming to a screeching halt because of funding problems at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it might be sensible to remote some of it to places likes Ambrose and Hannah.
I got into this subject because I read CBP press releases (having done some governmental PR work at different stages of my life). One with this message arrived on July 17:
Sarles, N.D. – Due to the significant reduction in privately-owned vehicle and pedestrian traffic along the northern border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will temporarily change the hours of operation at the Sarles, North Dakota Port of Entry (POE). Effective July 19, Sarles POE will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. The current hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
The stated rationale for changing (not reducing) the hours does not make any sense. What does make sense is that the hours might as well be consistent with those of the other POEs. The somewhat pompous release continues:
Changing the hours of operation at Sarles will allow CBP to continue to provide service to the communities as well as keeping employees safe from exposure and community spread.
A look at the U.S. Census data for the town of Sarles gives one a view of the emptiness of this part of the nation, and the lack of any conceivable danger from "community spread."
The population of Sarles is 27, and there are 25 houses, only eight of them occupied. You can rent a house for a little over $300 a month.
The Google map, however, indicates that the place does have a bar, where everybody must know everybody’s name.