The town of Derby Line, Vermont, may be one of the most unusual places in North America. Running right through it is the Canadian border, on the other side of which is the village of Rock Island, Quebec.
To the average visitor, the two towns appear to be one. In fact, the towns are so integrated that the border runs right through a public library — a convenient venue for extradition hearings.
For years Canadian visitors to Derby Line often didn’t notice the little US Customs booth on the side of the town’s main street — and ended up getting a dressing-down from a border guard when they inadvertently entered the United States.
But for the residents of Derby Line, crossing back and forth between the US and Canada unfettered had been no big deal for years.
But last year, gates went up at the major crossings in the town, “as part of added security measures,” reports WCAX. And now, at least one resident of Derby Line has been arrested for doing what he had been doing for years — crossing into Canada for a bite to eat.
Derby Line village trustee Buzz Roy was recently arrested and fined $500 for crossing the street by foot to grab a pizza on the Canadian side.
Roy says he’s been crossing the border in his home town for years without a problem, but one Saturday night last month, when he crossed the street into Canada, a Vermont state trooper noticed him, and notified the border patrol. They arrested Roy for crossing the border illegally.
“Steam was coming out of my ears from the treatment by the state cop. I felt that he had been misinformed about my ability to enter the country on Church Street. I’ve done it my entire life many many many times,” Roy told WPTZ in Burlington.
Upset at what they see as the criminalization of normal behavior in their town, local residents have started a “Free Roy” campaign to draw attention to the arrest, handing out buttons to visitors, WPTZ reports.
“They steal your civil rights one at a time until they’re all gone. It’s time to take a stand,” Roy said.
WCAX reports that a new federal initiative to increase security at the border has seen “an influx of law enforcement officers” whose presence will likely forever change the twin border towns.
Trained officers from sheriff’s departments, State Police and local police departments are paid overtime to assist with security along the border as part of Operation Stone Garden.
The $60 million federally funded program started two years ago as a way to better secure the border.
Border Patrol agents argue the program has led to dozens of arrests. They hope people in these border communities will come to embrace the enhanced security, but acknowledge folks like Buzzy Roy may never be convinced.
The residents of Derby Line don’t appear particularly concerned about security threats from Canada. Village trustee Keith Beadle told the Burlington Free Press that the new security measures have “irked just about everybody in town.”
“For people in the village it feels like they’re living in some kind of quasi-police state, with police cars everywhere and people watching you. It’s not something we’re used to,” Beadle said. “Operation Stone Garden is a waste of time and especially of money.”