US back road is route to hope in Canada for many mi­grants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

They have come from all over the United States, pil­ing out of taxis, push­ing strollers and pulling lug­gage, to the end of a coun­try road in the north woods. Where the pave­ment stops, they pick up small chil­dren and lead older ones wear­ing Mickey Mouse back­packs around a “road closed” sign, thread­ing bushes, cross­ing a ditch, and fil­ing past an­other sign in French and English that says “No pedes­tri­ans.” Then they are ar­rested.

Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, mi­grants who came to the US from across the globe Syria, Congo, Haiti, else­where - ar­rive here where Rox­ham Road dead-ends so they can walk into Canada, hop­ing its poli­cies will give them the se­cu­rity they be­lieve the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in the United States does not.

“In Trump’s coun­try, they want to put us back to our coun­try,” said Lena Gunja, a 10-year-old from Congo, who un­til this week had been liv­ing in Port­land, Maine. She was trav­el­ing with her mother, fa­ther and younger sis­ter. “So we don’t want that to hap­pen to us, so we want a good life for us. My mother, she wants a good life for us.”

The pas­sage has be­come so crowded this sum­mer that Cana­dian po­lice set up a re­cep­tion cen­ter on their side of the bor­der in the Que­bec com­mu­nity of Saint-Bernard-de-La­colle, about 30 miles (50 kilo­me­ters) south of Mon­treal, or al­most 300 miles (480 kilo­me­ters) north of New York City. It in­cludes tents that have popped up in the past few weeks, where mi­grants are pro­cessed be­fore they are turned over to the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency, which han­dles their ap­pli­ca­tions for refuge.

The Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice are adding elec­tric­ity and por­ta­ble toi­lets. A Cana­dian flag stands just in­side the first tent, where the Moun­ties search the im­mi­grants they’ve just ar­rested and check their travel doc­u­ments. They are also of­fered food. Then shut­tle buses take the pro­cessed mi­grants to their next des­ti­na­tion. Trucks carry their lug­gage separately. How this spot, not even an of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ing, be­came the fa­vored place to cross into Canada is any­one’s guess. But once mi­grants started go­ing there, word spread on so­cial me­dia.

Le­gal port

Un­der the 2002 Safe Coun­try Agree­ment be­tween the United States and Canada, mi­grants seek­ing asy­lum must ap­ply to the first coun­try they ar­rive in. If they were to go to a le­gal port of en­try, they would be re­turned to the United States and told to ap­ply there. But, in a quirk in the ap­pli­ca­tion of the law, if mi­grants ar­rive in Canada at a lo­ca­tion other than a port of en­try, such as Rox­ham Road, they are al­lowed to re­quest refugee sta­tus there.

Many take buses to Platts­burgh, New York, about 20 miles south. Some fly there, and oth­ers take Am­trak. Some­times taxis carry peo­ple right up to the bor­der. Oth­ers are let off up the road and have to walk, pulling their lug­gage be­hind them. Used bus tick­ets lit­ter the pave­ment, their points of ori­gin mostly blurred by rain that fell on nights pre­vi­ous. One read “Jack­sonville.”

One Syr­ian fam­ily said they flew into New York City on tourist visas and then went to Platts­burgh, where they took a taxi to the bor­der. The mi­grants say they are driven by the per­cep­tion that the age of Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, with his calls for bans on peo­ple from cer­tain ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries, means the United States is no longer the des­ti­na­tion of the world’s dis­pos­sessed. Tak­ing its place in their minds is the Canada of Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, a mem­ber of his coun­try’s Lib­eral Party.

Most of the peo­ple mak­ing the cross­ing now are orig­i­nally from Haiti. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said this year it planned to end in Jan­uary a spe­cial hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­gram en­acted af­ter the 2010 earth­quake that gave about 58,000 Haitians per­mis­sion to stay tem­po­rar­ily in the US. Walk­ing to­ward the bor­der in a group on Mon­day, Me­dyne Milord, 47, orig­i­nally of Haiti, said she needs work to sup­port her fam­ily.

“If I re­turn to Haiti, the prob­lem will dou­ble,” she said. “What I hope is to have a bet­ter life in Canada.” Jean Ri­gaud Lib­eral, 38, said he had been in the United States for seven months and lived in Florida af­ter he left Haiti. He learned about Rox­ham Road from Face­book and said he thinks “Canada will be bet­ter than Amer­ica.” “We are not com­fort­able in Amer­ica,” Lib­eral said. “We are seek­ing a bet­ter life; we don’t want to go back to Haiti.”

Not our mis­sion

On the New York side, US Bor­der Pa­trol agents some­times check to be sure the mi­grants are in the United States legally, but they said they don’t have the re­sources to do it all the time. Be­sides, said Brad Brant, a spe­cial op­er­a­tions su­per­vi­sor for the US Bor­der Pa­trol, “our mis­sion isn’t to pre­vent peo­ple from leav­ing.” Small num­bers con­tinue to cross into Canada else­where, but the vast ma­jor­ity take Rox­ham Road. US of­fi­cials said they be­gan to no­tice last fall, around the time of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, that more peo­ple were cross­ing there. —AP

QUE­BEC: A Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice of­fi­cer, left, stand­ing in Saint-Bernard-de-La­colle, Que­bec, ad­vises mi­grants that they are about to il­le­gally cross from Champlain, NY, and will be ar­rested, Mon­day, Aug 7, 2017. —AP

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