Mi­grants flee into Canada via re­mote road

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - WIL­SON RING In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Rob Gil­lies, Evens Sanon and Pa­trick Le­jtenyi of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. — Thou­sands of mi­grants — from Syria, Congo, Haiti, and else­where — are flee­ing the United States for Canada via a re­mote back road in up­state New York, hop­ing Cana­dian poli­cies will give them the se­cu­rity they be­lieve the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in the U.S. does not.

They come from all over the United States, pil­ing out of taxis, push­ing strollers and pulling lug­gage. Where the pave­ment stops at the end of Rox­ham Road, 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.

The flow of trav­el­ers con­tin­ues seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

“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 south of Mon­treal, or al­most 300 miles 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.

The Cana­dian mil­i­tary said Wed­nes­day that about 100 sol­diers be­gan ar­riv­ing to pre­pare a site for tents to ac­com­mo­date al­most 500 peo­ple. The sol­diers will also in­stall light­ing and heat­ing equip­ment.

How this spot, which is not 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.

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, N.Y., 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.

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 un­der Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, with his ban on trav­el­ers 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 U.S.

On the New York side, U.S. 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 U.S. 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. U.S. of­fi­cials said they be­gan to no­tice last fall, around the time of the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, that more peo­ple were cross­ing there.

Francine Dupuis, the head of a Que­bec gov­ern­ment-funded pro­gram that helps asy­lum seek­ers, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion es­ti­mates 1,174 peo­ple over­all crossed into Que­bec last month, com­pared with 180 in July 2016. U.S. and Cana­dian of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that on Sun­day alone, about 400 peo­ple crossed the bor­der at Rox­ham Road.

“All they have to do is cross the bor­der,” Dupuis said. “We can’t con­trol it. They come in by the hun­dreds, and it seems to be in­creas­ing ev­ery day.”

Canada said last week that it planned to house some mi­grants in Mon­treal’s Olympic Sta­dium. It could hold thou­sands, but cur­rent plans call for only 450.

In most cases, once the mi­grants are in Canada they are re­leased and can live freely while their claims for refugee sta­tus are pro­cessed, which can take years. Mean­while, they are el­i­gi­ble for pub­lic as­sis­tance.

Brenda Shana­han, the Lib­eral Party mem­ber of Par­lia­ment who rep­re­sents the area, vis­ited the site Mon­day. She is proud of her coun­try for be­ing will­ing to take in the dis­pos­sessed, she said, but there is no guar­an­tee they will be able to stay in Canada.

“It’s not a free ticket for refugee sta­tus, not at all,” Shana­han said.

Op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tive law­maker Michelle Rem­pel said the Trudeau gov­ern­ment lacks a plan to deal with the il­le­gal cross­ings, even though a sum­mer spike had been an­tic­i­pated.

“All that we have heard is that we are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion,” she said. “The gov­ern­ment needs to come up with a plan right away to deal with this.”

“All they have to do is cross the bor­der. We can’t con­trol it. They come in by the hun­dreds, and it seems to be in­creas­ing ev­ery day.”

— Francine Dupuis, the head of a Que­bec gov­ern­ment-funded pro­gram that helps asy­lum seek­ers

AP/CHARLES KRUPA

A Haitian boy holds onto his fa­ther Mon­day as they ap­proach an il­le­gal cross­ing point, staffed by Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice of­fi­cers, from Champlain, N.Y., to Saint-Bernard-de-La­colle, Que­bec.

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