Fearful of Trump’s America, they seek safety in Canada
from Haiti, Sudan, Turkey, Eritrea and beyond have been streaming into Canada in recent months, hoping for refuge they believe will be denied them in the United States.
HEMMINGFORD, Quebec — Every hour or so, a taxi pulls up at the end of a remote country road in upstate New York and deposits another load of anxious and weary passengers.
From here, it is steps across a gully to the Canadian province of Quebec, where police stand ready to arrest anyone who enters illegally.
Undeterred, the travelers drag their suitcases across a makeshift dirt bridge, past a sign that declares in French and in English, “No pedestrians,” and surrender to the waiting officers.
They are part of a surge of asylum seekers from Haiti, Sudan, Turkey, Eritrea and beyond who have streamed into Canada in recent months, hoping for refuge they think will be denied them in the United States.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police intercepted nearly 3,000 of the asylum seekers at this one illicit crossing in July, nearly four times the apprehended in June. In the first two weeks of August, 3,700 more were taken into custody.
“We’ve never seen such numbers coming in,” Claude Castonguay, a spokesman for the force, said. “They’re unprecedented.”
Though the numbers have dropped in the last few weeks, the influx has strained Canada’s immigration and refugee services, leaving officials scrambling to find them shelter and causing months-long delays in the processing of asylum claims.
Canadian authorities set up tents at the border and installed rows of cots at the Montreal Olympic stadium — a jarring sight for many Canadians, who say the scenes are reminiscent of a war zone. Schools, conference halls and an abandoned hospital were also converted into temporary shelters for the migrants.
The rush poses a political problem for the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who faces a backlash from opposition parties and anti-immigrant groups because of his welcoming stance toward refugees.
“We’re giving our country away to other people,” said Buddy Hampton, an 80-year-old drummer from Hemmingford, the community on the Canadian side of the border where most of the migrants are arriving.
He said he sympathized with those seeking a better life but that Canadians, too, were struggling.
Government officials have taken to the press and social media in recent weeks to try to dispel the notion — common among the migrants — that anyone who requests asylum in Canada will automatically receive permanent residence.
“You will not be at an advantage if you choose to enter Canada irregularly,” Trudeau said at a news conference. “You must follow the rules, and there are many.”
Police say they first noticed an increase in illegal crossings around the time of the U.S. election in November, and many of the asylum seekers say they have lost hope that America will accept them as long as President Donald Trump remains in office.
Some are from the six Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — subject to a U.S. travel ban imposed by Trump.
But they also include many other foreign nationals frightened by his crackdown on illegal immigration and vows to slash the number of immigrants admitted to the U.S. lawfully.
The largest share — about 85 percent of those arriving — are Haitians who lacked visas to enter the U.S. or overstayed the ones they had and now fear being sent home.
“We went through an epic journey to reach the United States — people died on the way,” said Louina St. Juste, a 42-year-old father of five from Haiti who passed through 11 countries, braving vast rainforests and treacherous rivers on a three-month trek from Brazil to San Diego last year. “And now they want to deport us?”
He said he can’t return to Haiti, a country assailed by natural disasters, political turbulence, violent crime and a deadly cholera outbreak. So he flew to New York and caught a Greyhound bus to Plattsburgh, about six hours to the north. From there, it was a 20minute taxi ride past cornfields and apple orchards to Roxham Road, the now-well-known spot in the town of Champlain where he entered Canada.
So many people are using this spot that the Canadian police set up tents on their side of the frontier to search the migrants and verify they don’t pose a threat. The tents are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
From there, the migrants are loaded into minivans for the 10-minute drive to the nearest official port of entry at St. Bernard de Lacolle, where the army set up more tents to house them while they wait to file asylum claims — a process that was taking up to four days at the height of the influx.
Eventually they are bused to shelters in Montreal, where they complete the application process and are given help finding more permanent housing.
A cab drops off asylum seekers at the U.S.-Canada border near Champlain, N.Y. As soon as they cross, they will surrender to waiting police officers.