Asy­lum seek­ers

Fear­ful of Trump’s Amer­ica, they seek safety in Canada

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Alexan­dra Zavis alexan­dra.zavis@la­times.com

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.

GEOFF ROBINS/GETTY-AFP

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.

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