Leuprecht: Closing Roxham Road loophole a benefit to all migrants

Of note:

To stem the surge in irregular migration at Roxham Road, the U.S. and Canada recently extended their Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), to apply between ports of entry as well. Under the renegotiated STCA migrants must apply to a Canadian agency before crossing from the U.S. into Canada, and vice versa.

Both countries can now turn back asylum seekers attempting to cross irregularly or without authorization. This “new deal” is good news for migrants and for the continent overall. In lieu of border disorder, it affirms three fundamental principles of a sustainable migratory system: the orderly processing of documented migrants, due process and the rule of law, as well as the efficient and effective use of scarce public resources.

Migrant advocates often argue that borders should be open: Whoever shows up at a border should be allowed to cross and lodge a claim. But who shows up is not random. Rather, Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest is fundamentally incompatible with a principled approach to the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. Instead of unequal access for those who can afford to pay, the STCA is an important step toward levelling the playing field for all vulnerable people in genuine need of protection.

Neither domestic nor international law offer an internationally accepted definition of “migrant.” To the contrary, the careless and indiscriminate use of the term ignores the democratic socio-political process that defines a non-citizen’s status, which determines conditions of admissibility that distinguish undocumented migrants from economic immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. States have legal and moral obligations to immigrants and refugees, and to consider asylum claims. Under domestic and international law, these obligations differ by such criteria as human vulnerabilities, labour needs and other material and ethical considerations.

Public perception of queue jumping at Roxham Road challenges the legitimacy of a well-administered migration policy that is fair for the most vulnerable and grounded in the rule of law. Irregular migration puts at risk the integrity, sustainability and legitimacy of the social contract on which the domestic migratory regime is based. Such a contract preserves the integrity of a state’s borders and the successful political and economic socialization and integration of migrants, as well as social justice and the collective benefit of migration in fostering prosperity.

These are the three cornerstones for the legal regime that admitted a record one million newcomers (immigrants and non-permanent residents) to Canada in 2022. However, polls show that the impression that government is no longer able or committed to the orderly management of the state’s borders causes popular support for legal migration to decline and risks stoking nativist populism that calls into question the sustainability of the entire migratory system.

With population expected to grow by 2.5 billion in the Global South over the next 25 years, that system is coming under massive strain. The number of people who strive for asylum or refugee status in the Global North vastly exceeds the fiscal and social capacity of receiving countries. The current refugee system sprung up after the Second World War in an acknowledgement that certain people deserve temporary protection. Evidence in Canada and the U.S. shows that many asylum seekers today are not seeking temporary protection: their intent is to immigrate.

In a world where travel is relatively cheap and easy, refugee and asylum provisions have become a back door for economic immigrants who would not otherwise be admissible, and who do not qualify under exemptions that would allow them to lodge a claim at an official port of entry. In 2022, for example, 40,000 people crossed into Canada irregularly from New York at Roxham Road, whose location has made it a semi-unofficial port of irregular entry. Yet, almost half had entered the U.S. legally. At Roxham Road, 40 per cent who cross end up having their claims denied. Although the rate is above average, even failed claimants are unlikely to be removed.

For all intents and purposes, many are economic migrants. Claimants originate in countries marred by conflict, corruption and dire economic conditions: Central America, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti. Sophisticated human smuggling networks, which fall under the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, prey on their misery. Yet, it is not illegal for someone to avail of the services of a smuggler or even to commit identity fraud for the purposes of making an asylum claim. In fact, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the vast majority of people who try to make it to North America engage the services of human smugglers and what is now a $10-billion-a-year industry.

The STCA discourages irregular (asylum) or illegal entry (human smuggling) at Roxham Road. Claimants who fall under an exemption can still register their claims at Lacolle, Que., which is the closest point of entry. The only “new” element is that on either side of the border claims have to be registered at a formal port of entry. The renewed STCA manifests the open border paradox: co-operative bilateral and binational governance and border management is actually essential to advance mutual security, prosperity and democracy, while mitigating the exploitation of vulnerable migrants.

To be sure, the STCA is no silver bullet. Its effectiveness hinges on co-ordinated enforcement at and beyond the border, Canada stepping up to take a bilateral and trilateral approach with Mexico and the United States to help relieve despair at the U.S.-Mexico border, far-reaching reforms to the UN Convention on Refugees and to the U.S. asylum system, as well as greater access to legal migration pathways in the Global North, where jobs are aplenty and demand for unskilled labour is high.

Victims in need of protection should have equal opportunity to lodge their claim, offshore, while people on the move should lodge a claim in the first country where it is safe for them to do so. Instead of ideological turf wars over the STCA by critics intent on stigmatizing inequalities between the U.S. and Canadian systems, comprehensive reform of the North American and global migration systems is in order if such tragedies as the detention centre fire in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, that killed 40 last month, and the eight migrants who drowned in the St. Lawrence River two weeks ago, are to be prevented.

Special to National Post

Christian Leuprecht is Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera is Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. 

Source: Opinion: Closing Roxham Road loophole a benefit to all migrants

U.S., Canada kept migrant crossing deal a secret to avoid rush at the border

Sensible. And critics such as Brian Lilley (see below) would have rightly been all over the government had it not done so with the corresponding rush and chaos:

Canada and the United States waited a year to announce a new deal to turn asylum seekers away at unofficial border crossings, such as Roxham Road between Quebec and New York, to avoid a rush of migrants before the new rules could be enforced, the two countries said Sunday.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen said it would not have served either country to disclose a deal until the planning process was complete and updated regulations were in effect. The goal was to have “an orderly transition,” he said.

Mr. Cohen said the governments feared that a premature announcement “would stimulate a large influx of migrants trying to get to Canada before that change went into place.”

“It was not in Canada’s interest to create that artificial surge of people trying to enter the country.”

On Friday, during President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada, he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that they had renegotiated the Safe Third Country Agreement, with the revised deal taking effect within hours. The changes meant that the two countries could start turning away asylum seekers whether they entered at official or unofficial border points.

Originally, the Safe Third Country Agreement, prevented people arriving via the U.S. from making asylum claims at official Canadian border crossings, but it didn’t cover unofficial ones.

Behind the scenes, the countries had already signed the deal a year earlier, in spring 2022, but the regulations that would put it into effect and allow its enforcement were only completed Wednesday, according to a document published by the U.S. government.

In the months leading up to the announcement, Canada had significantly played down the possibility of reaching an agreement with the United States. Only when Mr. Biden’s arrival in the capital on Thursday was imminent did that message change.

An administration official said changes to existing accords, such as the Safe Third Country Agreement, are subject to complicated and uncertain administrative reviews that can last two to three years after a deal is struck. Given the unknowns around implementation and the risks of people trying to get to the border before a deal was in place, the two governments only wanted to disclose the deal when it could go into effect.

Ottawa shared similar concerns about the risks of pre-emptively announcing the renegotiated deal, a federal government official told The Globe Sunday. Moreover, the individual said that Ottawa’s view was that it wasn’t a done deal until it had gone through the regulatory process. They said that within the past few weeks, the federal government had still been lobbying for an accelerated administrative review from the U.S. and it was only assured last week of its completion.

The Globe is not identifying the U.S. and Canadian officials because they were not permitted to disclose the private deliberations.

Applying the Safe Third Country Agreement uniformly across the border has been a top priority for Mr. Trudeau’s government, which has been under increasing pressure from the federal Conservatives and Quebec Premier François Legault to stem the flow of migrants at Roxham Road.

Last year, almost 40,000 people crossed into Canada at unofficial border points to make an asylum claim. Most of them arrived at Roxham Road. Smaller but growing numbers of migrants have been crossing the border in the other direction, from Canada to the U.S. They have primarily been Mexican nationals, who can enter Canada without visas.

But the much more pressing issue for the U.S. is its southern border, where between 100,000 and 200,000 migrants cross at unofficial border points each month. In a nod to the significant challenges the U.S. faces with migration from Central America, Canada on Friday also announced it would accept 15,000 more migrants from that region through legal channels.

Officials from both governments said Canada’s pledge of 15,000 more spots spurred the implementation of the renegotiated Safe Third Country Agreement.

In a joint statement, the U.S. and Canada on Friday said the changes will deter irregular migration across the border. But advocates say it will only make the situation even more precarious for asylum seekers. That’s because it risks pushing migrants to more dangerous and irregular routes and makes them more vulnerable to exploitation from traffickers.

By noon Sunday, the Canada Border Services Agency said that under the new rules, two people had been returned to the U.S. and four were deemed eligible to make an asylum claim in Canada.

Amid the suite of issues highlighted during Mr. Biden’s official visit, wasCanada’s promised spending to modernize North America’s air defences. Ahead of the trip, the U.S. had said it wanted Canada to spend more and faster on its defence upgrades.

Canada’s lagging defence spending and slow procurement processes have frequently been a point of contention with the United States. On Sunday though, Mr. Cohen said the U.S. is “generally satisfied” with the federal government’s progress.

He noted that Ottawa agreed to accelerate the installation of next-generation over-the-horizon radar in the north; committed to base upgrades in time for the arrival of new F-35 fighter jets; and reiterated its commitment to raise defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP.

Mr. Cohen also noted that Canada is in the midst of a national defence policy review, during which the U.S. is receiving classified briefings on the government’s progress.

“There’s a real satisfaction that Canada is moving in the right direction,” he said.

Source: U.S., Canada kept migrant crossing deal a secret to avoid rush at the border

But Lilley, in the Sun, his ideology blinds him to the practicalities behind the delay:

Between when the Trudeau government signed the agreement to amend the Safe Third Country agreement, and when it came into force, more than 41,000 people crossed illegally into Canada at Roxham Rd.

After we add in the numbers for March, expect the final tally to be over 45,000 or the equivalent of adding the population of Chatham, Ont., via what the government calls “irregular migration.”

While the agreement was only officially announced last Friday when U.S. President Biden was in Ottawa, it was signed almost a year ago. The official document, now released, was signed by Canada on May 29, 2022, while Americans signed it on April 15, 2022.

The agreement said that it would come into effect at a later date, but coming into force at midnight 51 weeks after it was signed seems a bit much.

“Both of our countries believe in safe, fair, and orderly migration; refugee protection; and border security. This is why we will now apply the Safe Third Country Agreement to asylum seekers who cross between official points of entry,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday when announcing the changes.

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“After midnight tonight, police and border officers will enforce the agreement and return irregular border crossers to the closest port of entry with the United States.”

This is what should have been done six years ago when the problem started, but having started the problem, Trudeau tried using it for political advantage. He was effectively importing an American wedge issue into Canadian politics, illegal immigration.

Crossing at Roxham Rd. is illegal, which is why there were big Government of Canada signs facing the American side of the border stating that fact in clear language. It’s why the RCMP would issue verbal warnings as people approached, telling them it was illegal to cross, and they would be arrested.

Once they were in Canada, though, they could declare asylum and begin a legal process to stay here.

The Safe Third country agreement recognized that Canada and the United States were safe for refugees and required people to apply in the first of the two countries they landed in. The agreement was signed two decades ago to end the problem of refugee shopping by people who were turned down on the application in one country, turning to the other.

There was a loophole, though, in that the agreement only applied at legal points of entry. That loophole was exploited by people who were mostly economic migrants trying to get a shortcut into Canada.

When Donald Trump was president, Trudeau used Roxham Rd. to show that Canada was virtuous and welcoming of immigrants while Trump was not. He tried to bait those opposed to these illegal crossings by implying they were racist, he wanted to use this for his own partisan ends.

With Joe Biden in the White House, he no longer had that edge and post-pandemic, the numbers increased. With more than 39,000 people crossing in 2022, it was a record, and the numbers for January and February were off the charts.

People who crossed into the United States illegally on the southern border — into states like Texas — were being put on a bus to New York City. Once there, officials in New York offered them bus tickets to Roxham Rd.

With record crossings, Quebec declared it was full, and the strain on their social services was too great, so the Trudeau government started bussing people to Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls.

Nothing about what has been happening was fair to anyone.

It’s not fair to Canadian taxpayers, asked to foot the bills for this make-shift system. It’s not fair to the people, mostly economic migrants, to be bussed around from place to place. It’s also not fair for the 2 million people in Canada’s immigration backlog looking to follow the rules.

It’s also not fair to people languishing in actual refugee camps around the world.

This should have been fixed years ago; once the deal was signed, it should have been implemented quickly.

Instead, Trudeau used and abused this file until it no longer served his political agenda.

Source: LILLEY: Deal to close Roxham Rd. was signed a year before taking effect

Le calme règne sur le chemin Roxham

Of note, early stages:

Une dizaine de demandeurs d’asile ont rencontré samedi un obstacle imprévu lorsqu’ils ont constaté que le chemin Roxham n’était plus la porte d’entrée aussi simple qu’ils souhaitaient au Canada

L’accord annoncé vendredi entre Ottawa et Washington qui fera des 8900 kilomètres de leur frontière commune un passage officiel et qui conduira au refoulement des demandeurs d’asile qui la traversent notamment au chemin Roxham, au Québec, est entré en vigueur samedi.

La nouvelle a surpris ces candidats au statut de réfugié descendus d’un autobus en provenance de Plattsburgh. Plusieurs l’ont apprise de représentants des médias qui les attendaient.

« Wow ! », s’est exclamé un Colombien avec un regard incrédule. Il n’a pas donné son identité, mais il a dit en espagnol qu’il voyageait avec sa femme et son jeune fils. Quelques minutes plus tard, il s’est approché de la journaliste de La Presse canadienne pour lui demander si le chemin Roxham était vraiment fermé.

Jusqu’à vendredi, des files de taxis se stationnaient à l’arrêt d’autobus, prêts à transporter des clients vers le lieu de passage. Samedi, il n’en est venu qu’un seul.

Le chauffeur, qui a refusé de dire son nom, a transporté deux familles colombiennes vers la frontière. Il s’est contenté de hausser les épaules lorsqu’on lui a demandé s’il savait que ces passagers pouvaient être arrêtés une fois à destination.

La journée avait débuté bien calmement au passage frontalier du chemin Roxham, au Québec. Seuls quelques journalistes attendaient l’arrivée possible de nouveaux arrivants voulant traverser la frontière canado-américaine afin de demander un statut de réfugié.

Une nouvelle pancarte a été installée pour prévenir les nouveaux arrivants qu’il est dorénavant illégal de franchir la frontière à cet endroit.

« Entrer au Canada ici est illégal. Vous serez arrêté et pourriez être renvoyé aux États-Unis. Les demandeurs d’asile doivent faire leur demande dans le premier pays sûr où ils arrivent », peut-on lire.

Un élu de l’assemblée législative de l’État de New York a exprimé son inquiétude sur les conséquences de la nouvelle entente sur les citoyens américains.

« Ça devient un problème local, car on a un grand flot de gens venant ici, dit Billy Jones. Si on leur nie l’accès [au Canada], où iront-ils ? Que feront-ils ? D’un point de vue humanitaire, on ne veut pas que ces gens restent coincés à la frontière. Ils ne sont pas souvent préparés aux conditions que nous avons ici. »

La clandestinité

La nouvelle entente sur les demandeurs d’asile entre le Canada et les États-Unis ne dissuadera pas les migrants de tenter d’entrer au Canada à l’extérieur des points d’entrée officiels, soutiennent toutefois des groupes de défense de l’immigration au Québec.

Restreindre l’accès à la frontière et empêcher les migrants d’accéder à un chemin sûr vers le pays ne fera qu’encourager certains individus, a déclaré Abdulla Daoud, directeur général du Centre de réfugiés basé à Montréal, vendredi.

« Ce type de prise de décision […] dans le passé a mené à la création de nombreux réseaux de passeurs, a souligné M. Daoud en entrevue à La Presse canadienne. Le Canada n’a jamais vraiment eu à composer avec cela, mais maintenant, je pense que nous allons voir les chiffres augmenter parce que ces individus mal intentionnés ne vont pas disparaître. »

L’accord a été décrit dans des documents américains comme un « ajout » au traité de 2004 connu sous le nom d’Entente sur les tiers pays sûrs. Ce traité empêche les gens au Canada ou aux États-Unis de traverser la frontière et de présenter une demande de statut de réfugié dans l’un ou l’autre pays, mais jusqu’à maintenant, il ne couvrait que les points d’entrée officiels.

Eva Gracia-Turgeon, directrice générale de Foyer du Monde, un organisme qui héberge temporairement des demandeurs d’asile et des migrants à Montréal, a déclaré qu’il est possible que des réfugiés potentiels qui sont déterminés à entrer au Canada finissent par mourir en empruntant des routes dangereuses pour entrer au pays.

« Il est très possible que les gens essaient de traverser en utilisant des endroits plus cachés et se retrouver coincés dans les bois pendant des jours et même y perdre la vie », a déclaré Mme Gracia-Turgeon en entrevue.

« Nous parlons également ici de familles, de femmes enceintes et de jeunes enfants qui vont traverser la frontière. Il y aura donc potentiellement plus de drame à la frontière », se désole Mme Gracia-Turgeon.

Au moins un demandeur d’asile était prêt à franchir illégalement la frontière. Un homme s’identifiant comme Herman est arrivé vendredi à New York en provenance du Congo où il a laissé sa femme et ses quatre enfants. L’individu espère rejoindre des proches vivant actuellement à Ottawa. Parlant en français, il a dit ne pas avoir d’autres choix que d’aller de l’avant avec son plan.

« Elle me manque, a-t-il lancé en parlant de sa famille. Les conditions de vie sont terribles là-bas. »

Source: Le calme règne sur le chemin Roxham

Closing Roxham Road will lead to ‘humanitarian catastrophes,’ immigration experts warn

We will see. Not everyone who crossed at Roxham Road, relatively risk-free, will uudertake the greater risk now that all crossings will now be subject to the STCA. A natural experiment in progress, and the current situation was untenable politically:

Quebec immigration experts say closing Roxham Road to asylum seekers may go against Canada’s international obligations and could result in more deaths at the border, after an already deadly year.

Two men died attempting to cross the Canadian border within two months of each other.

The first, 43-year-old Fritznel Richard, was trying to reach his family in Florida in time for the holidays. His body was found in early January. The second, Jose Leos Cervantes, 45, was also heading into the United States on Feb. 19, and collapsed just as U.S. border patrollers approached him and the two people he was with, shortly after they had made it into Vermont.

Richard and Leos Cervantes were crossing into the States, whereas people taking the Roxham Road unofficial border crossing south of Montreal are coming into Canada. Experts say the very reason the crossing became popular is because it is accessible and safe. They worry its closure will simply lead people to take the kinds of risks that have resulted in the deaths of people heading south.

“The global result of this is just more danger, more deaths and more humanitarian catastrophes,” said Mireille Paquet, an assistant professor of political science at Concordia University.

Details of the deal reached between Canada and the U.S. to close Roxham Road leaked to various media outlets over the course of Wednesday afternoon, hours before U.S President Joe Biden was set to arrive in Ottawa for his two-day visit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Friday’s agreement between the prime minister and Biden, which actually dates to April 2022, evokes an evolving global approach to surging migration: widening legal pathways while cutting off the irregular ones.

Radio-Canada reports the closure will take effect at midnight.

Details of the agreement were released Friday afternoon in a joint statement made by the two leaders.

The statement says the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection “enshrines our belief that irregular migration requires a regional approach centred on expanding legal pathways and humane border management and recognizes that we must address the underlying economic and security drivers of migration.”

Under this principle, Canada will welcome an additional 15,000 migrants on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere over the course of the year to continue expanding safe, regular pathways as an alternative to irregular migration.

Before the meeting, the L.A. Times and Le Devoir reported that migrants who are caught within 14 days of making it across the border into Canada outside of official checkpoints would be deported. Those details were not released in the joint statement.

Prior to the joint statement’s release, Stéphanie Valois, the president of the Quebec association of immigration lawyers (AQAADI), said the deal could go against international conventions Canada has signed.

Those agreements stipulate that refugees “should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom,” according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees website.

Valois said it’s unlikely that closing Roxham — where an RCMP post has been set up to briefly detain and process asylum seekers — will stop people from crossing altogether, and that it would only prompt migrants to go into hiding after arriving in Canada.

“It seems completely counter-productive to me,” she said.

‘Worst scenario possible’

Paquet noted that 15,000 is a low number compared to the amount of asylum seekers other countries, such as the U.S. and Germany, accept every year, as well as in comparison to the nearly 40,000 migrants, primarily from Haiti, Turkey, Colombia, Chile, Pakistan and Venezuela, who crossed at Roxham Road in 2022.

There are currently 4.6 million people seeking asylum across the world, according the UNHCR’s latest figures.

Accepting migrant crossings at the border does not mean accepting them to stay permanently, she said, echoing Valois, but accepting to heart “their story and their request for protection,” as outlined in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees signed in 1951.

“This is closing the passage, but it’s also turning our backs on our international commitments,” Paquet said.

Frantz André has helped hundreds of asylum seekers after arriving in Quebec through Roxham Road. He flew to Florida in late January to bring Fritznel Richard’s ashes to his wife Guenda and to attend Richard’s funeral in Naples.

André struggled to believe the deal, which would in effect mean Canada will no longer accept asylum seekers at the border, if they already made a claim in the U.S.

“There’s no way — I mean, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “We’re simply creating the worst scenario possible.”

Source: Closing Roxham Road will lead to ‘humanitarian catastrophes,’ immigration experts warn

Another article, with USA activist perspectives:

Closing the northern U.S. border to asylum seekers bound for Canada solves a political problem for Justin Trudeau, but immigration advocates denounced it Friday as a “shameful” decision that will only endanger lives.

Friday’s agreement between the prime minister and President Joe Biden, which actually dates to April 2022, evokes an evolving global approach to surging migration: widening legal pathways while cutting off the irregular ones.

But making it harder than ever for migrants to claim asylum will only encourage them to undertake ever more dangerous journeys, said Yael Schacher, director for the Americas at Refugees International.

“Asylum is getting more and more restricted in the United States, so not having a way to get to Canada to ask for asylum is a big cut-off,” Schacher said.

“The problems with the U.S. asylum system and access to asylum in the United States are already getting worse, so there’s all the more need for this pathway to Canada, which is now being cut off.”

Biden and Trudeau have agreed to a supplement to the 2004 treaty known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, which governs asylum claims by migrants crossing the Canada-U.S. border.

The treaty expressly forbids such claims at official entry points, but was silent on other unofficial border crossings — a big reason why Canada has seen for years thousands of would-be claimants slipping into the country at junctures like Roxham Road in Quebec, where they can request asylum without fear of being returned to the U.S.

That all changes as of early Saturday morning, when the supplement — the “Additional Protocol 2022” — takes effect, extending the terms of the treaty so they apply along the full extent of the nearly 9,000-kilometre frontier.

The extension runs afoul of commitments both leaders have made to respect the rights of people who are in need of asylum, said Savitri Arvey, a senior policy adviser with the Women’s Refugee Commission.

“Overall, it represents a continuation of various steps that the Biden administration has taken to block access to asylum,” Arvey said. “It inevitably impacts the most vulnerable and forces them to take even more dangerous routes.”

The two countries have already agreed to the new protocol, which will require amendments to existing U.S. regulations, according to a draft order posted Friday on the U.S. Federal Register.

It will ensure the agreement applies to “individuals who cross between the official (points of entry) along the U.S.-Canada shared border, including certain bodies of water as determined by the United States and Canada.”

Canada has agreed as part of the deal to welcome an additional 15,000 migrants from across the Western Hemisphere this year — a figure that towers over the paltry 4,000 they agreed to last June at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

Migrants have been flooding Roxham Road in recent years; more than 39,000 asylum claims were filed in 2022 by people who were intercepted by the RCMP, the vast majority of them in Quebec.

Rema Jamous Imseis, the UN Refugee Agency’s representative to Canada, acknowledged in a statement the challenges posed by the sheer scale of migrants arriving in both countries.

The agency “urges all governments to keep in mind their obligation to provide haven to those fleeing conflict, violence or persecution.”

Amnesty International Canada was decidedly less diplomatic, condemning the decision as “shameful” and “an affront to the rights of refugee claimants seeking safety in Canada.”

There’s nothing like the same number of would-be claimants moving south from Canada into the U.S., prompting questions about the political upside for Biden — who has much larger migration headaches at the Mexico-U.S. border.

One thing is clear, said Schacher: the agreement “will benefit Canada much more than the U.S. Trudeau is winning on this deal.”

One emerging theory revolves around Title 42, the pandemic-era public health measure imposed in March 2020 that gave the U.S. broad power to expel migrants for fear of the spread of COVID-19.

The Biden administration’s original plan to was to rescind the measure on May 23, 2022 — less than six weeks after U.S. regulatory documents say the supplement to the Safe Third Country Agreement was signed on April 15.

A lawsuit brought by Republican state attorneys-general, however, forced the U.S. to cancel its original plan to revoke Title 42. It’s now slated to end May 11.

“We are very concerned that following May 11, the plan (at the southern border) is for a proposed rule that would block asylum seekers who had transited through other countries,” Arvey said.

“The comment period for the proposed rule actually closed on Monday, and we know the intention is for that to go into place on May 11. So there are some parallels there for sure.”

The U.S. has long been preoccupied with ensuring parity between north and south in its border measures, fuelling speculation that the Canada-U.S. agreement could be in anticipation of new post-Title 42 measures.

“I think it might be something like, ‘Well, we have to think about parity between the way we treat like Mexico and Canada,'” Schacher said.

Canada, too, has a lot of international credibility on migration issues, she added, and could be a big help in selling a new “managed migration paradigm” for the hemisphere that puts the emphasis on legal pathways.

“That would be a big deal for the Biden administration, because Canada is seen as even more progressive on refugee issues generally than the United States.”

Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, called the new deal an “unfortunate development” for asylum seekers.

Source: Canada-U.S. deal on migration will limit safe options for asylum seekers: advocates

Border crossings from Canada into New York, Vermont and N.H. are up tenfold. Local cops want help.

More on the southern flow at the border:

On the snowy border between New York and Canada, the local sheriff’s office is calling for the U.S. Border Patrol to put more manpower behind what the locals call a growing crisis: The number of illegal border crossings in the area over the last five months is nearly 10 times what it was over the same time last year, and the border crossers are in danger of freezing to death.

From Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, about 2,000 migrants crossed the border between Canada and New Hampshire, Vermont and New York south through the forests, compared to just 200 crossings in the same period the previous year.

The migrants are mainly from Mexico, and they can travel to Canada without visas before they cross illegally into the U.S., often to reunite with their families.

Last weekend, Clinton County, New York, Sheriff David Favro’s team assisted Border Patrol in rescuing 39 migrants, some whose clothes had frozen to their bodies.

“We are seeing more and more people, and it can be a deadly terrain if you’re not familiar with it,” Favro said.

He said responding to rescues like that has taxed the resources of his department, already stretched thin to cover the residents of his rural county, population 80,000, which shares about 30 miles of border with the Canadian province of Quebec.

“The only way to really be able to cover and protect [the northern border] is boots on the ground,” Favro said.

Just last week, Customs and Border Protection added 25 agents to the area, the Swanton Sector, to deter migration. But Favro and other locals who spoke to NBC News in Mooers, New York, said that’s not enough.

Mooers Fire Chief Todd Gumlaw said he recently helped rescue two Mexican women stuck in an icy swamp in the middle of the night. Gumlaw, along with Border Patrol, local police and EMS workers, was able to render first aid and get the women to a hospital to be treated for frostbite and mild hypothermia after they lost their shoes in the swamp, he said. “Preservation of human life is first and foremost with my department. We put [immigration status] to the back of our mind,” Gumlaw said.

The Mooers/Champlain region is a clump of small blue-collar residences and farms, where, according to locals, “everyone knows everyone” and properties can be several blocks apart, adding a sense of unease among some of the locals witnessing the mass migration in the region.

According to local first responders, southbound migrants often seek shelter in empty sheds and barns to shield themselves from the cold.

April Barcomb, a Mooers resident, said she has had migrants show up at her doorstep and is now saving up for security cameras.

“It’s not something I would usually do,” she said. “But it makes me think twice. And with the kids and the family, I gotta install cameras.”

While most locals who spoke to NBC News said they understood that most migrants crossing the region aren’t threats, neighbors are keeping their eyes open for unusual activity.

“People are scared,” a Champlain County resident said. “It’s the fear of the unknown. They’re [neighbors] worried about their safety, because they don’t know these people.”

Most of the migrants are Mexicans, who are frequently blocked from crossing the southern U.S. border and believe they will have an easier time if they fly to Canada and then cross into the U.S. from the north.

According to a CBP spokesperson, the Swanton Sector has been the site of more than 67% of all migrant crossings at the northern border across all eight sectors through February.

Unlike the southern border, where over 16,000 Border Patrol agents are responsible for staffing roughly 2,000 miles, about 2,000 border agents patrol the 5,000-mile border between the U.S. and Canada, which includes Alaska’s land boundaries, making it the longest international land border in the world.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a letter Tuesday to step up enforcement along his state’s 51-mile border with Canada or allow his police forces more authority to do so.

“Over the last few months, the State of New Hampshire has attempted to assist the federal government in securing our northern border. These offers of assistance have been repeatedly rejected. The Biden administration has cut funding and hindered the state’s ability to assist in patrolling the northern border,” Sununu said.

A spokesperson for CBP said the additional agents who were just sent to the Swanton Sector will help deter migration.

Source: Border crossings from Canada into New York, Vermont and N.H. are up tenfold. Local cops want help.

The Roxham Road dilemma: What are Canada’s options in the border controversy?

Good in-depth overview:

Jose Moncada Urbina gets emotional when he hears people talking about shutting down Roxham Road, the famous rural route in Quebec that opens Canada’s door to asylum seekers.

Sitting in his cosy Mississauga home, the Nicaraguan man can’t help but reflect on his own journey, fleeing police violence and political persecution — and imagining how life would have been different for his family now if they had been denied that lifeline to safety.

“To think that other people won’t have the same opportunity and chance that my family and I had,” pauses the 47-year-old man, tearing up, “makes me upset.”

A spike in irregular migration and U.S. President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to Ottawa have put both Roxham Road and the Safe Third Country Agreement, our bilateral border pact with the U.S., in the spotlight. Critics say neither are working, but what are the alternatives and will they just create new problems?

Although irregular migrants have been crossing for decades at Roxham Road, one of many entry points along the 8,890-kilometre porous land border with the United States, it gained prominence — and notoriety — with the surge of foot traffic spurred by the anti-immigration agenda when Donald Trump became U.S. president in 2017.

Ottawa’s asylum ban against these border crossers during the pandemic halted the flow, but the influx returned as soon as the ban was lifted in November 2021. Last year, the RCMP intercepted 39,540 people who crossed between Canadian ports of entry. In January alone, already some 5,000 entered Canada in the same manner.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada and the U.S. each recognize the other country as a safe place to seek refuge. It dictates that migrants should pursue their claims in the country where they first arrived.

But the policy does not apply to the woods and dirt roads — and waterways — between official crossings, which some say is a “loophole” that makes the measure ineffective in pushing back the border and stopping migrants from seeking asylum in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to raise the issue with Biden, and Canadian Immigration Minister Sean Fraser met this week with his White House counterpart.

While the Parti Québécois and the NDP have called for the agreement to be suspended, the Progressive Conservatives want to close Roxham Road as the Liberal government continues its “renegotiation” of the treaty with Washington that started in 2018.

“Canada remains firmly committed to upholding a fair and compassionate refugee protection system that respects the rights of asylum seekers and safeguards the integrity of our border,” Bahoz Dara Aziz, Fraser’s spokesperson, told the Star.

“Irregular migration demands a focus on both the root causes in a migrant’s country of origin, as well as with the promotion of regular pathways and managed borders. This requires co-operation on the international stage, including with the United States on the Safe Third Country Agreement.”

Suspending it or “closing” Roxham Road could result in migrants using other irregular crossings, some of which place them in danger and affect local communities incapable of responding to the influx, said Aziz.

While no quick changes to the border treaty are expected, critics say it’s a root cause of irregular migration that Canada is seeing and something has to be done about it.

Ottawa could expand the rules to the entire border, which, in effect, would plug the opening at Roxham Road; cancel the agreement to allow migrants to orderly seek asylum at official crossings; or tweak the terms to adjust how wide or narrow the door should be open for refugees.

Each option, experts say, could have unintended consequences.

Extending asylum ban across the entire border

Irregular migration on the northern border has been a “less salient” issue for Washington, which saw immigration arrests from the southern border with Mexico top 2 million last year, said Susan Fratzke, senior policy analyst at Migration Policy Institute, a bipartisan think tank in Washington.

That explains the cold reception from the U.S. in response to Canada’s request. In a recent interview with the CBC, American ambassador to Canada, David L. Cohen, said changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement would do little to solve irregular migration.

Even if the White House is willing to renegotiate, Fratzke said it’s hard to predict if the number of irregular migrants to Canada will go up or down with the closure of Roxham Road because desperate migrants would find more perilous and surreptitious ways to come.

But expanding the asylum ban to the entire border could have an immediate political impact.

“It’s something that has a lot of appeal in terms of the messaging of it. This would send a message to people who are trying to cross that it is something that will no longer be as easy or as possible,” said Fratzke.

“Policymakers on both side of the border still need to be prepared for other incentives and unintended consequences it creates as regards to how people will behave. It certainly won’t in itself solve the problem.”

For decades, successive Canadian governments had pushed the U.S. to sign the pact because the flow of migrants at the Canada-U.S. border disproportionately came from the south to north as it was generally easier to first enter the U.S.

According to a U.S. House of Representatives hearing, in the year prior to the treaty taking effect in 2004, about 14,000 asylum seekers came through the U.S. to Canada but only about 200 went the other way.

The September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 gave Ottawa a chance to push for the treaty, with Washington conceding to Canada’s lobby in exchange for more border security co-operation.

Fratzke said such bilateral treaties are built on signatories sharing similar asylum processes and immigration policies such as visa requirements.

The Dublin Regulation, a similar regime in Europe, was first established in 1990 but she said it is still rife with challenges with its implementation because systems and capacities of the member states are not always in sync.

“One of the reasons why you would implement something like a safe third country agreement is because the odds and conditions under which someone is being considered for asylum in one country are quite similar to those in another country,” said Fratzke.

“It’s fair to say that even within the context of the EU, where there is co-operation and alignment between countries’ asylum and migration systems, implementing an agreement based on safe third country principles has been difficult.”

And that’s a problem between Canada and the U.S., according to critics, who argue that the U.S. asylum system is cruel and inhumane, which makes it unsafe for refugees.

For it to work, both the Canadian and American governments must also do their equal part in preventing migrants from entering the other country, said University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin, who has studied the border agreement closely.

It did not help, for example, when the City of New York began providing free bus tickets to migrants heading north to claim asylum in Canada.

Before the border treaty was signed, said Macklin, experts and advocates testifying before Parliament had warned them about the anticipated disorderly irregular entries into the country, and that the rules would not deter people from coming.

Although the number of asylum claimants in Canada dropped by 23 per cent to 19,748 a year after the agreement was implemented in 2004, the decline was short-lived as migrants tried other ways to skirt the rules.

There were ebbs and flows through the years in response to global refugee crises and domestic policy changes such as visa requirements against certain refugee-producing countries. But it peaked at 64,030 in 2019 during the Trump era before the pandemic hit.

“It’s not just about extending the agreement so Canada can push people over the border. It would be asking the United States to develop an entire apparatus on its side,” said Macklin.

“How do you make people stop wanting to flee the country they’re in to get to a place that they think is better or safer? That’s the question. It’s not even in the United States’ control?”

Macklin points out that Canada could build a wall and invest billions of dollars in surveillance technology and hire border patrols but it costs far less to process asylum claims made by irregular migrants.

Scrapping Safe Third Country Agreement

When the Nicaragua government started using armed forces to crack down on protests against tax hikes and pension reductions in April 2018, it was the last straw for Moncada Urbina, a computer engineer, and his wife, Norma, a lawyer.

The couple joined peaceful demonstrations to condemn police violence and supported the young protesters trapped in university campuses by delivering them food, water and medical supplies.

As authorities began detaining and jailing dissidents and sympathizers, Moncada Urbina decided to seek refuge in Canada, where he has close relatives.

However, only he and his eldest daughter, Katherine, now 21, had a visa to Canada and they didn’t have time to apply for a travel document for his wife, Norma, 48, and their two other children, Allison, 16, and Daniel, 13.

Instead, with their American visas (except for Norma, who went into hiding), Moncada Urbina flew to Boston with the three teenagers and arrived at Roxham Road three days later, in September 2018.

“My children couldn’t cross at a port of entry without a visa. Roxham Road was our only option,” said Moncada Urbina, whose family was granted asylum in 2021, with his wife arriving this past November.

“If you shut down Roxham Road, people would pick more dangerous ways or use traffickers to come. It’s human nature for survival,” he said.

And that would be the last thing that Loly Rico would like to see happening.

The executive director of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre said Canada has a more fair asylum system that processes cases faster and allows claimants to work while waiting for their hearings. With Biden’s administration continuing Trump’s policies, Rico said the push for irregular migrants to Canada won’t end anytime soon.

Scrapping the Safe Third Country Agreement would mean a return to the way things were managed before 2004, when asylum seekers could cross at any of the 100-plus land ports of entry in eight provinces.

Currently 99 per cent of irregular migrants cross through Roxham Road and in June the federal government started transferring them to Ontario and other provinces, housing them in hotels.

As of this month, 7,848 asylum claimants have been transferred to Ontario, including 702 to Ottawa, 1,028 to Windsor, 4,618 to Niagara Falls, and 1,500 to Cornwall. Since February, 113 have been transferred to Halifax, 38 to Fredericton and 25 to Moncton.

Between 2017 and 2021, Ottawa issued payments totalling $551.6M to cover housing costs of asylum seekers who arrived in the U.S. through irregular means: $374 million to Quebec, $144.1 million to Toronto, $17.1M to Ottawa, $8 million to Manitoba, $6 million to B.C., $2.2 million to Peel Region and $220,000 to Hamilton.

Abolishing the border agreement “is not going to open a flood gate but would distribute migrants more evenly across Canada,” said Rico, who with her late husband, Francisco Rico Martinez, fled El Salvador in 1990 under a program to grant asylum to those trapped in their own country that was spiked by the Harper government in 2012.

Toronto refugee lawyer Raoul Boulakia agreed.

“There’s no reason for irregular migration when you don’t have a safe third country agreement,” said Boulakia, who has seen migrants choosing to remain in the U.S. underground even if they would have met an exemption from the rules for asylum at a Canadian port of entry.

“By not having people go through irregular points of entry, we’re allowed to have a lot more flexibility to distribute where people are entering. People do have a higher likelihood of staying at where they arrive.”

In February, the Biden administration introduced new rules to deny asylum to migrants who show up at the southern border without first seeking protection in a country they passed through, said Boulakia, and that could help check the downstream of northbound migration.

Tweaking the terms of the border treaty

The Safe Third Country Agreement provides exceptions for some groups to make an asylum claim at Canada’s official crossings

  • Those with family members in the country;
  • Unaccompanied minors;
  • Someone with a valid visa and permit to enter Canada
  • People who have been charged with or convicted of an offence that could subject them to death penalty in the U.S. or in a third country.

University of British Columbia law professor Efrat Arbel said the border agreement allows either country to make exceptions unilaterally.

“We have at our fingertips the ability to create a larger scope of protections through these exceptions that will result in greater efficiency, in saving resources, and a more principled, more progressive, more rights protecting approach to managing our borders,” said Arbel, who teaches refugee and constitutional law.

Ottawa could exempt migrants fleeing gender-based persecution or those from countries where Canada has a moratorium for removals due to wars or human rights violations, she said.

But at the end of the day, it’s a zero sum game that would simply divert migrants from one way to another to reach a safe destination as the displaced population worldwide continues to grow, doubling in the last decade to more than 100 million people.

Roxham Road is a byproduct of the global response to the refugee crisis, said Arbel.

“Through the deliberate acts of the Canadian government, there is no other point of entry. And combined with the fact that Canada is so geographically removed from the world conflict zone, it becomes impossible or practically impossible for migrants who are seeking protection to access Canada any other way,” she explained.

“These are measures that prohibit refugees and asylum seekers from meaningfully accessing rights protection based on how they enter or where they enter from, and not the reason why they are seeking entry.”

Macklin said the concerns over irregular migration do appear to be more about border control and possibly racism than the actual number of arrivals. She pointed to Canadians’ response to Ottawa’s special immigration measures that, in just over a year, welcomed 178,000 Ukrainians fleeing the Russian war.

“Nobody is hysterical about the numbers, it seems to me,” said Macklin. “It’s not about numbers, right? It’s about whiteness. Look, we have made it our choice and therefore, it’s OK.”

Last October, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the appeal by asylum seekers and rights groups to declare the Safe Third Country Agreement unconstitutional. A decision is pending.

“Oddly enough, if the federal government loses the Supreme Court appeal, it will actually solve the problem for them,” Macklin said.

Source: The Roxham Road dilemma: What are Canada’s options in the border controversy?

Surge in immigrant crossings at U.S.-Canada border since mid-2022

Some data on crossings to the USA from Canada. Less than 10 percent of northern flows but suggests some shared interest in addressing these irregular flows albeit asymmetrical but Minister Fraser has been careful not to raise expectations before Canada-USA summit:

Court documents from recent federal prosecutions offer a glimpse at what border patrol agents have termed “an unprecedented influx of human trafficking” along sections of New York’s northern border.That trend is prompting responses, including from law enforcement, advocates for immigrants and a conservative member of Congress who visited Rochester on Friday to express concerns.

Between October and January, apprehensions of and encounters with persons crossing the border in the vicinity of Swanton, Vermont, jumped nearly 850% compared to the same four months a year ago, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. Many of the immigrants were families with children, according to a recent report in the Burlington Free Press.

U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican representing a Central and Western New York congressional district, visited with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Buffalo and Rochester to discuss the issue.

“The worsening crisis at our Northern border is real,” Tenney said. “Our CBP agents face unprecedented challenges because of Joe Biden’s failure to address his disastrous open border policies.”

On Tuesday, Tenney joined the Northern Border Security Caucus, a coalition of 28 members of Congress concerned about “the increased human and drug trafficking along the U.S.-Canada border.”

New York Senate Republican Minority Leader Rob Ortt met with Tenney at the Buffalo Border Patrol office. He complained that “Albany Democrats’ soft-on-crime policies have already endangered public safety in our communities.”

Advocates for migrants disagree.

Such rhetoric in the U.S., said Meghan Maloney de Zaldivar of Buffalo and the director of organizing and strategy for the New York Immigration Coalition, will hurt sectors such as dairy farming, which is heavily worked by immigrants, that officials such as Tenney purport to represent. Harder-line approaches will also sow more fear and distrust of law enforcement in local communities, she said.

“What we really need is humane and dignified immigration policies,” she said. “That is what Washington should be focusing on.”

Rise in northern border crossings began in mid-2022

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents began seeing an uptick in illegal crossings along the northern border in June 2022. And the pace has stepped up this winter despite sub-zero temperatures.

Over the four months that ended in January, agents tallied more than 1,500 encounters with people suspected of crossing into the country illegally through the CBP’s Swanton Sector, which stretches from Vermont to New York.

The 367 encounters and apprehensions recorded in January surpassed the 344 logged for the 12 previous Januaries combined, officials say.

Nearly 1,000 of the encounters and apprehensions were with people from Mexico, followed by Haiti and Guatemala. Among the immigrants are parents with young children and infants who must navigate challenging terrain along the border to make it to the U.S. side.

“There are always dangers when attempting to illegally cross the U.S./Canadian border,”  a spokesman for the CBP said. “In Swanton Sector, the terrain can be mountainous, heavily wooded and boast multiple rivers, streams and swampland. When you add sub-zero temperatures to that equation, the real risk to human life multiplies dramatically. Hypothermia and loss of life are very real dangers.”

And yet, the surging numbers do not approach the totals seen at the nation’s southern border with Mexico.

In the 2022 fiscal year, federal agents had encounters with 109,000 individuals at the northern border compared to 2.3 million during the same time period at the southern border.

Smugglers are making thousands of dollars to pick up people who, in some cases, fly into Canada from Mexico before making the trek across the border, court documents show.

Around 8 p.m. Sept. 25, 2022, border patrol agents spotted a Toyota Venza driven by a Queens man traveling through Churubusco, an unincorporated hamlet in Clinton County, New York near the New York-Quebec border. The Toyota traveled along Route 189, a popular route for human smugglers because it leads to and from the border.

Two passengers were riding in the backseat while the passenger seat was empty — an indication the driver didn’t know his passengers, according to the criminal complaint. And the windows were fogged on a rainy night, a sign that the people inside had wet clothing, a criminal complaint adds.

Inside a duffel bag belonging to one of the backseat passengers was a ticket for a plane ride from Cancun, Mexico, to Toronto the day before.

One of the men said he’d agreed to pay the driver $2,000 once he got him to his destination in New York.

A few weeks later on Oct. 8, 2022, about 30 miles east in Champlain, New York, agents using remote surveillance observed several people in a wooded area beside a road that dead ends into the New York-Quebec border, a criminal complaint says.

Someone living nearby spotted several people emerge from the woods and get into a Chevy Camaro and an SUV. The cars were stopped about two hours later along Interstate 87 in the town of Plattsburgh.

The driver of the Camaro acknowledged driving to the border to pick up individuals who’d crossed into the U.S. illegally and said he was promised $500 for each person he picked up.

Eleven people were arrested. All claimed to be from Mexico.

The SUV driver said he was promised $3,000 by a smuggler to drive up to the border and deliver several people to Maryland. He knew what he was doing was wrong but “claims he was looking to make easy money,” according to an account provided by a border agent.

Casualties of ‘inhumane U.S. policy’

In Burlington, Vermont, the nonprofit Migrant Justice said the reported increases of crossings in the Swanton Sector are an outcome of denying human rights to migrate.

“The draconian restrictions that the U.S. employs against people seeking refuge from violence and poverty only push migrants to more dangerous routes,” the nonprofit said in a statement. “Every migrant who dies attempting to enter the U.S. — whether from dehydration in the Sonoran desert, drowning in the Rio Grande, or hypothermia and exposure on the Canadian border — is a casualty of inhumane U.S. policy.”

Organizations that assist immigrants settling in Western New York and the North Country said they haven’t seen increases in people requesting services. Instead, many saw Rep. Tenney’s call as rhetoric for hard-line immigration enforcement.

“Absolutely no one” at the Rochester nonprofit Mary’s Place Refugee Outreach has entered through the northern border, Executive Director P.J. Ryan said. Most people enter through the southern border. They are released on parole as they await their immigration cases, he added.

The southern border should be a cautionary tale for politicians, said Jessica Maxwell, the executive director of the Workers Center of Central New York, based in Syracuse but with members in the North Country, which has workers in sectors such as agriculture, sawmills and renewable energy installation.

“These militarization policies on the border have done nothing to stem flows of migration, and certainly have contributed to human rights abuses,” she said.

“It really seems to be a reflection of, unfortunately, some really deep racism against immigrant communities,” she said. “And not a reflection of good, solid policy.”

In Buffalo, Maloney de Zaldivar from the Immigration Coalition said she’s used to seeing “ebbs and flows” of immigrants at the border with Canada, often as a result of southern border policies.

Many immigrants have also made a reverse journey to leave the U.S., which she said could skew American immigration figures.

In light of labor shortages, the Canadian government has promised to accept nearly 1.5 million immigrants by 2025. Numbers have surged of people entering from the country’s border with the U.S., according to the Canada Border Service Agency. The Quebec and Ontario provinces, which border New York, have the largest numbers of people entering.

Source: Surge in immigrant crossings at U.S.-Canada border since mid-2022

For Haitian migrants in limbo, calls to close Roxham Road clash with Canada’s friendly image

Of note:

Standing outside a migrant shelter near Mexico’s border with the U.S., Smyder Mesidor recounted a 10-country odyssey to get here. Driven out of Haiti by gang violence and Chile by a lack of work, the 30-year-old cook had been robbed by bandits and shaken down by customs officials as he walked across much of Latin America.

This road would end, he hoped, in either Florida or Quebec, both places where he has family.

So he reacted with a mix of bemusement and insouciance to word that Canadian politicians want to make it harder for migrants to enter by shutting down Roxham Road, the irregular border crossing south of Montreal.

Bemusement because such rhetoric seemed to clash with Canada’s immigrant-friendly image. Insouciance because, after what he’d been through, he was ready to brave the vagaries of the immigration system in a country that held out the hope of a better life.

“I don’t listen to that sort of talk,” Mr. Mesidor said. “Everyone speaks well of Canada.”

Among the thousands of Haitian migrants gathered here in Reynosa, a city of 700,000 across the Rio Bravo from Texas, there is persistent interest in reaching Canada, usually as a backup option if it proves too difficult to stay in the U.S. There is an even more persistent disregard for attempts by either country to stop people from coming.

Given the brutality and lack of economic opportunity back home, they don’t feel they have much choice but to push forward.

“We’re a little bit upset when we hear politicians say those things, because we don’t have a voice. We want to come and help them build their country,” said Kency Etienne, a 30-year-old teacher living in an encampment of several dozen tents on a concrete pad next to a Mexican government office. “But we don’t really think about it.”

Sitting nearby were Jean and Marie Petilme, who made the trek with their four children. Ms. Petilme is eight-months pregnant with a fifth. Hiking through Panama’s Darien jungle, Mr. Petilme said some migrants with them had their clothes stolen at gunpoint, others were swept away while fording a river and a few starved to death. Life hasn’t been much better in Mexico.

“We’ve been here for three months and we don’t get much to eat. We don’t have phones to fill out asylum applications,” said their daughter Miscalina, 12. “This is how we live.”

Mireille Joseph, 32, also travelled pregnant, including a five-day stretch on foot. She left her husband and two children behind in Haiti. Her hope is to get to safety and then work on having them join her. “I don’t really care at all what the politicians say. I want to come to either Canada or the U.S.,” she said.

The lifting of pandemic border restrictions, along with deteriorating economic and security conditions in Haiti and parts of Latin America, have driven a rise in northward migration this past year. In Haiti, armed gangs have tightened their control of the country, carrying out frequent kidnappings for ransom and blocking access to Port-au-Prince’s shipping terminals. The capital has suffered repeated shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

Under the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement, migrants arriving in Canada from the U.S. are prohibited from making Canadian asylum claims, allowing for their swift deportation. But the rule only applies at official points of entry, leading asylum seekers to enter the country at irregular border crossings.The vast majority do so at Roxham Road near Plattsburgh, N.Y., because of its relative accessibility.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement to apply to the entire border. The White House, however, has shown little interest in changing the status quo. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been busing migrants from his state to northern cities such as New York, where Mayor Eric Adams has sent many of them on to the Canadian border.

The influx has led Quebec Premier François Legault and federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to ramp up pressure on Mr. Trudeau to stem the tide. “We as a country can close that border crossing. If we are a real country, we have borders,” Mr. Poilievre said last month.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Legault said that the province’s social services could not handle any more asylum seekers. He also warned that the new arrivals, who predominantly speak Haitian Creole or Spanish, would contribute to “the decline of French in Montreal.”

The number of people who made refugee claims after crossing at Roxham Road last year – almost 40,000 – is high by the standards of Canada, used to being geographically insulated from migration. In Mexico, it seems modest, a fraction of the more than 200,000 who tried to cross into the U.S. in December alone.

In Reynosa, the shelters are full, leaving many to live on the streets, in parks and in vacant lots. Hot, dusty and perpetually sunny even in late winter, the city feels a world away from the snow-covered forest surrounding Roxham Road. At one intersection near a large encampment, a dozen small businesses have sprung up under tarps strung between trees, with everyone from barbers to fruit sellers providing services to the migrants.

Over a charcoal fire, 19-year-old Natalie Joseph helped prepare gorditas. She has spent much of her life on the move: She left Haiti at the age of 5, she said, with her family settling in Chile. Two years ago, worried about her prospects for finding work, she decided to hit the road with two friends. “You can get the basic necessities in Chile but we wanted something better,” she said.

Across the street, Maricianne Pierre said she had been waiting in Reynosa 2½ months. “I’d love to go to Canada. There are possibilities of school, social programs, work. I’m stuck here right now,” said Ms. Pierre, 40.

Hector Silva, a pastor who runs two shelters in the city, said he wasn’t sure what to tell people who were setting their sights north. He only hoped that the leaders of wealthy countries wouldn’t shut anyone out.

“We have a lot of people asking, ‘How can we do it – if we get the paper from the U.S., how do we get all the way to Canada?’ We don’t know,” he said as a U.S. Border Patrol chopper buzzed overhead. “They’re not criminals. Many people are running for their lives. Leaving the country looking for a better life is not against the law.”

At another shelter a few blocks away, Ricot Picot and his wife watched their two small children play. Mr. Picot, 42, who was a teacher in Haiti, said everyone would be better off if the people with power to decide immigration policy allowed them to complete their journey. “I pray for them,” he said. “We don’t have anything – no jobs, no support. We are not achieving anything staying here.”

Source: For Haitian migrants in limbo, calls to close Roxham Road clash with Canada’s friendly image

In Niagara Falls, Roxham Road asylum seekers find less space and more strife as tourist season nears

Not all that surprising:

It had been a long time since Marie Saintil had last been to church, when she found herself at the pulpit of the Faith Tabernacle in Welland, Ont., on a recent Sunday evening.

“Est-ce que tout le monde parle Créole?” she asked the small Haitian congregation, a half dozen or so of whom had been shuttled to the service in their Sunday best from the various hotels in nearby Niagara Falls where they are living. The congregation nods in unison – yes, they all speak Créole.

Ms. Saintil, a lawyer of Haitian background herself, was there that evening to deliver not a sermon, but a primer on the refugee claims process.

When she took a job with the Niagara Community Legal Clinic in January, she was looking for a change of pace after two decades of practising immigration law in Toronto. Instead, she has found herself in the throes of a migration crisis, with thousands of asylum seekers unexpectedly placed in a tourist town that is not equipped to absorb them, transferred by the federal government from Quebec after crossing at Roxham Road.

More than 2,841 asylum seekers have been transferred to Niagara Falls by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada since last June, spread across more than 1,400 hotel rooms in the city after being shuttled on from their arrival in Quebec.

Another 702 have been placed in Ottawa, 618 in Windsor, and 1,396 in Cornwall, according to the IRCC. They began transfers to Atlantic provinces at the end of last month, with 63 so far transferred to Halifax and 30 people transferred to Fredericton.

But nine months in – as understaffed settlement and social services scramble to support the newcomers, and with as many as one in 12 hotel rooms occupied as the city’s tourism season looms – tensions are starting to build.

“These people are taken from Roxham Road in Quebec, and they’re put into a bus, and they’re dumped. And the word is dumped – they’re dumped here,” Ms. Saintil said.

“And now they’re being told, you’re not really wanted because we have tourists coming … It was fine to have them here during the slow season, in the wintertime, but now that the tourists are coming, you’re not wanted.”

Ms. Saintil cannot represent them, she told the congregants at the church, as she handed out information packets and business cards. This has not been her clinic’s mandate, but she feels compelled to help given how few lawyers in the area do this work.

The migrants did not choose Niagara Falls. They ended up here after being repeatedly shuffled along by American and then Canadian authorities – perpetually treated as someone else’s problem. Regardless of where their journeys began, these migrants have often crossed several borders before arriving in Canadain an effort to flee violence, persecution and poverty – and have faced hostility along the way.

At the Mexico-U.S. border, thousands of people are crossing each day. And once in the United States, they have faced increasing hostility, including from political leaders in southern states such as Texas and Florida, whose Republican governors have transported thousands of asylum seekers to places such as New York, Washington and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

In New York, Democratic politicians have responded to an influx of migrants by offering one-way tickets to Plattsburgh, N.Y., a short distance from the Canadian border at Roxham Road.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., asylum seekers must file their claims in whichever country they arrive in first, which means they will be turned back if they attempt to get into Canada at official border crossings. Because that agreement covers only official border points, crossings at the unofficial Roxham Road entry have risen sharply.

Now in Canada, the migrants are finding themselves unwelcome in Quebec, too. With the numbers at Roxham Road continuing to rise – close to 40,000 migrants entered Canada there last year – Quebec’s Premier François Legault has protested the “strain” the influx has put on his province’s social services and urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shut it down, or send them elsewhere.

“Everybody is sending the ball to somebody else,” Ms. Saintil said. “It’s a blame game.”

With a population of 95,000 people, Niagara Falls depends heavily on tourism and is known as much for the massive falls that straddle an international border as it is for the garishness of its main drag, lined with haunted houses and wax museums. The city has upwards of 16,000 hotel rooms, Mayor Jim Diodati said, and at first the IRCC contracts seemed like welcome news for hotels that have been struggling after three years in a pandemic.

“We’ve got lots of rooms, we’ll do our part and help out as much as we can – that’s kind of the attitude as it started,” he said. But as the numbers began to grow, he said the mood has shifted. “They went from 87 to 300, to 687, to 1,500 … And then we were told 1,700 and 2,000 were the next steps,” he said. “And, you know, we weren’t really sure how much we can handle, and at what point it would become disruptive, because we’ve never been through anything like this before.”

After a video call with Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and his staff last month, the mayor said he still doesn’t know how long the hotel rooms are booked for. He said he’s concerned about the impact on the coming tourism season, which he describes as the “the goose that lays the golden eggs here.”

“A tourist is going to spend money in restaurants, the attractions, the casinos, the wineries … whereas these folks are just staying in the rooms,” he said. “A lot of people are counting on it to feed their families and pay their mortgages and pay their rents. So we’re asking, ‘What’s the plan?’ ”

IRCC spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald wouldn’t provide a timeline on how long the hotel rooms have been leased, citing confidentiality. In an e-mail, he said the department takes into account availability, cost, transportation and access to support services.

Mr. Diodati said he was told numbers were likely to peak in the coming weeks, as they began to transfer people to other areas, including the Atlantic provinces. But in the meantime, he warns the mood of the town has begun to shift. “Most conversations that people have with me start off with ‘I don’t want to be insensitive, and I’m not complaining … but where are we going with this?’ ” he said. “And we’re trying to get answers.” The mayor said he has asked the federal government for more money to help the city and local organizations keep up with demand. IRCC said in a statement that it was working with the local government to ensure they are prepared and to respond any concerns.

On a Friday evening almost one week after the mayor’s meeting with the immigration minister, the lobby of the Ramada hotel on Lundy’s Lane was crammed with 100 or so people lined up for dinner.

This type of scene, Ms. Saintil believes, is the real unspoken concern. “It just doesn’t look good to see all these refugee claimants in the hotels. That’s what it is,” she said. “It doesn’t look good in pictures with American tourists.”

On a frigid Sunday afternoon, Henry Carmona and a group of fellow Venezuelan migrants headed down from their hotel to take in the icy view of the falls.

The economic collapse and rise of political violence in Venezuela have led to one of the largest displacement crises in the world. It is a mass exodus that has sent a quarter of the country’s population – more than seven million people – fleeing to neighbouring Colombia and then onward.

It took these men years to get here. They each show off photos of the families they had to leave behind because of the dangerous nature of their journeys.

Truck drivers by trade, the men are eager to get their work permits, learn English and begin to find work. But they landed in Niagara only a few days earlier, bused in from Quebec after their arrival at Roxham Road.

They have appreciated their treatment in Canada so far, they said. They laughed as they took in the various gimmicky attractions on Clifton Hill. Next door to the Museum of the Stars, a stiff-moving dinosaur head called out to them from the Looney Tunes-esque Bone Blaster Shootin’ Gallery.

And though they’d expected to be in Quebec, they are content in Niagara for now; whenever their work permits are ready, they plan to go where the work is. Other asylum seekers who spoke with The Globe and Mail, some from Colombia and others from Haiti, said the same.

At the YMCA of Niagara, Deanna D’Elia, manager of employment and immigrant services, has scrambled to move some part-time workers to full-time in an effort to address the spiralling need.

Of their 65-member team, 25 or so are focused specifically on settlement. Others work on helping them find employment, though a major part of that process depends on work permits – which, given the backlog, can take many months or even years to be issued.

“Individuals and families have come to Canada to seek a better life and they are eager to work,” Ms. D’Elia said. In the meantime, many must rely on social assistance, which in today’s rental market can barely cover a room in the city. It’s a situation that she says has “amplified” discussions about the housing crisis, both regionally and across the province and country.

It’s a pressure that is being felt in social services across the region, which were under pressure even before the asylum seekers arrived.

On a recent Friday morning, Pam Sharp and her team at Project SHARE were preparing for a busy day at the largest food bank in Niagara Falls. They’d had to close the day before for an ice storm, and knew it was likely to be busier as a result.

Demand in the community was already very high. In addition to the food bank, they also provide homelessness prevention supports and other services, and served the equivalent of one in 10 residents last year, she said.

They see, on average, 100 families a day, and the infusion of 3,000 new vulnerable people is stretching them to their limits. Both the regional and city council have declared a state of emergency on homelessness, mental health and opioid addiction.

Ms. Sharp has noticed more and more asylum seekers coming in – for example, of the 157 families they served one day this week, 60 identified as asylum seekers –and the team has on occasion done outreach at the hotels directly.

“We want to make sure that anyone coming into our city is able to meet their basic needs,” she says.

Janet Medume, executive director of the Welland Heritage Council and Multicultural Centre, which is leading the local settlement efforts. said they weren’t told in advance about the asylum seekers’ arrivals but began to hear word through community networks last summer. Since then, more than 20 community organizations have banded together to develop a strategy, but she said they need both funding and staffing boosts from all levels of government to keep up.

“Let’s inject more resources so we can focus on ensuring individuals get the help they need, and hopefully get employment quick enough, so we can get them out of there as soon as possible,” she said. “Give us those resources and we’ll be okay.”

At the church Sunday evening, Ms. Saintil lingered after the service, passing out information pamphlets and business cards. She wore a sad smile as she watched a trio of siblings – ages 8, 7 and 1 – playing in the foyer. The older two, sisters, showed off cartwheels and boasted about their favourite school subjects.

She urged their father to get them scarves for the cold weather, and he nodded enthusiastically. They’ve been here eight months in a hotel, Ms. Saintil said, after they waved goodbye. The parents were only recently able to meet with a lawyer for the first time.

“Everybody’s doing their best,” she said. “But if they’re hoping this is not going to be a crisis in a month or two, they have to start acting now.”

Source: In Niagara Falls, Roxham Road asylum seekers find less space and more strife as tourist season nears

Macklin: What happens when Roxham Road is closed

Useful commentary as always on some of the likely impacts. However, I am not convinced that all of the asylum seekers at Roxham Road would pursue more risky routes as their risk/benefit calculation would likely lead some not to pursue a more hazardous route.

No way of testing this hypothesis but arguably, many of the Roxham Road asylum seekers are in less desperate situations than those South of the USA border or crossing the Mediterranean.:

The other risk is of course to public support for immigration over this perceived loophole and the perception the government is not managing the border and immigration more generally:

Quebec Premier François Legault, supported by federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, urged the federal government to shut down Roxham Road. This is the spot where, over the past six years, thousands of refugee claimants crossed into Canada and asked for refugee protection. 

The numbers who enter may seem high to some Canadians, but relative to the number of asylum seekers seeking protection in other countries, it is a trickle. It is also a fraction of those we have welcomed from Ukraine in the past year. No one can validly claim to know in advance whether the people who cross at Roxham Road meet the refugee definition, so attempts to distinguish them from Ukrainians on that basis is disingenuous.

The premier of Quebec complains about the alleged unfairness of Quebec bearing costs associated with asylum seekers who enter at Roxham Road. Canada allocates a proportion of federal funding to Quebec for newcomer settlement that is not indexed to the actual number of newcomers that Quebec admits. Quebec receives proportionately more money than other provinces to settle newcomers and does not account for how it spends it. Legault’s claim that Quebec lacks money and capacity to manage Roxham Road arrivals deserves little sympathy. 

Up until 2004, asylum seekers travelling overland would have entered in a safe, orderly way by presenting themselves at an official port of entry at the Canada-U.S. border. Then, the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement turned ports of entry into brick walls for asylum seekers. 

Canada did this by exploiting a loophole in the Refugee Convention, which prohibits states from sending refugees back to countries of origin, but is silent about deflecting them to third countries (in this case, the U.S.). Fast forward a few years, and we discover that some asylum seekers are crossing into Canada at Roxham Road. It is not unlawful for a refugee to enter a country “irregularly” under the Refugee Convention or Canadian immigration law. Refugee law recognizes that desperate people will take desperate measures. 

Roxham Road is an open secret. No one needs a smuggler to find out about it, or to find it. If Roxham Road is blocked, will people become less desperate? Not likely. But they will be forced to take more dangerous and clandestine measures to avoid detection and apprehension. So here are the government programs that politicians are really proposing when they advocate making it legally impossible for asylum seekers to enter Canada:

Job Creation Program for Smugglers: Once prohibited from presenting themselves to Canadian authorities in a safe and orderly way at a port of entry, asylum seekers will increasingly rely on smugglers to guide them into Canada surreptitiously. The smuggling business will grow in response to this government-created demand and become increasingly lucrative, as well as violent and lethal. 

People will pay, and if they don’t have the money, they will borrow it and become indebted to traffickers, who will exploit them. Smuggling will proliferate. We will hear more stories about more people who suffer debilitating injury or freeze to death trying to cross the border from U.S. into Canada or vice versa. Smugglers will be blamed for facilitating border crossing, and for the injuries and deaths that ensue. Wait for it.

Stimulus Package for Military and Security Contractors: Pundits and politicians will demand that Canada invest in surveillance, military and physical infrastructure along a 9,000 km Canada-U.S. border in order to halt the “invasion” of people seeking refugee protection. 

They will describe this as a “humanitarian” program to protect hapless asylum seekers from predation by ruthless smugglers and traffickers. Military and security contractors will line up to proffer their high-tech gadgets and high-priced solutions. Turning a 9,000 km border into a high-tech wall is an expensive, cruel and futile fantasy. The border will be a perpetual crisis zone, where no walls are high enough, no tactics are effective enough, and no amount of money spent is ever enough. Wait for it.

These are the lessons from Fortress Europe and from Australia’s Pacific Solution. Rumours already abound that the Liberals are pressing the United States to somehow “extend” the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement along the full length of the Canadian border. President Biden is proposing a similar rule at its southern border. Wait for it.

Source: Macklin: What happens when Roxham Road is closed