US and Canada close loophole allowing asylum seekers to cross border

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vermont (AP) — The immigration deal announced Friday by U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aims to end a process that has allowed tens of thousands of immigrants from around the world to travel between the two countries along a back road between New York State and Quebec.

Since early 2017, so many migrants have entered Canada via Roxham Road outside of Champlain, New York, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has staffed a reception center to process them, less than 8 kilometers from the crossing official border where they would be sent back. in the USA. Mounties warned they would be arrested, but once on Canadian soil they were allowed to stay and pursue asylum cases that can take years to resolve.

The new policy states that any asylum seeker who does not have US or Canadian citizenship and who is caught within 14 days of crossing will be sent back across the border. It was due to come into effect one minute after midnight on Saturday, a quick implementation aimed at avoiding a wave of asylum seekers trying to cross, according to Canadian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the agreement at the ‘advance.

“We are expanding the Safe Third Country Agreement to apply not just to designated ports of entry, but to the entire land border, including inland waterways, ensuring fairness and more orderly migration. between our two countries,” says Canada’s announcement.

Canada also agreed to allow 15,000 migrants to apply “on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere during the year, with a pathway to economic opportunities to address forced displacement, as an alternative to irregular migration. “.

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Some of the last migrants to cross were around eight people from two families – one from Haiti, the other from Afghanistan – who arrived at the US end of Roxham Road just after dawn on Friday. Both said they took circuitous routes to get there.

Gerson Solay, 28, carried his daughter Bianca to the border. He said he did not have the necessary documents to stay in the United States.

“That’s why Canada is my last destination,” he said before being taken into custody for treatment.

The deal comes as the U.S. Border Patrol also reacts to a surge in illegal crossings south along Canada’s wide-open border. Almost all occur in northern New York and Vermont, along the border closest to Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal.

It’s unclear how Roxham Road became a preferred route, but it’s only a taxi ride from where Interstate 87 approaches the Canadian border, and for southbound migrants , it’s a relatively short distance to New York.

Although the numbers are still small compared to the US-Mexico border, it is happening so frequently now that the Border Patrol has increased its numbers in the area and has begun releasing some migrants in Vermont with a future date to appear before immigration authorities.

Canadian officials have struggled to deal with this since early 2017. Many northbound migrants said they were fleeing because they feared President Donald Trump’s immigration policies were hostile to their arrival. presence in the United States. The process has continued since the Biden administration took office.

These migrants took advantage of a quirk in a 2002 agreement between the United States and Canada which stipulates that asylum seekers must apply in the first country in which they arrive. Migrants who go to an official Canadian crossing point are sent back to the United States and must apply there. But those who reach Canadian soil at places other than a port of entry are allowed to stay and seek protection.

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The deal was immediately criticized by some who believe it could endanger the safety of asylum seekers by preventing them from getting the necessary support from both governments.

“Given the assault on access to legal protection for the most vulnerable migrants arriving at our borders, it is debatable whether the United States still qualifies as a ‘safe third country,'” said Danilo Zak, associate director of policy and advocacy for the humanitarian group. CWS, also known as Church World Services. The organization has worked for decades on behalf of people around the world who have been forced from their homes.

“We urge President Biden to strongly reconsider this agreement and work with Congress to restore access to asylum and support policies that recognize the dignity of all who come to our borders,” Zak said in a statement. .

Meanwhile, southbound migrants are straining U.S. border officials.

US Border Patrol agents arrested migrants entering illegally from Canada 628 times in February, more than five times the same period a year earlier. Those numbers pale in comparison to migrants entering from Mexico – where they were arrested more than 220,000 times in December alone – but it’s still a massive change in percentage terms.

In the Border Patrol’s Swanton sector, which spans New Hampshire, Vermont and part of upstate New York, officers arrested migrants 418 times in February, up from more than 10 times compared to the previous year. About half of entries from Canada are Mexicans, who can fly visa-free to Canada from Mexico.

About an hour south of the border, the police chief in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, which has a population of 6,000, alerted state officials that Border Patrol had dropped off a pickup truck of immigrants with a few minutes notice at the community welcome centre. The same thing has happened several times before in the past few weeks.

In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the migrants dropped off at St. Johnsbury were apprehended along the border after entering the U.S. without permission and given a Notice to Appear for immigration proceedings. subsequent immigration.

They were dropped off at St. Johnsbury because there is a station where migrants can catch a bus to a major city.

“In such circumstances, USBP works in tandem with local communities to ensure the safety of all parties, both community members and migrants, and to ensure the stability of community resources,” says the press release.

But local officials said they hadn’t had time to prepare. State officials are currently working to set up a system to provide migrants with the services they may need.

On Thursday, a Haitian couple and their children, 17- and 9-year-old boys and a 15-year-old girl, were dropped off at the reception center. The family, who did not want to give their names, wanted to take a bus to Miami.

They said they had been in Canada for two months, but wouldn’t talk about what made them keep moving.

They missed the Thursday bus that would connect them to a bus to Boston, where they could take another bus to Miami. A team of local volunteers spent the day bringing them something to eat, found them a place to spend the night and arranged for them to catch the bus on Friday.

Police Chief Tim Page said St. Johnsbury wanted to help these migrants, but not on the fly.

“We have to do something to find out what we are going to do when these families arrive,” he said. “We don’t have a set system yet, so when we do, I’m sure things will be a bit better.”

Associated Press contributors include Rob Gillies in Ottawa, Ontario.


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