The new policy states that any asylum seeker who is not a U.S. or Canadian citizen and is caught within 14 days of crossing will be returned across the border.
The immigration deal announced Friday by U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is intended to end a process that has allowed tens of thousands of migrants from around the world to cross the border between the two countries on foot via a back road between New York state and the province of Quebec.
Since early 2017, these migrants have entered Canada via Roxham Road outside Champlain, New York, where a Royal Canadian Mounted Police checkpoint has been set up to process them about 5 miles from the official border crossing where they would be forced to return to the United States.
The agents warn them that they will arrest them if they take one more step. So they do, and without handcuffing them, the agents process them and release them to Canada, where they live while their asylum claims are processed, something that usually takes years.
The new policy states that any asylum seeker who is not a U.S. or Canadian citizen and is caught within 14 days of crossing will be returned across the border. It will go into effect one minute after midnight on Saturday, a quick implementation aimed at preventing a surge of asylum seekers attempting to cross.
“As of midnight tonight (this Saturday)…those trying to cross irregularly will be returned to the nearest border crossing point. This will make it possible to deter illegal migration at the border while increasing legal migration,” Trudeau said at a joint press conference with Biden.
“We are expanding the Safe Third Country Agreement to apply not only at designated ports of entry, but along the entire land border, including inland waterways, ensuring fairness and more orderly migration between our two countries,” Canada’s announcement said.
Canada also agreed to allow 15,000 migrants to apply “on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere throughout the year, with a pathway to economic opportunities to address forced displacement, as an alternative to irregular migration.”
Some of the last migrants to make it through were about eight people from two families, one from Haiti and one from Afghanistan, who arrived on the U.S. side of Roxham Road shortly after dawn 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 required documents to stay in the United States.
“That’s why Canada is my last destination,” he said before being taken into custody for processing.
The deal was announced as the U.S. Border Patrol also responds to a sharp increase in illegal crossings, in his case from north to south, across the porous Canadian border. Nearly all occur in northern New York and Vermont, along the stretch of border closest to Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal.
Although the numbers remain negligible compared to the U.S.-Mexico border, the crossings have become so frequent that the Border Patrol has sent more personnel to the region and releases migrants in Vermont with dates to appear before authorities.
Canadian authorities began dealing with the problem since early 2017. Many northbound migrants say they were fleeing President Donald Trump’s immigration measures, which were hostile to their presence in the country and remain in place under his successor Joe Biden.
These migrants are taking advantage of a quirk in the 2002 U.S.-Canada agreement, under which asylum seekers must file their claims in the first country they arrive in. Migrants going to an official crossing are told to return to the U.S. to file their application, but those arriving on Canadian soil through any other entry can stay and apply for protection.
Meanwhile, migrants traveling south are overwhelming U.S. authorities.
Border Patrol agents made 628 arrests of migrants entering illegally from Canada in February, five times more than in the same period last year. Those numbers are almost nothing compared to the southern border, where more than 220,000 apprehensions were made in December, but they represent a huge increase in percentage terms.
In the Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, which covers New Hampshire, Vermont and part of New York, agents made 418 migrant apprehensions in February, 10 times more than a year earlier. About half of those arriving from Canada are Mexicans, who do not need visas to fly into Canada.
The police chief of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, a town of 6,000 people about an hour from the border, alerted state authorities that the patrol had unloaded migrants from a van with little notice at the town’s reception center. The same thing had happened several times in recent weeks.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement that the migrants transported to St. Johnsbury had been apprehended entering the United States without authorization and were notified when they were due for immigration hearings.
They were dropped off in St. Johnsbury because it has a bus station from which they can travel to a larger city.
“Under these circumstances, CBP works with local authorities to ensure the safety of all concerned, residents and migrants, and to ensure the stability of the town’s resources,” the statement said.
But local authorities said they were not given time to prepare. They are now setting up a system to provide migrants with the services they require.
On Thursday, a Haitian couple and their children, 17- and 9-year-old boys and a 15-year-old girl, were brought to 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 refused to disclose their reasons for traveling further.
They missed the Thursday bus that would take them to a connection to Boston, from where they would continue their journey to Miami. A local group of volunteers arranged food and lodging for them for the night.
Police Chief Tim Page said St. Johnsbury wants to help the migrants, but not in an impromptu way.
“We have to determine what we will do when these families arrive,” he said. “We don’t have a system yet, but when we do I’m sure this will go better,” he concluded.
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