Migrants Choose Arrest In Canada Over Staying In The U.S.

Feb 17, 2017
Originally published on February 17, 2017 8:50 am

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reporting a flurry of illegal crossings into Canada in recent months. Officials say Quebec province has seen the highest influx of people seeking asylum, with many crossing in snowy, remote areas in northern New York.

One illegal crossing area that has become particularly popular among immigrants is in Champlain, N.Y., in the northeast corner of the state.

At the end of Roxham Road, there's a big dead end and a "Road Closed" sign — but there's also a very heavily trafficked, trodden route through the snow that goes over into Canada. From the ditch, the border is about 15 feet away, and the Mounties — the Canadian police — wait on their side for those who will cross the border next.

"They'll be walking — you'll see whole families, like two adults and like three children most of the time," says Matthew Turner. "They'll be walking down the road with suitcases and backpacks."

Turner and his family moved into a trailer on Roxham Road in October. He says that, since then, he has seen people walking past his house, as well as a steady flow of taxis driving by.

Taxis like the blue Honda minivan that rounds the corner. It's stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents, but after the officer inspects the passenger's paperwork, the cab is allowed to continue.

At the road's end, a young woman with an infant gets out of the taxi. She doesn't want to talk and seems to have limited English.

She hugs the baby to her chest and, with her free hand, pulls a black suitcase on wheels. As she moves toward the ditch, several Canadian police officers approach on their side.

One officer speaks out, saying, "You have to go through the, the custom, the border — but if you do cross here, you'll be arrested and then we'll take you in charge, OK?"

The woman nods and steps toward them. The Canadian policeman offers to carry her baby as she makes her way through the slippery snow path. She hands the child to him and then takes the hand of another officer who helps her to the road on the Canadian side.

The police bring out a child car seat and place it in their cruiser. The woman is arrested, and she and her child are driven away from the border. The whole thing takes about six minutes.

People who work with immigrants in Canada say these border-jumpers would rather be arrested in Canada than live in fear of how U.S. officials might handle their cases.

"There's quite an increase in people walking through illegally," says Cpl. Camille Habel, spokeswoman with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

She says that after the Mounties arrest those who cross the border illegally, the police can only detain them for up to 24 hours before either releasing them or presenting them in front of a judge.

"Once that we do all our checks and that we can confirm that they're not a threat to national security, we hand them over to [the Canadian Border Service Agency] who then start the immigration process," Habel says.

Habel won't give any information about the woman and child who crossed into Canada from upstate New York, but officials with the CBSA say that if they determine that she isn't a danger of a flight risk, the agency will release her and her baby. It's then up to a tribunal to evaluate her candidacy for refugee status.

That woman's experience is not unique, though. At least two other families crossed into Canada at Roxham Road on Wednesday, knowingly walking into police arrest.

Copyright 2017 Vermont Public Radio. To see more, visit Vermont Public Radio.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we have news this morning on illegal border crossings. No, no, no, no - not border crossings from Mexico to the United States, these are illegal border crossings of people fleeing the United States. Canada reports a sharp increase in recent immigrants or refugee applicants leaving the U.S. and heading north.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

They commonly arrive in Canada seeking asylum. Since President Trump's election, almost 1,500 people have arrived in the province of Quebec alone. They travel into remote border regions of Vermont or New York state then slip across.

INSKEEP: So we sent a reporter to one of the common crossings, a rural road in the town of Champlain. Kathleen Masterson of Vermont Public Radio and the New England News Collaborative drove to the end of the road.

KATHLEEN MASTERSON, BYLINE: It's just a dead end here.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR CLOSING)

MASTERSON: I'm standing here at the end Roxham Road. There's a big dead end and a road closed sign. And then there's a very heavily trafficked through the snow, a trodden route that goes over into Canada. And I can see right now there's two Mountie cars on the other side. They're just waiting there. So we're talking - I'm about - if I were to go through this ditch, we're literally about 15 feet from Canada.

MATTHEW TURNER: And they'll be walking - you'll see whole families - there'll just be, like, two adults and, like, three children most of the time - they'll be walking down the road with suitcases and backpacks.

MASTERSON: That's Matthew Turner. He and his family moved into a trailer on Roxham Road in October. He says since then, he's seen a steady flow of taxis as well as people walking past his house. A blue Honda minivan taxi 'rounds the corner. It's stopped by U.S. Border Patrol. But after the officer inspects the passenger's paperwork, the cab is allowed to continue on.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good luck.

MASTERSON: At the road's end, a young woman with an infant gets out of the taxi. She doesn't want to talk and seems to have limited English. She hugs the baby to her chest and, with her free hand, pulls a black suitcase on wheels.

As she moves toward the ditch, several Canadian police officers approach on their side.

UNIDENTIFIED ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE OFFICER: OK. You have to go through the custom border. But if you do cross here, you'll be arrested and then we'll take you in charge. OK?

MASTERSON: The woman nods and steps towards them. The Canadian policeman offers to carry her baby as she makes her way through the slippery snow path. She hands him the child and then takes the hand of another officer who helps her to the road on the Canadian side. The police bring out a child car seat and place it into their cruiser. The woman is arrested, and she and her child are driven away from the border. The whole thing only takes about six minutes.

People who work with immigrants in Canada say they would rather be arrested there than live in fear of how U.S. officials might handle their cases.

CAMILLE HABEL: There's quite an increase in people walking through illegally.

MASTERSON: That's Camille Habel with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She says after the Mounties arrest illegal border-crossers, they can only detain them for up to 24 hours before either releasing them or presenting them in front of a judge.

HABEL: Once we do all our checks and that we can confirm that they're not a threat to national security, we hand them over to CBSA, who then started the immigration process.

MASTERSON: Habel won't give any information about the woman and child I saw cross into Canada from upstate New York. But CBSA officials - that's the Canada Border Services Agency - say if they determine that she isn't a danger or a flight risk, the agency will release her and her baby. It's then up to a tribunal to evaluate her candidacy for refugee status. And that woman's experience was not unique. At least two other families crossed into Canada at Roxham Road that day, knowingly walking into police arrests.

For NPR News, I'm Kathleen Masterson in Champlain, N.Y.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELECTUS' "FROZEN TIDES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.