Migrants on foot enter Canada for last time before tougher rules
At midnight sharp, two officers removed a black tarp and sheet of plastic from a newly erected sign at what has been Canada’s most notorious unofficial border crossing, Roxham Road. “STOP. DO NOT CROSS,” he told asylum seekers in French and English, warning that if they came to Canada they could be sent back to the United States.
The tightening of the Canadian border at Roxham Road and all other unofficial border crossings at 12:01 a.m. Saturday ended a less restrictive era of migrating into the country on foot and eased a domestic political dispute over how to manage a wave of arrivals. .
Canada has taken in refugees from Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere and has pledged to increase immigration to the country by 1.5 million by 2025, earning it a reputation for being more open migrants than many other Western countries.
But after opponents of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lobbied him to curb a wave of migrants crossing the border, the country has shifted gears in its approach to those arriving on foot. They will no longer encounter tolerance; they will face the ban.
Roxham Road, a longtime gateway into Canada for thousands of migrants and a growing source of anger for many Canadians, has been closed after years of talks between Canada and the United States. On Friday, President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an amendment to a two-decade-old pact that allowed migrants to enter Canada at unofficial crossings and apply for asylum.
Rather than being accepted as asylum seekers in Canada, migrants will now be sent back to the United States. Canada, in turn, has agreed to accept 15,000 Central and South American migrants fleeing persecution and poverty, a move intended to ease some of the pressure on the United States’ southern border. United. Accepted migrants will not be allowed to arrive on foot but will have to pass through the country’s tightly controlled refugee system.
A surge of nearly 40,000 migrants in recent months has taxed Canadian provincial governments who have housed and supported newcomers and educated their children while awaiting decisions on their immigration applications.
That burden was largely shouldered by Quebec, whose premier, François Legault, hailed the deal and the official closure of Roxham Road.
“It’s a great victory for Quebec,” he said. said on Twitter before thanking Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau.
The closure was announced with only a few hours notice and a deadline was set at 12:01 a.m. for the last crossings. But there was no last-minute push at Roxham Road, perhaps because those crossing usually make their way from New York or other major centers by bus first.
Roxham Road begins in Champlain, NY, and runs through rural Quebec.
About 20 minutes before the deadline, several taxis and vans arrived from the New York side, carrying people from Haiti, Georgia and other visibly tense countries. They crossed and lined up in the tent tunnel leading to a processing center that Canada has set up at the border.
Pamela Memengi Maiala was among the last to arrive at the border before the deadline. She said, thanks to the translation, that she arrived in Maine from the Congo nine months ago.
As the clock approached midnight, Ms Memengi Maiala did not rush to enter Canada as she cared for her young son dressed in a red down coat and a baby tucked under a blanket in a baby seat. Around them were about eight bags, some heavily laden.
After spending her last moments on the American side of the border, marked by a post, she methodically gathered her things and her children and left the United States before the Roxham Road crossing closed.
As the deadline passed, tensions mounted. A New York van carrying migrants from Haiti has stopped.
“Go go! Please go,” implored their driver, who identified himself only as Sergei, as a young couple towed young children and a collection of heavy backpacks and wheeled bags from his van. “Don’t take the luggage. Come in!”
They crossed and were arrested.
While some of the people who crossed after the deadline seemed to believe their arrests would be followed by admission to Canada as before, Audrey Champoux, spokesperson for Canada’s Public Safety Minister, said the new system s applied to anyone crossing after 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.
Cases of latecomers will be reviewed to see if they fall under a small number of exemptions to the agreement. Most, perhaps all, will not qualify and will be taken to an official US border crossing, asked to apply for asylum in the United States, and turned over to US government officials. It was unclear Saturday afternoon whether any of them had been fired.
The newly revised agreement between Canada and the United States could be short-lived.
The Federal Court of Canada has found that the original Safe Third Country Agreement, as it is officially called, violates part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the country’s obligations under international treaties. The Supreme Court of Canada heard an appeal of the case last fall and is expected to hand down a decision this year.
Many human rights groups also argue that US immigration policies mean it is not a safe country for asylum seekers.
A taxi took Abzan Jadon, 30, to the crossing around 1 a.m. Mr Jadon had arrived in New York from Pakistan a day earlier with a plan to enter Canada via Roxham Road – a plan he accelerated after the leaders announced.
“There are a lot of problems,” Mr Jadon said of his decision to leave Pakistan. “I know I’m late. I hope the authorities will accept me. Hoping for the best, he walked through wearing a light jacket with $200 in his pockets, clutching a duffel bag.