More migrants applying for asylum across Canada’s reopened border

CHAMPLAIN, NY – Whenever a bus arrives at the Greyhound station in Plattsburgh, New York, a small group of taxi drivers wait to pick up passengers on the half-hour trip to a snowy dead end road.

There, at the border with Canada, refugees pour out of taxis or trucks several times a day, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers warn that they will be arrested for illegal entry if they cross. Most were soon released to pursue refugee status, living and working freelance pending a decision.

“We have everyone’s hope – to succeed and have a life change,” said Alejandro Cortez, a 25-year-old Colombian man, as he exited a taxi last week at the end of the street. Roxham in Champlain, New York. . This town of about 6,000 people is located just across the border from Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec.

Cortez joins a new stream of migrants seeking asylum in Canada following a 20-month ban on asylum claims designed to stem the spread of COVID-19. Families are once again carrying suitcases and carrying children across a remote, snow-covered ditch to the border.

Canada’s decision to lift the ban on November 21 stands in stark contrast to the approach taken by the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indefinitely extended a similar restriction on the border. with Mexico will enter its third year in March.

On Wednesday, a Justice Department attorney vigorously defended the injunction against harsh questioning from federal appeals court judges about the scientific basis of such a sweeping anti-asylum move. .

The United States deported migrants nearly 1.5 million times between March 2020 and November under what is known as Title 42 jurisdiction, named for the 1944 public health law that the Trump and Biden administrations issued. used to deny migrants the opportunity to seek asylum on the grounds that the law would curb the spread of the coronavirus. That accounts for about two-thirds of arrests or deportations at the border, most involving single adults and some families. Unaccompanied children have been exempted under President Joe Biden.

Fully vaccinated travelers have been able to enter the US and Canada since November, but Canada has gone a step further when it comes to restoring asylum pathways.

Cortez came to the United States on a tourist visa 5 months ago. He said he couldn’t go back to Colombia because of the violence and the disappearance of thousands of young people.

“All of that hurts a lot,” he said. “We have to run away from our country.”

Asylum seekers at the Canadian border started showing up on Roxham Street around the time Trump became president. How it became the preferred place to enter Canada is unclear, but migrants are taking advantage of an anomaly in a 2002 agreement between the US and Canada that says asylum seekers must apply. in the first country they set foot in.

Immigrants who arrive at an official intersection — like the one where Interstate 87 ends just east of Roxham Road — are returned to the United States and required to apply there. But those arriving in Canada at a location other than a port of entry, like Roxham Road, are allowed to stay and claim protection.

Nearly 60,000 people applied for asylum after illegally crossing the border into Canada between February 2017 and September, many on Roxham Road, about 50 kilometers south of Montreal, according to Canadian government statistics.

Of those, more than 45,000 requests were completed, with nearly 24,300 approved, or nearly 54%. Another 17,000 requests have been denied while more than 14,000 are still pending. Other requests have been waived or withdrawn.

In December, the number of asylum seekers at the Quebec border rose to nearly 2,800. According to statistics, this number is up from 832 in November and 96 in October.

Canada lifted its asylum ban with little fanfare or public backlash, perhaps because the numbers were small compared to those from Mexico to the United States.

Biden’s decision to uphold the Trump-era ban has drawn fierce criticism from the United Nations refugee agency, legal scholars and advocates.

Under the ban, people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, were sent back to Mexico before being granted rights under US and international law to apply for asylum. People from other countries were brought back home without a chance of asylum.

The scientific arguments for Title 42 were met with skepticism from the outset.

The AP reported that in 2020, Vice President Mike Pence called CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield in March of that year and asked him to use the agency’s special legal authority to cut the number of number of asylum seekers allowed into the country.

Pence made the request after a top agency doctor overseeing such orders refused to comply with the directive, saying there was no valid public health reason to issue the directive.

Dr Anne Schuchat, the second senior CDC official when she left in May, told a congressional panel last year that “much of the evidence at the time did not support this policy proposal.”

On Wednesday, Justice Department attorney Sharon Swingle asserted that the ban was based on scientific expertise and disease prevention in crowded Border Patrol detention facilities. Faced with persistent questioning from judges on the three-member panel in Washington, she admitted there was no affidavit in court records to explain the scientific underpinnings of the order.

Janet McFetridge, of Plattsburg Cares, a group that supplies hats, gloves and scarves to people crossing the border in the dead of winter, said within hours of the Canadian government’s November change, people Immigration began to arrive in great numbers at Roxham Road. She says people are eager to get through while they can.

“There is definitely a fear that it will close suddenly,” she said while waiting for the next group of migrants on Roxham Road.

A Canadian officer told in French to a woman and her companion, who was carrying a child, that it was illegal to enter Canada there.

“If you cross here, you’ll be arrested,” he said.

“Yes, no problem. No problem,” the woman said as her companion began dragging suitcases across the border.


Spagat reports from San Diego.

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