CHAMPLAIN, New York — An unlined, single-lane road in rural upstate New York that dead-ends just feet from the northern border is at the center of an unusual international immigration phenomenon — people escaping the United States for Canada.
Approximately 50,000 people have used Roxham Road to walk into Canada over the past three years. Roxham Road is one of dozens in Clinton County alone that run directly into the border, but this one is where more than 90% of all illegal crossings into Canada along the 4,000-mile-long border from Washington state to Maine have taken place since 2016.
U.S. border officials told the Washington Examiner during a recent visit here that Americans are not fleeing north. People from around the world — primarily families — are flying into the U.S. on tourist visas, taking buses and taxis from regional international airports to Roxham Road, and walking over the border, knowing they will be admitted into Canada if they enter illegally and claim to be refugees.
People hoping for refugee status are crossing via Roxham Road to make use of a 2004 Canadian immigration agreement that guarantees immediate admittance to asylum seekers who arrive at Canada’s backdoor instead of an official, legal border crossing, where they are supposed to show up.
The Safe Third Country Agreement brokered in 2004 between the United States and Canada states asylum seekers must apply for protection in the first safe country they enter. They don’t apply in the United States because the U.S. has dramatically lowered its acceptance rates.
But because they have already entered the United States, they cannot then go to an official Canadian crossing.The policy, however, does not apply to the land between official crossing points, giving those at Roxham Road a way to immediately get in. They are usually then released and must await adjudication of their cases.
They do not enter first at airports in Canada, instead of the United States, because they could be rejected and flown back home.
The surge of traffic at Roxham Road started in 2016, according to Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Border Patrol.
“There’s always been northbound activity, but it seemed to culminate and really focused on this one road,” said Norm Lague, patrol agent in charge of the Border Patrol Champlain station.
In the beginning, Border Patrol began assigning agents to the border to interview those walking down the road in case they were illegally in the United States. Lague’s agents learned most were not in the U.S. unlawfully — they had flown into the country the same day.
“Most of the people that we’ve interviewed have had visitor’s visas. They fly into the U.S.,” Lague said. Migrants told agents that they read on Facebook, or saw elsewhere on the internet, they could cross here.
They get dropped off along the road, walk to the end, go down into a 10-foot-wide gully and walk back out of the ditch into Canada — often while hauling a large suitcase.
Illegal crossings took off in 2017 as more than 18,800 people illegally entered in the Roxham Road area. An average of 150 migrants were arriving and crossing daily, with the occasional 400-person day. Lague said he refocused his team to southbound crossings and pulled them from identity checks of those headed north.
The new spike in crossers took place shortly after President Trump’s travel ban in early 2017, which blocked travelers from half a dozen countries. The move was derided by some as a “Muslim ban,” prompting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to post a viral Twitter message welcoming refugees to his country.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police brought in white tents to provide shelter for the dozens of people it was seeing come over each day. The tents could not handle the high number of people needing to be interviewed, fed, and held before being transferred to another immigration agency further inland.
In spring 2018, with crossings still occurring at 2017 rates, Canada built a satellite office in the middle of the woods to hold migrants temporarily. The federal police also stocked up on baby food, diapers, and even car seats needed for when the migrants left the wooded abode.
That surge has continued, with cab drop-offs taking place on Roxham at all hours of the day and night. Between late last summer and early fall, approximately 13,700 people traveled over the border at this one spot. Canadian Border Services Agency said it does not know what it will do about the situation.
“We won’t speculate on future trends. The number of asylum seekers in Canada fluctuates over time and can depend on many different factors. We continuously monitor conditions and developments in other countries to inform our planning,” CBSA spokeswoman Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr wrote in an email.
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