Canada case poses question: Is US immigration system safe?

  • A family from Nigeria waits to illegally cross the U.S. border in Champlain, N.Y., into Canada where Royal Canadian Mounted Police wait, Nov. 4, 2019. AP PHOTO/Wilson Ring

  • In this Nov. 4, 2019, photo, two men from Nigeria illegally cross the U.S. border at Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y., into Canada where Royal Canadian Mounted Police stand, rear, in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec. Since early 2017, when people who despaired of finding a permanent safe haven in the United States began turning to Canada for help, around 50,000 people have illegally entered Canada, many through Roxham Road in upstate New York. A case being heard in a Toronto court... Wilson Ring

  • In this Nov. 4, 2019, photo, a woman is led into a building by officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, after illegally crossing the border from the United States at Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y. Since early 2017, when people who despaired of finding a permanent safe haven in the United States began turning to Canada for help, around 50,000 people have illegally entered Canada, many through Roxham Road in upstate New York. A case being... Wilson Ring

  • FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2017, file photo, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer informs a migrant couple of the location of a legal border station, shortly before they illegally crossed from Champlain, N.Y., to Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, using Roxham Road. Since early 2017, when people who despaired of finding a permanent safe haven in the United States began turning to Canada for help, around 50,000 people have illegally entered Canada, many through Roxham Road in upstate... Charles Krupa

  • FILE- In this Aug. 7, 2017, file photograph, migrants stack their luggage outside a makeshift police station after crossing illegally into Canada at the end of Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y., while heading to an unofficial border station across from Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec. Since early 2017, when people who despaired of finding a permanent safe haven in the United States began turning to Canada for help, around 50,000 people have illegally entered Canada, many through... Charles Krupa

  • FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2017, file photo, a taxi filled with women from various nations pay their fare as they arrive at an unofficial border station across from Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec on Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y. Since early 2017, when people who despaired of finding a permanent safe haven in the United States began turning to Canada for help, around 50,000 people have illegally entered Canada, many through Roxham Road in upstate New York. A case being heard in a... Charles Krupa

  • FILE- In this Aug. 7, 2017, photo, taxis unload passengers, who traveled from a bus station in Plattsburgh, N.Y., at an unofficial border station across from Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec on Roxham Road in Champlain, New York. Since early 2017, when people who despaired of finding a permanent safe haven in the United States began turning to Canada for help, around 50,000 people have illegally entered Canada, many through Roxham Road in upstate New York. A case being heard in a... Charles Krupa

Associated Press
Published: 11/8/2019 10:29:18 PM

CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. — In the looming darkness, the Nigerian family of four, including two children carrying stuffed animals and a violin case, climbed out of a taxi at the end of a dead-end road in upstate New York as Canadian law enforcement officers watched a short distance away, across a ditch that marks the international boundary.

“This is an illegal point of entry, OK? If you cross here you are going to be arrested,” a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer said.

“Yeah,” muttered the man, who wouldn’t give his name, before he and his family dragged their belongings across the border and were led to a hastily built structure where asylum seekers are processed.

Tens of thousands have made the same north-bound trek since early 2017, when people who despaired of finding a permanent safe haven in the United States under new restrictive Trump administration policies began turning to Canada for help. Over a six-hour span on Monday, this family, another group from Nigeria, a man from Syria, another from Haiti and a family who wouldn’t say where they were from all crossed at the same illegal entry point at Roxham Road, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Montreal.

These migrants know that a longstanding agreement between the United States and Canada requires those seeking asylum to apply in the first country they arrive in. So, if they crossed from the U.S. at a legal Canadian port of entry, they would be returned and told to apply in the U.S.

But if they request asylum on Canadian soil at a location other than an official crossing, the process is allowed to go forward. In most cases, the refugees are released and allowed to live in Canada, taking advantage of generous social welfare benefits while their asylum applications are reviewed, a process that can take years.

Now, a legal case being heard in Toronto federal court this week is challenging that 2002 U.S.-Canadian agreement, which the Trump administration has sought to replicate to stem the flow of migrants at the United States’ southern border, striking similar pacts with the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Three human rights groups have filed the case calling on Canada to withdraw from the U.S.-Canadian agreement, arguing that the Canadian government has no guarantee that immigrants returned to the United States will be safe because of the Trump administration’s “full-out assault on the rights of refugee claimants and refugees,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, one of the groups bringing the case.

The legal challenge cites the widespread detention of asylum seekers who are turned back from Canada and the separation of parents and children as other examples of why the U.S. is not a “safe” country for newly arrived immigrants.

“At this moment the U.S. asylum system is on trial in Canada,” Neve said.

The Trump administration crafted a similar policy to keep Central American and other immigrants from coming to the U.S. by signing pacts with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras earlier this year. Under the agreements, immigrants who pass through those countries on the way to the U.S. are denied asylum here. Critics of the Trump policies contend that the Central American countries are unsafe for asylum seekers in their own ways because they have some of the highest murder rates in the world.

The agreements have also created strange bedfellows in Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who have repeatedly clashed. The two leaders both want to keep the U.S.-Canada asylum agreement intact.

Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux, a spokeswoman for Canada’s border security minister, Bill Blair, wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, but said the government constantly monitors developments in the U.S. and Canada, and is continuing to work with the U.S. on ways to strengthen the agreement.




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