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Migrants still traveling to Roxham Road as loophole in border rules closes

Migrants are still traveling to an unofficial border crossing in Northern New York hoping to enter Canada. A loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement allowing them to seek asylum in Canada brought thousands to Roxham Road over the years. But at midnight Saturday Canada and the United States enacted new rules closing the loophole. Now, people seeking asylum in Canada may be turned back.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement refugees are required to request asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception. The agreement had originally applied to land border crossings, airports and other official crossings. On March 25th the two nations officially changed the agreement to include the “entire land border, including internal waterways.” If anyone crosses the border to make an asylum claim and they do not meet any exemptions they will be returned to the U.S.

At the bus stop in Plattsburgh Monday, taxi drivers are waiting to take migrants to Roxham Road, about 20 miles away. Plattsburgh resident Terry Provost says he drives the migrants for free.

“I take a lot of people out of Vermont and they’re from Afghanistan and I hear some horror stories. You know like some of them work for the government there but the Taliban, they’re killing them. Mostly the ones I give a ride a lot is to ones that’s got children, you know. Since Friday all these people they kick back, they can’t cross because they give them papers where they can’t cross again for a year or two, or try, you know and it’s totally wrong.”

The Greyhound bus pulls in and there are only a few passengers seeking rides to Roxham Road now that word is spreading that the crossing has closed. Mahmet, who only gives his first name, and his companion left family behind in their effort to enter Canada.

“We are from Afghanistan. We left back our families. I left back my wife and my mother. They can’t go out. They can’t work. The situation’s terrible. So in the United States if I stay here about six, seven, maybe eight, maybe ten years I can get them out from Afghanistan. So I want to try.”

“Because you’ve heard it’s faster in Canada?” asks a Canadian journalist.

Mahmet repleis, “It’s very fast.”

Mahmet first arrived in Mexico and was in the U.S. for six days. A lawyer, he is confident they will meet asylum requirements to enter Canada.

“I know a little bit about law so I can explain my situation. United States and also Canada is democratic countries so I think we can do it.”

The taxis transport three migrants to the Roxham Road crossing. Mahmet and his friend are immediately approached by a police officer.

"You two you are in Canada right now. You are under arrest for illegal entry. You have the documents?"

"Yes," answers Mahmet.

"You have the right to remain silent," continues the officer. "We are police officers. We are not immigration, okay you understand?"

A third man appears lost and confused as the officer explains in French that it is illegal to cross the border.

The English translation is "Here is the United States. As I have explained to you the way to get into Canada is by the Port of Entry that’s five kilometers away. If you cross the border here you will be arrested by the police.”

The taxis have departed and with no real alternative the man eventually decides to enter Canada.

State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, a Democrat representing the 115th district, was at Roxham Road hours after the new rule took effect.

“We were encouraged that the Prime Minister and President were talking about the northern border and the issues we’re having here. But to come out with an announcement early afternoon on Friday and then have it shut down at midnight, we were just concerned about the influx of migrants and asylum seekers that wouldn’t be able to get across and they would be stuck in quote-unquote no-man’s-land. And then local officials they were concerned about what we were going to do with these people.”

Assemblyman Jones notes that there is considerable uncertainty about the implications of the closure.

“We don’t have the resources. We don’t have a plan in place. When I was up at Roxham Road we heard from some of the officials that some of the migrants and asylum seekers that showed up in the middle of the night were taken to Lacolle for processing. We don’t know what happened to them after that. We don’t have a plan in place. And we were calling on the administration and federal officials to give us a plan, give the locals some resources to find out or come up with a plan to deal with this influx of people that could not get acrost.”

Jones says there is state money available for New York City, which is dealing with an influx of migrants, and he hopes to obtain some funding for the North Country.