Two-way traffic: Flood of Canadian-bound migrants seek hope

Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 6:36 PM EDT
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CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. (WCAX) - A surge of illegal crossings continues in both directions along the northern border. The flood of people is straining law enforcement and immigration services in both countries and is among the key topics of a two-day summit this week between President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Record numbers of immigrants are crossing the border, many trying to get into the country at unguarded points along the Vermont and New York border with Quebec. In part two of our report, Katharine Huntley and Producer Daniela Fierro returned to Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, what has become a de facto point of entry for asylum seekers entering Canada.

It might look like just about any other rural road in upstate New York, however, it’s anything but. Roxham Road has become the de facto border crossing for tens of thousands of asylum desperate to become Canadian citizens.

They come from countries all over the world, with only the possessions they can carry. Families line up, nervous and emotional about the next step, ready to be arrested the moment they cross into Canada.

Crossings at Roxham Road have increased sharply in the last few years as refugees seek an easier path to asylum and support services north of the border. This past January saw nearly 5,000 people crossing -- more than double the same period last year.

People including Nvlaban Go, who told us through a translator that he’s escaping violence in Angola. “I’ve gone one month and two weeks traveling,” he said. “It was walking a week, sometimes taking the bus, and then walking again.”

Almost everyone we talked to had a similar story of a long arduous journey just to get to the border. “The process is a little bit long but we’ve been traveling for three months,” said a man from Guatemala who said his name was Jefferson. “Walking up north like everyone does... through the Mexican desert.”

Roxham Road itself looks like just about like any other rural road in upstate New York. But over the years, the Canadian government has added facilities to accommodate the influx of people.

Neighbors on the road have seen the very real struggle of those trying to reach the border. “I seen one lady and she had a little tot like this back in January and I cried, mercy,” said Paul Langlois, a neighbor who has a front-row view of the border, where Canada estimates anywhere from 150 to 250 people cross on foot every day.

Another neighbor we spoke to said she gathers and hands out winter clothes to people at the border. On this day, she outfitted a French-speaking man in dress clothes with no coat, reassuring him in French about what was coming next.

“Why shouldn’t we help them? It could be your mother, your sister, your brother. I just feel compelled to help them,” said Cathie Davenport of Mooers.

“They’re coming because they have to leave the country and they come with whatever they can bring but I just feel very good that I can help them,” said Beverly Maynard from Champlain.

Most refugees arrive in the North Country via bus from New York City to Plattsburgh and then find a taxi or driver to take them to the border 30 minutes away. Even after sunset, the flow of people doesn’t stop. Long after dark, people continue to be detained and processed at the makeshift facility.

We met migrants from South America, Central America, Asia, and Africa. Alejandro Guzman says he is fleeing Colombia’s largest cartel. He says he wants to work, pay taxes, and live a normal life in Canada. “The Clan del Golfo threatened me at my job, threatening me to take something, and I didn’t want to because of my religion. I didn’t want to. I had to get out,” he said.

Vincente Escobar said through a translator that he was fleeing from Venezuela. “I am politically persecuted. I am politically persecuted. Sadly, I had to leave first and then get my family out,” he said. Escobar said he has been in the U.S for a year and a half after crossing the southern border. Like many other migrants, he says he tried to live in the U.S. but decided to leave after finding the U.S immigration system nearly impossible to navigate. He says it’s too complicated to get a work visa and social services. It was a common complaint we heard from others.

“I did not prosper. There was no way or possibility to be able to get it. And that’s not what I want for myself. I’m looking for stability. I’m a working man, I’m a person who wants to get ahead, that’s trying to get a better life that I cannot get in Venezuela,” Escobar said.

Despite the struggle Escobar and so many others have been through, he says he still has hope for the future. “In Canada, I want a stable life, I want a dignified life, a decent life, and I think I can make it happen there,” he said.

The Roxham Road site received nearly 40,000 asylum seekers in 2022 and represented over 99% of all irregular arrival in the country, according to a spokesperson for the premier of Quebec. It’s the only border crossing of its kind in all of Canada. They say the site has exceeded its capacity and they are requesting the country redistribute the asylum seekers to other provinces as well as renegotiate the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

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