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Quebec leaders want a popular, but unofficial, border crossing closed

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Officials say asylum-seekers who have passed through the U.S. into Canada are straining their resources. Cara Chapman of North Country Public Radio reports.

CARA CHAPMAN, BYLINE: Last year, more than 39,000 asylum-seekers crossed into Quebec outside official ports of entry. Most of them used a little road in northern New York that dead-ends at the U.S.-Canada border. Roxham Road winds through sparsely populated forest and farmland before giving way to a small parking area. Things kind of run on a routine here. A car pulls up...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE REVVING)

CHAPMAN: ...The door opens...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR OPENING)

CHAPMAN: ...And people get out, often pulling suitcases behind them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUITCASE ROLLING)

CHAPMAN: They walk up to a small path and stop. A stone pillar marks the official boundary with Canada. From there, Canadian police officers speak to the asylum-seekers.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: United States. Canada. If you cross, you'll be arrested.

CHAPMAN: This can happen dozens of times a day. People also cross in even more remote locations, which can be dangerous, especially in the winter. They come because of a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement between the U.S. and Canada. They get arrested for crossing, but they can claim asylum because they are not at an official port of entry. Thousands of migrants have already crossed at Roxham Road this year. Luis Rangel is from Venezuela, which for years has experienced rampant inflation, crime and political persecution.

LUIS RANGEL: (Speaking Spanish).

CHAPMAN: "When the marches happened in Venezuela, I was one of the people out there protesting because I didn't agree with what was happening in our country." Rangel and his family moved to Ecuador three years ago, but he couldn't find work that paid enough to help him support other relatives back in Venezuela. So last October, he and his wife decided to go north. They eventually got to New York City, but they quickly realized it would take years to get legal work in the U.S. and reunite with their sons, who are still in Ecuador with family. That's when they learned about Roxham Road on social media and how Canada might be easier.

RANGEL: (Speaking Spanish).

CHAPMAN: "The country doesn't matter so much," Rangel says. "It's the ability to work and make money." He says if you can't make money, how are you supposed to help your family? Rangel is one of many who had planned to settle in the U.S. then thought they might have better luck in Canada. They believe it's easier to win an asylum claim, start working and find other resources there. But the surge in migrants has overwhelmed Quebec. Here's Canadian Relations Minister Jean-Francois Roberge speaking with CTV News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEAN-FRANCOIS ROBERGE: Here in Quebec, we are proud of our tradition of welcoming refugees. As long as it was, like, 1,000, 2,000, it was OK. But now our capacity are exceeded.

CHAPMAN: The Canadian federal government has moved thousands of asylum-seekers to other provinces, but Quebec government officials want to take things a step further. They want the Roxham Road crossing and the Safe Third Country Agreement loophole closed. Not everyone sees that as a solution. Abdulla Daoud is with The Refugee Centre in Montreal. He wants all asylum-seekers to be able to make their claims at official ports of entry where it's safer.

ABDULLA DAOUD: Because if we just close Roxham Road, they're just going to find another place to come through because they're seeking safety.

CHAPMAN: Some experts say making legal migration easier would help relieve the pressure on both the U.S. and Canada. Muzaffar Chishti is a senior fellow with the Migration Policy Institute.

MUZAFFAR CHISHTI: Opening the front door, especially when there's evidence of labor need in the country, is an obvious solution.

CHAPMAN: President Joe Biden plans to visit Canada and meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later this month. Trudeau has said he wants to update the agreement that allows asylum-seekers to cross the border between ports of entry. A White House spokesperson did not return a request for comment, but the U.S. ambassador to Canada recently told the CBC that it would be better to focus on the underlying causes of migration. For NPR News, I'm Cara Chapman in northern New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF NINE SPARKS RIOTS & SEBASTIAN AGREN'S "THE LOTUS AND THE SWAMP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cara Chapman
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