WASHINGTON — Warmer weather and fading fears about COVID-19 have led immigration experts to warn of more erratic efforts to cross the Canada-U.S. border — and not just in one direction.
While Canada has for years been a destination for desperate asylum seekers who avoid official ports of entry in hopes of claiming refugee status, anecdotal evidence suggests that US border guards are encountering more people which are heading in the other direction.
The latest incident came late last month, when six Indian nationals were rescued from a sinking boat in the St. Regis River, which runs through the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory that sprawls in southeastern eastern Ontario, southwestern Quebec and northern New York State.
A seventh person, seen leaving the ship and wading ashore, was later identified as a US citizen. Brian Lazore is now in custody in what US Customs and Border Protection officials say was a human trafficking incident.
Court documents say Lazore specifically asked the six people on the boat, who had no life jackets or water safety equipment, if they could swim. All six replied, “No swimming,” the documents say.
This is the second high-profile incident involving Indian nationals in recent months. In January, a family of four died from exposure to blizzard-like conditions in Manitoba, just yards from the Canada-US border, in what Minnesota officials alleged was an effort of similar human trafficking.
Border guards and experts say that after nearly two years of rigid travel restrictions and strict enforcement of health policies, illegal and irregular migration is starting to climb back towards pre-pandemic levels.
Maine border officials also recently encountered shipments of illegal migrants, including five Romanian nationals who entered last month from Canada and had no legal right to be in the United States, where concerns over migration illegal at the southern border make daily headlines.
Customs and Border Protection did not respond to media questions about two other incidents in April involving a total of 22 people, including 14 from Mexico and seven from Ecuador, including the direction in which they were traveling when they were arrested.
Chief Patrol Officer William Maddocks, who oversees this area, said in a statement that border officials have seen a “notable increase in foreign nationals with criminal backgrounds” in the area in recent weeks.
In Canada, there is already evidence of a significant increase in the flow of migrants to Roxham Road, a location near the border town of Hemmingford, Quebec, which in recent years has become arguably the most popular unofficial border crossing. from Canada.
Flows of people, up to 5,700 in August 2017 alone, are said to be headed for the junction, where the Safe Third Country Agreement – a Canada-US treaty that reverses would-be refugees trying to apply for a crossing official — not currently applicable.
Canada eased its own pandemic-related immigration restrictions late last year, and the number of asylum seekers at the border has in turn increased since then.
Police intercepted more than 7,000 people entering Canada between official ports of entry in December 2021 and January and February this year, almost entirely in Quebec – a freezing period when irregular migration is normally at an all-time low. Before the 2019 pandemic, the RCMP had reported only about 2,700 interceptions for those same months.
“We weren’t particularly surprised by these numbers, as we had heard a lot of stories,” said Frances Ravensbergen, a Hemmingford resident who helps coordinate the efforts of Bridges Not Borders, an advocacy group for immigrants from the region.
Experts say the calmer days brought on by COVID-19 are likely over.
“I think we’ll see a return to pre-pandemic levels as travel restrictions ease around the world,” said Sharry Aiken, a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. in immigration policy.
Even though the threat of COVID-19 has by no means receded, the trend around the world has been to ease border restrictions for travelers crossing legally and for those seeking asylum, Aiken said.
“As it is now easier for people to leave their own country and travel through other countries, it is reasonable to assume that pre-pandemic figures for traffic across our common northern border will come back.”
As to whether the United States should prepare for a significant increase in illegal migration from Canada, Aiken said such a spike would surely pale in comparison to the challenge facing border security officials and of immigration at the southwestern border.
“This issue…doesn’t necessarily get public attention, and it’s safe to assume that some of them happen without ever getting public attention,” she said. “But it’s still not a logical leap to assume that traffic to the US looks like a steady stream. And I suspect that’s much more of an aberration than the norm.
The immigration picture in the United States has been dominated since the start of COVID-19 in March 2020 by Title 42, the 1940s regulation invoked by former President Donald Trump that allows health authorities to refuse migrants s ‘they are considered a potential health threat.
President Joe Biden has already announced plans to end Title 42 later this month, though it’s unclear if that will happen on schedule given concerns in Congress and the courts about the risk of a new wave of irregular migration.
Figures at the northern border suggest an increase is already underway.
In March alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 7,813 encounters — people deemed inadmissible because of their immigration status or under Title 42 — at or near the Canada-U.S. border, compared to just 1,989 in the same month of 2021.
The pandemic also interrupted a trend that had largely gone unnoticed in previous years: a steady increase in the number of people apprehended near the northern border after entering the United States illegally from Canada.
U.S. Border Patrol officials working in the eight northern sectors made just 2,283 arrests in fiscal year 2016 – a total that reached just over 4,400 arrests for the 12 months of the year. fiscal year 2019 before the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 9, 2022.
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