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Differences between how the US, Canada treat asylum-seekers



CHAMPLAIN, NY — The asylum-seekers who travel down Roxham Road in upstate New York have all spent time in the United States, whether it’s hours, days, or years. But by the time they reach the end of the road, where Canada lies just a few steps away, they say they’ve already had more than enough of America.

“I dislike the US,” said 34-year-old Blaise Kidasharira, a Burundian doctor who said he was only passing through the US en route to Canada and had no desire to linger.

“In here, the USA, the people [do] not — some people [do] not — don’t like the Latin people,” said Reinel Alfonso, a Colombian migrant who had spent just under three months in the US after fleeing his home country.

“I don’t know much about Canada, but what I’ve heard is that it’s a much more welcoming place for people to actually live a normal life compared to the US, when you’re an immigrant, when it seems like you’re pushed out,” said George, a migrant who has lived in the US for 25 years, and said he had had enough.

They all come from different parts of the world, with different reasons for heading north, but they all cite a similar sense of unease in the US, with growing tensions over immigration.

Beyond that, migrants who spoke to INSIDER at the border in October all had an unshakable faith that Canada will be a kinder place, with more welcoming people.

Read more: THE OTHER BORDER ‘CRISIS’: While America is fixated on Mexico and the wall, thousands of migrants are fleeing for Canada in a dramatically different scene

What happens after migrants cross illegally in Canada

Blaise Kidasharira, a 34-year-old Burundian migrant, crosses the border into Canada at Roxham Road.
Michelle Mark/INSIDER

INSIDER observed more than a dozen asylum-seekers crossing the US-Canada border at Roxham Road over a four-day period, and saw a series of crossings that played out not unlike those that take place along the US’s southern border, but in a stunningly orderly fashion.

Just like US Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border, Canadian federal authorities immediately arrest the migrants who illegally cross the border. But the atmosphere on the Canadian side is remarkable — the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) simply wait in a small, white facility and monitor through surveillance cameras when migrants approach.

For each person or family who approached the border that INSIDER observed, the RCMP officers warned the migrants against crossing, then arrested them when they did.

It’s unclear what happened to Kidasharira, Alfonso, and George after officers led them away, since INSIDER couldn’t follow them across the border.

David Gervais, a Plattsburgh-based immigration lawyer and dual Canadian and American citizen, told INSIDER that the next step is for migrants to be processed by the Canadian Border Services Agency, from whom they request asylum and explain why they fear returning to their home countries.

The CBSA agents also perform health checks and security checks to see if the migrants need treatment, or if they pose a danger and should be detained.

If the migrants are eligible to claim asylum — meaning they haven’t committed a serious crime or already received asylum from a country like the US — CBSA will refer the case for a hearing with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and release the asylum-seekers in the meantime.

What happens after migrants cross illegally in the US

A man passes a Mexican migrant baby to her mother after they jump the border fence to get to the U.S. side to San Diego, from Tijuana, Mexico on Dec. 29, 2018.
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza

In the US, asylum-seekers who illegally cross the border encounter a different scene.

Though the initial procedures are largely identical — migrants cross the border, surrender themselves to Border Patrol agents for arrest, request asylum, and are granted a future court hearing if their claims are deemed credible — the atmosphere in which they’re arrested is far more chaotic and unpredictable.

Unlike at the US-Canada border, there’s not one designated spot like Roxham Road where migrants feel comfortable crossing. Instead, they cross wherever they can, climbing over fences, crawling through tunnels, swimming or rafting across rivers, or walking miles through scorching deserts.

And unlike the Canadian RCMP officers who wait in a newly built, heated facility for migrants to cross, Border Patrol agents have a rougher job patrolling.

During a ride-along with Border Patrol in June 2018, which involved driving along the border, taking a boat down the Rio Grande River, and patrolling on foot through a forest, several agents told INSIDER that they encounter an array of different situations during their shifts, and the migrants are often dehydrated, starving, victims of rape or robbery, and desperate.

U.S. Border Patrol agents take a father and son from Honduras into custody near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 near Mission, Texas.
Getty Images/John Moore

After the migrants request asylum, the procedure is still largely the same as Canada’s, though with a couple of major differences. For instance, unlike in Canada, where asylum-seekers can receive work permits quickly, asylum-seekers in the US are not permitted to apply for work authorization until roughly five months have passed since they filed for asylum and haven’t yet received a decision.

Beyond just the procedural differences, the US asylum system also has a reputation for being much less generous than Canada’s. Though America took in more than 20,o00 asylum-seekers in 2016 — the most recent year for which data is available — compared to the nearly 11,000 Canada has accepted in 2018 so far, the proportion of migrants Canada grants asylum to is much greater.

Gervais told INSIDER that the Canadian process is still a challenging one, but it pales in comparison to the hurdles migrants face in the US.

“It’s not a pain-free process,” he said. “Some of it can be difficult. But, again, the chances of success are higher in Canada than they are in the US.”

Canada’s no utopia for immigrants

Two migrants, Reinel Alfonso from Colombia and George from Uganda, prepare to cross the Canadian border as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer warns them that doing so is illegal.
Marisa Palmer/INSIDER

The true difference between applying for asylum in the US vs. Canada, sources told INSIDER, is the two countries’ general attitudes toward immigrants.

“The legal framework is very similar,” Gervais said. “The big difference between the two is Canada sees immigrants as — I don’t want to say resource — but they see them as an added benefit … it’s the country’s benefit to receive immigrants. In the US, not so much.”

“There’s some pushback from segments of the population in Canada saying that immigration is becoming somewhat out of hand,” he added. “But, in general terms, I think Canada is a more welcoming country.”

Gervais said it’s not necessarily fair to compare the two countries. For instance, the US sees exponentially more migrants crossing its southern border illegally — and at far more points of entry — than Canada does, so the Canadians haven’t felt the need to be as aggressive when it comes to border security.

It’s also not accurate to portray Canada as a utopia for immigrants. Despite deeply rooted cultural stereotypes that paint Canadians as polite and friendly, many residents have bemoaned the constant border-crossings and pleaded with the government to take stronger action to stop them.

The dead end at Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, features a number of signs warning in English and French not to cross the border illegally.
INSIDER/Michelle Mark

Beyond that, the Canadian government has not welcomed everyone — in recent months, the CBSA has begun ramping up its efforts to deport migrants who illegally crossed the border, and whose refugee claims were rejected.

The agency’s goal is to deport 10,000 migrants per year, which would be a 35% increase, according to internal agency emails obtained by CBC News.

Janet Rokas, a Canadian, volunteers with the group Bridges Not Borders. She sometimes drives down to Roxham Road from her Quebec home to greet asylum-seekers illegally crossing the border into Canada, and hands them mittens or hats.

But Rokas told INSIDER that plenty of her fellow Canadians aren’t as empathetic, and have even warned her that the migrants she greets could be criminals, mob bosses, or gangsters.

“I’ve had a few people — other local yokels — tell me, ‘Bridges Not Borders? What’s wrong with borders? We need borders!'” Rokas said.

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