For migrants, Canada is haven, not Trump’s America
CHAMPLAIN, USA: A taxi stops in the small town of Champlain. Loaded down with belongings, a family with two children gets out and hurries to the road’s end at a stream marking the US-Canada border.
“We are coming all the way from Jersey City,” says the father, Mohammed Ahmed. The city near New York is more than 300 miles (500 kilometers) to the south.
Talking while walking, he and his wife explain how they left Pakistan 11 months ago after getting death threats.
“We came to the US to ask for asylum,” he said. But with new President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policy “we are very much scared from deportation.”
Across the New York state border in Quebec, two Canadian police officers warn them they will all be arrested for entering Canada illegally.
“It is all right,” said the father. “We just need to cross the border.”
He crosses the stream, shows his passport, and turns back to help their three-year-old daughter, then his wife who is carrying their three-month-old baby in a pouch, cross the rock-filled water.
Conditions for making the crossing are good: It’s cold but the sun is shining, and last week’s snow has melted away.
A few minutes later the family finds itself, visibly relieved, in Canada.
The Canadian police bring them to the official border post of Lacolle, about 10 minutes away, where they will be questioned and their asylum request will be registered.
If all goes well, the family will then head to Montreal, 40 miles (65 kilometers) north.
This week, in less than two days, more than 70 people have crossed the stream into Canada, according to a tally by AFP and local police — among them Haitian families, Colombians and many Muslims.
A Syrian family, who lived in the United States for 18 months and whose oldest daughter was to finish high school in June, left in a hurry after Trump banned entry of nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, for 90 days and barred entry by Syrian refugees indefinitely.
‘Constant’ migrant flow
Trump’s January 27 order, just a week after he took office, has been blocked by the courts, but his administration is working to amend it to address the legal objections.
Melissa Beshaw, a grandmother who lives in a small house about 165 feet (50 meters) from the stream on the US side, said that “since Trump has been in office, it’s constant… It’s traffic all the time.”
“I used to get out and look” to see what was going on, she said. “I don’t anymore because I know.”
Some migrants arrive by car to Plattsburgh, the last stop in New York state before the border. For the final 25 miles to the stream, they take a taxi, which costs them between $200 and $300, said Denise Quinte, an employee at a motel near where the cars stop.
Since early February, the motel has seen “10 to 25 people a week,” she said, often heading to the border at dawn, leaving behind some belongings.
Others come directly by car from New York City and neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The numbers of migrants is a trickle compared to the thousands who cross the Mediterranean each month to reach Europe.
While Canadian authorities don’t directly link the flow to Trump administration policies, they acknowledge that the number of migrants from the United States has increased since January, especially through the Quebec border.
The trend is striking, because until now the United States has seemed welcoming to foreigners.
The banks of the border stream bear the litter of hasty crossings: water bottles, lost gloves and hats, an abandoned stroller, fragments of boarding passes — several from Arab companies — and even a cellphone.
A discarded plastic bag reveals the journey of a Sudanese couple. Inside, two soggy pages, in poor English, explain how Asma Elyas and her husband Ayman fled Sudan to avoid the female circumcision of their daughter who was born in 2014.
After several months in Saudi Arabia, they flew to Washington on September 7, 2016, two months before Trump’s election.
A document shows that they agreed in late September to pay a law firm in neighboring Virginia $3,500 to handle their asylum request. Several pamphlets and a Virginia maternity booklet indicate the woman was pregnant.
These personal effects do not explain why the Sudanese couple left the US for Canada. But a Quebec police officer is sure he knows the reason: “The arrivals truly began” with Trump’s immigration crackdown in late January, he said.
“Now, there are a lot of people. As if it took time for that to sink in.”