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Milder weather and COVID: Irregular migrants could be more numerous

WASHINGTON — Warmer weather and fading fears over COVID-19 could increase irregular migration across the Canada-U.S. border, and not just in one direction, experts believe.

While Canada has for years been a destination for desperate asylum seekers who avoid official ports of entry in hopes of claiming refugee status, evidence suggests that US border guards are encountering more people who are heading in the other direction.

Police have seen so far this year, even during the cold winter months, a record number of potential asylum seekers trying to enter Canada — most of them in Quebec, via Roxham Road, in Montérégie.

There is evidence of a significant increase in the number of migrants to Roxham Road, a location near the border town of Hemmingford, which in recent years has become arguably Canada’s most popular unofficial border crossing.

In August 2017 alone, up to 5700 people are said to be heading to the junction. The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, a treaty that allows for the removal of potential refugees who attempt to apply for official passage, does not currently apply.

Canada eased its own pandemic-related immigration restrictions late last year, and the number of asylum seekers at the border has in turn risen since.

Police intercepted more than 7,000 people entering Canada between official ports of entry in December 2021, January and February 2022, almost entirely in Quebec — a freezing period when irregular migration is normally at its lowest. Before the 2019 pandemic, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (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 Building Bridges, an outreach group for migrants. of 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. specializing 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.”

Landscape of immigration in the United States

The most recent incident in the United States came late last month when six Indigenous people were rescued from a sinking boat on the St. Regis River in upstate New York. According to court documents, it was a human trafficking operation gone wrong.

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 Mr 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 state.

Another high-profile incident is that of a family of four who died last January trying to cross the US border from Manitoba, across fields in freezing cold. Prosecutors believe it is also a similar human trafficking scheme.

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 have recently been dealing with shipments of illegal migrants, including five Romanians who entered last month from Canada and had no legal right to be in the United States.

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 7 from Ecuador, including the direction in which they were traveling. were moving when they were arrested.

As to whether the United States should prepare for a significant increase in illegal migration from Canada, Aiken believes such a spike would surely be minimal compared to the challenge facing border security officials and of immigration at the southwestern border.

“This issue does not necessarily attract public attention, and it can be assumed that some of them occur without ever attracting public attention,” she said. But it’s still not logical reasoning 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 landscape in the United States has been dominated since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 by “Title 42”. This regulation from the 1940s invoked by former President Donald Trump allows health authorities to refuse migrants if they are considered a potential health threat.

President Joe Biden has already announced his intention to end Title 42 later this month. It is unclear whether this will happen on schedule given concerns in Congress and the courts about the risk of another wave of irregular migration.

In March alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 7,813 encounters — people deemed inadmissible by virtue of their immigration status or under Title 42 — at or near the Canada-U.S. border, versus only 1989 in the same month of 2021.

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