Hundreds of refugees have been heading to Canada since the U.S. presidential election, and Plattsburgh taxi drivers have been playing a large role in getting them there.
Taxi drivers have been frequently picking up passengers, some of whom don’t speak English, at the airport and driving them north to the border. Although, many of the people crossing illegally aren’t trying to sneak in, they’re attempting to make it onto Canadian ground so they can claim asylum. If they were to go to an official crossing, they’d be told to turn around. Roxham Road, just 26 miles north of Plattsburgh, has become one of migrants’ favored destinations to attempt to make it into Canada.
Families are usually taken to immigration offices at the nearest legal border crossing and if they have identification and do not appear to pose a security threat, they are typically released and given a bus ticket to Montreal, where they wait for a hearing on their refugee status, according to the New York Times. Many of them are staying at a Y.M.C.A. there and are swiftly assisted in obtaining their Medicare card, registering their children in schools and getting a non-permanent work permit.
Some residents on Roxham Road have expressed displeasure with the recent attention and influx of taxis but sympathize with the passengers, especially the children, who are trudging through snow and freezing weather to get to safety.
Vermont Public Radio interviewed a man who nearly froze to death during his journey to Canada. Though his last name was omitted for his protection, his first name is Mamadou. He said he walked in the snowy woods for nine hours and had to cross two rivers that he couldn’t find ways around.
Mamadou fled to the U.S. 10 years ago from his native country, Cote D’Ivoire, which is in West Africa, escaping a brutal civil war. He applied for asylum status in the United States, but was denied. He said that U.S. authorities deemed it unsafe for him to return him to his country, so he was granted temporary permission to stay. He’s worked as a taxi driver in New York City for the last decade, but at the end of February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents came to his home to arrest him. He figured he was no longer safe in the U.S. and if he were deported back to his home country, he’d likely be killed.
Mamadou’s grueling trek to Canada came to a sudden end when his body collapsed. The next thing he remembered after that was waking up in a hospital bed. He learned later that a police officer found him lying unconscious in the street and brought him to the hospital. It took days for him to recover, only to be told he couldn’t claim asylum in Canada because he had previously tried to do so legally. Under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, a person cannot make two asylum claims. Some Canadian lawyers are fighting to have it revoked.
In February, there were 724 claims for asylum processed in Quebec alone. If the number of asylum seekers persists, history may repeat itself.
According to the North Country Public Radio, in 1987, Canada became overwhelmed with asylum claims and temporarily closed its border to refugees, which left hundreds of people stranded in Plattsburgh.
Mary Skillan, president of the Interfaith Council of Plattsburgh and Clinton County, told NCPR: “We do need to be prepared because it definitely can happen. And it is happening. More and more people are trying to cross the border.”
Right here in our backyard is proof of the fear that has been brewing in the U.S. People are afraid for their lives and for the lives of their children. They’re left with nowhere safe to go but Canada, where asylum seekers are pouring in by the hundreds each month. They don’t want to be illegal. They don’t want to break any laws. They just want to live.
Email Steve Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org