Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Quiet NY Upstate Road Becomes a Busy Exit From U.S.

New York's Roxham Road is a quiet Country road jutting off another quiet Country road, where a couple of horses munch on soggy hay and a ditch running along the muddy pavement flows with melted snow. It cuts through a thicket of dormant trees, passing a half-dozen trailer homes and after almost a mile runs into a line of boulders and a rusted railing with a sign: Road Closed.

But this Road is the last leg of the journey out of the United States. Just on the other side of that sign is Canada. Border officials and Aid workers there say there has been a surge in people illegally crossing from the United States in the months since President Trump was Elected, many of them natives of Muslim Countries making bids for asylum. Roxham Road, just a brief detour from a Major Border crossing on Interstate 87, has become one of the busier Illegal points of Entry.

Champlain, is a small town in a rural corner of Upstate New York known as the North Country. Given their proximity to Canada, people around here have always had some awareness of the World beyond the Border. A pop music station in Montreal comes through clearly on the radio, and it is not all that unusual to make a run to the other side to shop. But the steady stream of cabs that have started driving up Roxham Road has forced them to reckon with life on the Border and decisions made in Washington in ways they never have before.

This is not exactly Trump Country. In Clinton County, which includes Champlain, Clinton eclipsed Trump by 610 votes. Many Residents on Roxham Road said they did not bother to Vote and had followed politics just enough to feel disenchanted, if not disgusted.

“I used to just blow everything off,” said Melissa Beshaw, whose house is the second to last before the Border. “I was never into politics until this road became famous.” She, like some others, was quick to assign blame to Trump. Immigration Advocates in Canada said the reasons for fleeing were more complicated: The President’s Executive Order in January on Immigration that affected Countries that are mostly Muslim was certainly a factor, but so were frustration with the Immigration process in general and concern over Anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Migrants have been coming to places like Roxham Road not because they want to sneak over the border; the expectation is to walk right into the arms of the Canadian Authorities. An agreement between the United States and Canada makes it virtually impossible for them to ask for Asylum at a Legal Border crossing; Canadian Border officials would have to turn them back. But a technicality allows them to bypass the Agreement by Illegally setting foot in Canada.

“Once they get arrested, they’re already on Canadian soil,” said Jean-Sébastien Boudreault, the President of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association, “so we have to let them do a refugee claim.”

Lawyers said families are usually taken to Immigration offices at the nearest Legal Border Crossing, where they can officially ask for Asylum. If they have identification and do not appear to pose a Security Threat, the lawyers said, they are typically released and given a bus ticket to Montreal, where they wait for a Hearing on their Refugee Status. Many of them are staying at a Y.M.C.A. there.

The Border crossings, despite being freighted with emotion, happen quickly and can seem almost procedural, occurring over and over every day in recent weeks.

It is unclear how the Border Hoppers, as some call them, first found Roxham Road. There are moments when Residents are frustrated by it, like the day when Local Television Stations discovered what was happening and came out with their satellite trucks. But, mostly, they sympathize with the people passing through.

Before long, darkness blanketed the trees and stars freckled the vast country sky. All was quiet on Roxham Road, except for the babbling water in the ditch. Still, just over the border, Mounties were posted on a muddy hill, waiting for the next car to arrive.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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