New York officials worry closing Roxham Road could lead to chaos if migrants keep coming

New York officials worry closing Roxham Road could lead to chaos if migrants keep coming

The decision to stop most migrants from coming to Canada via Roxham Road sparked indignation in New York state on Saturday, even as it was celebrated by the Quebec government.

Migrants had for years used the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., as a pit stop on their way to Roxham Road, the irregular border crossing south of Montreal that was used by tens of thousands of people as a way to enter Canada and declare asylum.

Thanks to a renegotiation of the Safe Third Country Agreement, announced jointly by the Canadian and U.S. governments on Friday, they are no longer able to use Roxham Road to enter Canada and claim asylum. Migrants are now more likely to be deported back to the United States if they cross there.

WATCH | What awaits migrants at the Canadian border?

The new agreement includes some exceptions for those seeking to claim asylum, including unaccompanied minors, family members, those with documents and those for whom it is in the "public interest" to accept.

Michael Cashman, Plattsburgh's town supervisor, said he was worried the town would not be able to handle an influx of people who find out after they arrive, they're no longer able to get into Canada.

"It could be a final destination for some if they get into Plattsburgh and they realize that they can't go any further," he said.

The decision to prevent migrants from crossing into Canada at Roxham Road, which was announced on Friday afternoon and became effective at midnight, took Cashman and other officials in upstate New York by surprise.

"I think there needed to be something done for sure," said Billy Jones, who represents the region in the New York state legislature, "but to [come out at noon] and say it's going to be shut down at midnight? Come on."

Jones and Cashman, who both visited Roxham Road on Saturday to express their concerns over the situation, said they need resources from the U.S. government to help manage the influx of migrants, which Cashman referred to as a humanitarian crisis.

Verity Stevenson/CBC
Verity Stevenson/CBC

Early Saturday morning, buses arrived in Plattsburgh filled with migrants carrying luggage and determined to reach Canada — only to be told they would likely be brought back to the U.S. if they managed to cross the border. They're no longer able to claim asylum because they crossed over from the U.S., which under the agreement is considered a safe country.

Some of them decided to try their luck and cross anyway, while others waited at a gas station, unsure of what to do next.

Quebec government applauds decision

Meanwhile, north of the border, Quebec Premier François Legault, who has repeatedly called for the federal government to close the border crossing at Roxham Road, lauded the decision.

"I'm very happy," Legault said. "I think that that's what we were asking for. I think that we were able to put enough pressure on the federal government, and I want to thank [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and the federal government. I want to thank President [Joe] Biden also."

WATCH | Migrants still arriving at Roxham Road despite new regulations: 

Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette said she was happy that Quebec would no longer be shouldered with the flow of migrants making their way into the province from Roxham Road.

Over the past year, nearly 50,000 people have come through the irregular crossing into Quebec, and community organizations and government agencies were struggling to provide care and services to all of them, Fréchette said.

"We are very satisfied with the renegotiation of the Safe Third Country Agreement because Quebec was receiving a lot of pressure from the thousands of people crossing through Roxham Road," she said.

As part of the renegotiation, Canada will take in 15,000 more migrants through legal mechanisms, but Fréchette said she hoped those migrants would not go to Quebec.

"Quebec has already done more than its share," she said. "We have received the vast majority of asylum seekers entering through irregular ways, and so we ask that other provinces welcome these 15,00 additional people."