Friday, March 10, 2017

Crossing through rurality to get to Canada

During the 2016 presidential campaign and following the election results, I heard countless jokes about people wanting to move to Canada. On election night, the Canadian immigration website crashed. Most of the conversations I encountered were in jest, but now emigration from the US is becoming a reality, especially for those who feel targeted by Trump's anti-immigrant policies.

There has been so much hype and talk about the security of our southern border and keeping people out, but who is paying attention to the people fleeing at our northern border? Answer: the residents of Champlain, NY.

Champlain is a rural Upstate NY town on the border with Canada. Its population floats right around 5,700. Roxham Road, about four miles from the center of Champlain, leads almost all the way to the Canadian border. This little road in this little town has become the hot spot for Muslim immigrants looking to get out of the US and into Canada. One taxi driver told The New York Times that "in recent weeks, riders have been asking him — two, three, sometimes as many as seven times a day — to bring them to the end of Roxham Road."

Most of these migrants are originally from Muslim majority countries like Turkey and Yemen. Most of them are seeking asylum. The taxi driver who spoke to The Times heard stories from his passengers about being afraid to return home, being afraid to stay in the US, and being afraid of what would happen once they got to Canada.

This new traffic has not gone unnoticed. The residents of Champlain have been observing the families arriving by taxi. Taxis then drop off families where the road ends and the trek through the snow and across the border begins. An increase in taxi traffic along a rural road like this is obvious to the people who live there.

Many of the residents along Roxham Road report either not being engaged in politics or being too frustrated to have voted. The Champlain community seems to empathize with the migrants and to understand that these families are making the journey along Roxham Road and into Canada because of Trump's rhetoric and recent policies. There are some mixed feelings among those residents. One man said that "He understood the president’s motivation" but at the same time, seeing the migrants pass by his home "made him question the 'way he went about it.'" Another resident was less forgiving, but didn't place blame on the families coming through Champlain. Yet another sympathized because of the young children she saw tagging along with their parents as they headed for the border.

Another rural spot seeing an uptick in immigrants traveling through on their way to the Canadian border is Noyes, Minnesota. Emerson (population: 700), on the Canadian side, is familiar with people crossing the border without legal authorization. Just like in Champlain though, the increase in traffic since Trump was elected has been apparent. Emerson police and immigration officials, worried about the dangerously cold and snowy conditions, have had to plan for increases in arriving immigrants.

For their part, Canadian officials seem to be turning a blind eye in a way. The US and Canada have an agreement to not allow asylum seekers to cross between the two countries. However, if a person is able to make it onto Canadian soil before they are arrested, officials will allow them to begin the asylum process. Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) wait on the opposing side of Roxham Road to help the people crossing get out of the water and snow they have to cross and set them off on the path to Montreal to initiate their asylum claims. Some immigrant and human rights advocates have called for the agreement to be suspended in light of Trump's new policies.

The trek through rurality during these winter months is not an easy one. Unfortunately, many refugees no longer feel that the United States is a refuge, and it's a journey they are willing to make.


ofilbrandt said...
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ofilbrandt said...

"Escaping to Canada" is a common theme in times of stress. Indeed, the blockbuster hit of the weekend, Logan, featured this as a major plot point. What is it that makes Canada so attractive: that it is a separate country or that it has more rural and spacious places where people can disappear to? Considering the lack of connectivity to the world, it is interesting that escaping to rural areas is not a stronger theme than escaping the country as a whole, more in line with Atlas Shrugged. It certainly may be easier to disappear into obscurity than to cross an international border.

RGL wrote about how certain rural places are seeing increased traffic as people seek to cross to Canada. It seems this is different from other rural places because it is temporary, a direct response to political tension. What is not new is rural towns as places to pass through. Indeed many rural spaces are only marked by a truck stop, a single cafe, or a stalwart mom and pop diner to meet the needs of the traveller passing through. Rural towns as temporary rest stops are nothing new.

Kaly said...

I thought this was a really interesting, if depressing, post. I wonder if because of the New York Times article there is going to be a sudden crackdown on the area. I can't help but remember that heart-wrenching photo of the children being passed across the border as US Border Patrol tried to stop them (

This reminds me a lot of the "wet feet, dry feet" policy for Cuban asylum seekers that was ended by President Obama. Essentially, if you could make it to land, you could stay and apply for residency after a year, while if you were caught in the water you were sent back. I doubt Canada would enact a policy like that, as it would have major political blowback and Trudeau seems to be doing his best to stay on good terms with the US, but perhaps internal policies may make it easier for people fleeing the US to apply.

It'd be interesting to hear what opinions people in rural Canada have towards immigrants fleeing the US. Many may settle in rural areas, which might create its own tension.

Kyle Kate Dudley said...

I also found this post very interesting. I have travelled through Champlain NY frequently on my way to Canada from my home town and I can picture clearly the juxtaposed conservative viewpoints and empathetic acceptance of the folks there. I feel those sentiments of more moderate conservatism are rare in our polarized nation. I echo Kaly's comment wondering how rural Canadians are reacting. I imagine Canada to be a less xenophobic nation in general, but that doesn't mean that immigration lacks an impact, particularly on folks directly encountering new immigrants daily. On another note, its amazing to me that American conservative zeal for closed borders is so openly and unflinchingly biased.