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.