Haitians In The U.S. Flock To Canada's Border Seeking Asylum
DAVID GREENE: OK. Here's one sentence that captures the complexity of our world - people seeking asylum from Haiti are pouring across the border from the United States into Canada. The Olympic Stadium in Montreal has actually been converted into a shelter. As for why this is happening, well, many of these Haitians have temporary protected status in the United States, but it is set to expire in January. And the U.S. told them they should prepare to go back to Haiti.
But when that announcement came a few months ago, people panicked. There were almost 800 unofficial crossings into Quebec in June. North Country Public Radio's Zach Hirsch has been in upstate New York reporting along the Canadian border.
ZACH HIRSCH, BYLINE: A couple of dozen people are sitting under a Royal Canadian Mounted Police tent in Hemmingford, Quebec. Young men smoke cigarettes and joke around. On the U.S. side in Champlain, N.Y., two taxis pull up to the border - and then a third. Three women with a child roll their suitcases up to the border, declining to talk to reporters. An older woman says she's from Haiti and that she can't go back to her country because she lost everything in the 2010 earthquake there.
UNIDENTIFIED REFUGEE #1: I lost family. I lost my house.
HIRSCH: She crosses a dirt and stone bridge that's been set up, going over the small ditch that separates Canada from the U.S. The Canadian officers tell her group that it's illegal to cross here.
UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: You cross - you're going to be arrested.
HIRSCH: They cross anyway, and they're escorted under the tent. Because of a legal loophole, asylum seekers are usually turned away at official ports of entry but can get into Canada at unofficial crossings like this one. So far this year, more than 4,300 people have entered Canada in this way, according to the government.
Walking around, it's obvious how many people come through here. The ground is covered in coffee cups and water bottles. There are abandoned shoes and discarded bus and plane tickets from San Diego, Richmond and Fort Lauderdale. Later, several men, women and children get out of a big van. They're from Haiti, too, and won't talk to us. One young man just tells the reporters at the border he has a good feeling about Canada.
UNIDENTIFIED REFUGEE #2: I've heard people talking - and, you know, Canada's known for that. So I hope we get treated better than in the USA.
HIRSCH: Canada used to have a protected status program for Haitians like the one that's about to expire in the U.S. But Canada's program already ended three years ago. It considers Haiti a safe country now, making it an uphill battle for Haitians trying to get refugee status. People will have to prove they'd be persecuted if they were sent back.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUS REVERSING)
HIRSCH: On the Canadian side, some people who crossed illegally have been screened, and a bus has taken them to the official border, where they're fingerprinted and interviewed by the Canada Border Services Agency. The agency says asylum seekers wait in a temporary shelter for up to three days while the refugee claim is initiated. Then they're transferred to another temporary housing facility. And they're free in Canada, pending a more formal asylum process which can take a year to get started.
IAN CURTIS: Oh. That's fine. It registered just fine.
HIRSCH: A few houses up the road from the border on the U.S. side, Ian Curtis is picking up a car he just bought. He lives about 40 minutes south of here and didn't know about the surge of asylum seekers. But he thinks it's a good thing that they're leaving.
CURTIS: I think it's a great thing. Yeah. I mean, there's a reason why they're leaving here. Obviously, they don't want to work.
HIRSCH: Matthew Turner is the one selling the car. He's lived in a trailer on this dead-end border road for almost a year. He moved here for the quiet, and he's annoyed by all the traffic and litter.
MATTHEW TURNER: Garbage is falling out of these taxis, out of these shuttle buses, out of these vans. It's disgusting. And I have to live here, and I have to come out here and clean it up.
HIRSCH: But Turner says he's even more troubled by the fact that people are afraid to live here.
TURNER: They don't feel safe in our country anymore. So what does that say about us as a country?
HIRSCH: Turner says he's a Bernie Sanders guy, and he's so upset with the way things are going in the U.S. now under President Trump, he says, he's thought about moving to Canada himself. For NPR News, I'm Zach Hirsch.
(SOUNDBITE OF DO MAKE SAY THINK'S "A MURDER OF THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.