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Canada Continues To Accept Asylum Seekers From The U.S.


Now let's turn to look at the effect of the president's immigration policies along the U.S.-Canada border, that other border. Yesterday, Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, pledged that his government will continue to accept a growing number of asylum-seekers who are crossing the border illegally from the United States.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Canada is a open and welcoming country. And one of the reasons we are able to continue to be open and welcoming is that Canadians have confidence in the integrity of our borders and the integrity of our immigration system.

INSKEEP: Trudeau was responding to growing concerns that Canadian border communities and police are being overwhelmed by hundreds of asylum-seekers arriving from the U.S. Many of those are refugees who've given up on seeking asylum in the United States because of President Trump's new immigration policies.

Last week, we visited a stretch of open border near Champlain, N.Y., where many are crossing illegally into Canada. Today, North Country Public Radio's Zach Hirsch crossed over that border himself to see what happens on the other side.

ZACH HIRSCH, BYLINE: As part of a carefully planned media day, Royal Canadian Mounted Police took a group of reporters to Roxham Road in Hemmingford, Quebec. It's a popular spot for illegal border crossings into Canada. And even as we arrived, three adults and a baby were being taken into custody. They had just crossed from northern New York. A woman in the group covered her face with the scarf. Her baby cried as they were surrounded by cameras and microphones. RCMP escorted them into a police car and told the press to back off.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Watch out. He's going to back up.

HIRSCH: The border here is just a shallow, snowy ditch marked with a flimsy plastic sign. On the U.S. side of the ditch, Border Patrol officials said the family had legal status in the States but wanted to leave anyway and they were free to do that. On the Canadian side, Brian Byrne with RCMP said he tries to be firm and professional but also considerate.

BRIAN BYRNE: And I'm father of two myself (laughter). And lots of our members do have kids, too. Some of these people had long journeys. Usually also, as you can see, they're not really dressed for the climate here.

HIRSCH: RCMP is protecting the identity of the family and details about their case. But odds are, they were taken to an official border crossing at Lacolle, just a few minutes away.

DOMINIQUE FILLION: So we will take fingerprints. We will make them fill out documentation forms. There'll be interviews.

HIRSCH: That's Dominique Fillion with the Canada Border Services Agency. Last month alone, the agency saw 452 asylum-seekers in Quebec. That includes people who presented themselves at a port of entry and groups like the family that crossed in the woods. Fillion said many came from Burundi, Eritrea and Sudan. That number, 452 people just last month, is more than triple the number who came around this time last year. To help deal with the increase, there is now a makeshift refugee center in the basement of a former storage building.

FILLION: Well, there's no bedrooms. There's no beds. It's couches that they can sleep on. They're being cleaned. There's janitors as well. There's offices. There is a fingerprint machine. There's vending machines. The restaurant will come and deliver food.

HIRSCH: Migrants pay for that food themselves, and the government gives them free blankets and a voucher for free hospital services. Fillion said people wait at the refugee center while their paperwork is processed.

FILLION: We have three open days, or working days, to treat their files. But normally, they are out way before that.

HIRSCH: Some, like people who can't prove their identity, are detained, and some are sent back to the U.S. But most people are deemed eligible to apply for asylum and they're free in Canada, pending a more formal process to determine their permanent status. Immigration lawyers say - as long as people are making an asylum claim, there are no criminal charges for crossing the border illegally.

For NPR News, I'm Zach Hirsch in Hemmingford, Quebec.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRIFONIC SONG, "EMERGENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Zach Hirsch