Bus tickets paid by New York City helping migrants get close to Roxham Road crossing

Asylum seekers can go from New York City to parts of the state near the U.S. border with Canada — and later attempt to cross at Roxham Road — with a bus ticket paid for by American authorities.

Mayor Eric Adams’s office says it does not finance tickets to Roxham Road, and does not help people cross the Canada-U.S. border. But people who want to go to Plattsburgh, N.Y., — which is near the Canadian border — can do so by bus.

“Our goal is to help asylum seekers who wish to move to another location,” Kate Smart, a New York City spokesperson, told Radio-Canada.

For several months, New York City has been facing an “unprecedented crisis,” she said.

New York’s newly opened migrant assistance centres are overwhelmed. Every week, several Republican states send hundreds of people to the northeast after they arrive from Mexico.

The mayor made the decision “to help [these people] reach their final destination, even if it is not New York,” said Smart.

“A lot of people who got here by bus didn’t want or weren’t planning on going to New York, or didn’t want to stay here long-term.”

Community organizations “have also helped issue tickets for those who want to go elsewhere,” she says.

The city says it will give financial help those trying to get somewhere else. For many, that somewhere is the Canadian border.

Tickets to Plattsburgh

The Plattsburgh terminus is about 30 minutes away from the border. Taxi drivers are standing by to drive migrants the rest of the way.

“We don’t treat Plattsburgh any differently than any other city,” said Adams’s team. When asked if they were aware that migrants then make their way to Canada, it did not respond to Radio-Canada.

However, an American newspaper, the New York Post, went to Plattsburgh and met migrants whose transport ticket was paid for by American authorities.

Roxham Road has seen record traffic — last year, more than 39,000 people used the route to enter Canada.

Safe 3rd Country Agreement complicates entry 

The Safe Third Country Agreement, signed in 2002 between Canada and the United States, means that migrants must submit their asylum application in the first of the two countries they enter and cannot try a second time at an official border crossing.

But the agreement does not regulate irregular entry points, such as Roxham Road. Once in Canada, people have the right to claim refugee status.

This loophole has been the subject of discussion between Canadian and American authorities for several years. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government says it wants to modernize the legislation, but discussions are slow.

Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette is calls on Ottawa to act quickly: “There is an emergency.” 

The issue of New York paying for bus tickets north “demonstrates the importance of resolving the problem of Roxham Road and this agreement,” Fréchette told reporters.

“We are waiting for these negotiations to be concluded so that the agreement applies to the entire border.”

Quebec invests in community groups

In December, nearly 4,700 people entered Canada through Roxham Road.

According to Radio-Canada, the flow hasn’t slowed despite the cold and difficult climate. The rise is expected to continue this year. Days with more than 200 people arriving at Roxham Road are becoming more frequent, according to police sources.

More and more people from foreign countries are trying to start new lives in Quebec. According to the province, 60,000 asylum seekers entered Quebec in 2022 — about twice as many as before the pandemic.

Community groups that work with migrants have been calling on the government to help them as resources to accommodate new arrivals are stretched thin.

Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette says the government has heard the call for help and will invest $3.5 million in emergency funding to help out. 

The money will go to 12 organizations in Montreal, Laval, Montérégie and Quebec City — areas that get a larger influx of immigrants and new arrivals, said Fréchette.

Community groups will use the money to help find lodging, clothing and food. Fréchette says the faster newcomers can get settled, the better it will be for everyone. 

Claude Pinard, the president of Centraide Montréal, says the money is coming in at the right time, though the number is less impressive once distributed to each organization.

“You’re asking me about 3.5, is it enough. It’s probably not enough but it’s a very good start to provide a good welcoming for people who are trying to build a new life,” he said.

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