A news photographer has documented the latest fallout from U.S. immigration policy to hit Canada: asylum-seekers crossing illegally from the United States into its northern neighbor, where they are promptly arrested. The immigrants say they would rather be arrested in Canada then continue seeking a legal way to live in the United States.
A Reuters news photographer on Friday photographed several people fleeing a U.S. border protection officer in New York state, one of the most popular crossing points into the Canadian province of Quebec.
As U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers questioned a man in the front passenger seat of a taxi that had pulled up to a gully at one of the unofficial crossing points, reporters witnessed four other adults and four children cross the gully. A photograph shows that at least one of the refugees had a passport from Sudan.
Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police waited for them on the other side, helping the children up the hill and offering medical care.
Reuters reports that the man detained by U.S. officers made a break for it and managed to get across the gully to join the other asylum-seekers. The Mounties then arrested the asylum-seekers.
People leaving the United States to seek asylum in Canada often cross the border illegally because of a technicality. If they have already applied for asylum in the United States, they cannot legally cross into Canada to apply for asylum there, because of an agreement between the two countries — they will be turned away at the U.S. border.
However, if they sneak across at an unofficial location, they may apply for asylum in Canada even if they are caught. They may spend a night or two in custody, but upon release, they are free to pursue their claims.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they have seen a marked increase in people crossing from the U.S. into Canada illegally since the White House began tightening immigration restrictions earlier this year.
Winter conditions harsh
Aid workers in Canada have spoken to the media about the conditions under which the illegal immigrants cross the border, often without proper clothing for the Canadian winter.
Paul Caulford, a doctor at a Canadian refugee center, told Public Radio International that the number of cases of frostbite among the refugees seeking health care in his clinic has doubled recently. He said nearly all of his patients are women and children. Most are from the west African nation of Nigeria. They leave behind Nigeria’s moderate temperatures, but also its climate of violence.
National Public Radio reports that Canada’s more open immigration policy is partly a practical matter: Canada is the world’s second-largest nation, but has only 36 million people and a low birth rate, leaving it unable to replenish its workforce. So immigrants are important and, in many cases, welcome.
Canada’s immigration rate is one of the highest in the world.
Margaret Eaton, executive director of the Toronto Region Immigration Employment Council, told NPR that Canada provides an easier path to citizenship than many other nations. In fact, she said, the 300,000 permanent immigrants who enter the country each year are referred to as “new Canadians.”