In the shadow of Roxham, migrants go the opposite way

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In the shadow of Roxham, migrants are going the opposite way

The illegal journeys of migrants from Canada to the United States have been increasing in recent months by the through a Mexican network, according to a CBC/Radio-Canada investigation. A sort of Roxham Road. Upside down.

More and more Mexicans would use wooded roads near Roxham to enter the United States via Canada.

In recent weeks, the calls follow one another. Canadian police officers, very busy on Roxham Road, have to answer questions of a completely different type from worried Quebec citizens.

Martin Gamache has already picked up his phone several times occasions. About ten times for a year and a half, he says.

This construction worker lives on the outskirts of Hemmingford, in a remote, wooded area a few dozen yards from the Canada-US border.

He was used to hearing about the thousands of asylum seekers who arrived in Canada via Roxham Road, the world-famous crossing not far from his home, before facing a similar problem. But the reverse.

I often see cars, individuals or private drivers stopping in front of my house. There are no other houses nearby. People come out and then cross my land and the woods to go to the United States, he says.

Most of the time, continues Martin Gamache, these vehicles arrive in the evening. At nightfall. Families, couples, young people.

“In the evening, we see cars stopping in front of our house. The doors close, then people take their backpacks and go through the woods.

— Hemmingford resident Martin Gamache

All of these people have one common denominator: they speak Spanish, the family man points out.

Sometimes when I see them outside my house, I go talk to them. A lot of people come from Mexico. These people arrived in Toronto as tourists, then they were taken to Montreal before someone transported them here. It is recurrent, he believes.

Another neighbor told us a similar story: I often see people walking in the forest on surveillance cameras. From time to time, it's families, explains this resident who takes care of the neighboring woods.

It's a real problem, especially during the hunting season, he says. he referring to the risk of a migrant receiving a firearm discharge by mistake.

Around Roxham Road there are many opportunities to cross the border Canadian-American.

Who are these immigrants? How do they get to Canada? Who then leads them to the border? And why are they using this route to enter the United States?

Part of these answers can be found in the decision taken by the government of Justin Trudeau, at the beginning of his first mandate , to end the visa requirement for Mexican nationals.

This measure, which entered into force on December 1, 2016, is, according to several sources, at the origin of a recent upsurge in illegal crossings from north to south.

For us, it is a failure. We do not have the manpower to prevent this phenomenon, deplores a police source well aware of the case, who does not have authorization to speak publicly.

She confirms the existence of well-organized smuggling networks that use Canada as a gateway to North America.

“Many people of Latino descent, including women and children, are heading south from Canada. Rarely do we have time to catch them on the Canadian side, but our technology allows us to see them.

— A police source

This process seems to have been clearly exposed by Canadian law enforcement. With the lifting of administrative restrictions, many Mexicans would now arrive in Canada by air before traveling to the United States.

It's a far less dangerous route than that traveled by migrants traveling north from Mexico, which leads them to take perilous roads and have to face the desert or the river Rio Grande.

Yazuri Martinez-Alvarez, a 21-year-old mother, left her village in Mexico hoping to be able to rebuild a life free of violence and poverty in the United States.

Yazuri Martinez-Alvarez tried everything to avoid having to make this often fatal journey. In her village of Tehuetlán, Mexico, she heard of another route. Safer. But expensive.

This young mother, who told us her story, absolutely wanted to leave her country, not only because of the dangers and feminicides but also in order to find the father of her daughter, living in California.

< p class="e-p">A contact provided him with the contact details of a smuggler who offered to fly to Toronto before traveling to the United States via a cornfield in Quebec. The cost of the trip? 6000 US dollars, of which 3000 must be paid upfront.

In early June, shortly before sunset, the smuggler finally found her in the parking lot of a Montreal hotel before taking her to southern Quebec and crossing the border illegally, discreetly, after a long walking in the forest.

“If I had stayed [in Mexico], I would not have had the means to support my family. daughter. It was a tough decision, but I had no choice.

—Yazuri Martinez-Alvarez

Like other Mexican nationals who described their adventure to us, Yazuri Martinez-Alvarez was finally arrested by American police before pleading guilty to illegal entry into the United States.

Aerial view of the cornfield that Yazuri Martinez-Alvarez allegedly crossed at night to cross the border into New York State

This corner, called the Swanton Sector, is well known to United States Customs and Border Protection, which constantly patrols this land which straddles part of Vermont and New York State. p>

At this location around Lake Champlain is notably Roxham Road. But no one from Canada enters the United States directly through this passage.

Mexicans use guarded or unsupervised roads, rental chalets or agricultural land, says our Canadian police source.

According to our information, the courses of the International Golf Club 2000, in Saint -Bernard-de-Lacolle, are also used to leave Canada. The RCMP have their own cameras on our grounds, the owner of the golf club told us.

Unfortunately, by the time we answer the calls, they have already arrived in the United States. United, resumes our source.

In fact, the number of arrests in the United States in this sector is growing.

More than 600 people have been intercepted by the US agents between March and August 2022. This is a marked increase over previous years, however marked by the pandemic and reduced air travel.

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The "south bound" is non stopfor two weeks, says another Canadian police officer, on condition of anonymity.

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According to the CBC and Radio-Canada investigation, these smuggling networks, which operate from Toronto, Montreal or even Mexico, are sometimes linked to criminal organizations. Thousands of dollars are demanded from each migrant to enable them to reach the United States via Canada.

Not all of them leave Canada directly for the United States for a few hours or a few days after arriving from Mexico.

Some would already have been living in Canada for several weeks or months and would have planned to settle there before changing their minds and turning to smugglers.

There would also be , we were told, workers who arrived legally in Canada, people in the process of immigration or asylum seekers.

In Canada, the number of Mexicans arriving by plane to seek asylum is also steadily increasing since the lifting of the requirement to obtain a visa.

This year, between January and June, more than 3,700 Mexicans sought asylum at a Canadian airport, including nearly 2,900 at Montreal-Trudeau airport. In 2017, all provinces combined, there were 726.

A US Border Patrol agent in charge, Chris Buskey, said he saw more people entering the United States through the Swanton area.

US Agent Chris Buskey says part of these patrollers who daily monitor the US-Canadian border.

This region is very accessible, he explains, in particular because of the motorway network, which allows you to go straight as an arrow to New York.

Recently, he tells us, colleagues of his intercepted an undocumented Mexican national who would have earned US$9,000 had he been able to get his passengers to their destination. Nine people were in his vehicle.

What are the Canadian and American governments doing?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) declined our interview request, stating only by email that irregular migration is a priority for Canada and the United States and that they are working with US authorities to investigate transnational human smuggling networks.

According to Agent Buskey, the RCMP does not hesitate to alert its American counterparts, even if it lacks the means. They're understaffed and it's an all-encompassing agency, so it's hard for the RCMP to be everywhere all the time, he believes.

Questioned on this subject, the Canadian Minister of Public Security, Marco Mendicino, confirms that discussions are underway with the authorities of the United States. According to him, human smuggling networks must be attacked on several fronts.

“[We must] continue to support the police [giving it] the resources it needs, continuing to make sure we have all the legislative tools in place that are needed. »

— Marco Mendicino, Federal Minister of Public Security

It is essential, he insists, to share intelligence, to exchange information and to dismantle these networks.

For its part, Immigration Canada defends the decision of Ottawa for waiving the visa requirement for Mexicans. This decision has helped strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries and benefited their trade, investment and tourism.

Martin Gamache, the owner of a house in Hemmingford, meanwhile, hopes that a solution will soon be found.

The smugglers or drivers put my address on their GPS. I'm not scared, but I'm tired, he breathes.

Last time, a guy was in front of my door. Then two guys came out of the woods, whistled at him, and he left. It's still a nice Canadian colander.

With the collaboration of Martin Movilla, Kimberly Ivany and Maud Cucchi

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