It’s a confusing time in America. The images of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials rounding up immigrants in parking lots is a new experience for a country built on immigration. But, the “downtrodden, hungry, and poor,” referred to on the Statue of Liberty didn’t typically come here with the intent of rigging it up with bombs and blowing us all up. In a new world marked by terrorism, is this what it takes? It’s a question no one can really answer.
San Francisco flat-out refused to cease being a sanctuary city, despite the threat of losing federal funds. California Governor Jerry Brown said, “Let me be clear. We will defend everybody—every man, woman and child—who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”
It’s all part of Trump’s executive order to detain and deport illegal immigrants. The order was mainly aimed at those with with criminal history.
But so far the Department of Homeland Security reports 700 arrests have been made. The “word around town,” in immigrant communities is confusing and conflicting. To clear up the confusion, the ACLU and other immigrant rights groups are distributing pamphlets in multiple languages—“What to Do if ICE Shows Up at Your Door.” The pamphlets more or less lay out the Miranda rights, and urge refugees to remain silent.
But amid the fervor, many refugees are just giving up. Some are seeking political asylum, and cannot return to their home countries, or believe the United States justice system wouldn’t treat them fairly if they tried to make it right. As a result, there has been an insurge of illegal immigrants from the United States into Canada.
In 2004, Canada signed a deal with the United States called, Canada-U.S Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). It means that if people apply for asylum at a U.S-Canada border crossing, Canada will return them to the US, as the US is considered a “safe country.”
However, given the latest political environment since the election, the U.S isn’t necessarily “safe.” Many Canadians are in favor of overturning the policy, but as of now it still stands. The loophole is that only applies to people that try to cross into the country legally. To people that are already inside the country, they are free to apply for asylum under Canadian law. As a result, if a refugee makes it across illegally, they can turn themselves in, and remain in the country.
Many illegal immigrants from all countries, are making the dangerous journey by foot to cross into Canada. The easiest way is through the city of Emerson, right on the Minnesota border. It’s unprotected, and rural.
Some people are flying to Minneapolis, where they will take a cab to the border, and then cross over on foot. Others are walking some as many as seven hours into Emerson. Emerson residents frequently report seeing mud-caked, freezing, hungry travelers, wandering through their fields, whose first words are, “Am I in Canada?”
Many of these are illegal immigrants from Mexico or Central America. Others are refugees from Trump’s seven banned countries, that fear the consequences of returning to the hostile regimes in their home country. While Trump’s travel ban and refugee deportation order has been declared unconstitutional, it is still in effect until it can be overturned.
Such refugees feel they cannot wait that long, and seek a more welcoming environment. Aside from the refugee ban, the Trump administration, and many American cities are becoming less open to immigrants.
“From our perspective, Canada should withdraw from the agreement. We were never in favour of the agreement and the irregular crossings [are] one of the very obvious and known consequences,” Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees said.
Amnesty International Canada Executive Director Alex Neve told Germany’s leading news source, Deutsche Welle, ”It is, to put it generously, fiction to continue to believe that the United States at this time is safe for refugees.”
Trump met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today about trade agreements. The meeting went well overall, but the two leaders avoided the hot button issues. Trudeau refused to comment on Trump’s immigration policy, only to say that he would continue to uphold Canada’s status as a safe haven for refugees.
“The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau has also in the past said Canada was open to Muslims, Syrian refugees, and those seeking asylum from Muslim countries. Trump declined to comment on whether he sees the Canadian border a threat, and instead focused on “tweaking,” their trade agreement.
Meanwhile, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Canadian residents worry about the safety of people, immigrant status notwithstanding, crossing the border in the freezing temperatures. There are highly publicized cases of refugees losing all their fingers to frostbite. Or coming across the border poorly dressed for the weather with nothing but a change of clothes and a small wad of American cash.
The Canadian government isn’t in a hurry to enact any legislative action in response to the crisis. For one, the American policy is still being challenged in the courts. Also, American trade accounts for more than 25% of the Canadian economy. They would rather not strain their diplomatic relationship. Trump does say that the issues up north are “much less severe,” than down south.