Misinformation about border conditions is putting migrants at risk

Growing numbers of people are traveling to the US-Canada border with the hopes of crossing into Canada to claim refugee status. However, due to the COVID-19 border closure, most people are not permitted to enter Canada and are directed back to the U.S. Restrictions on who can enter Canada are in place both at official ports of entry and at unofficial crossings such as the one at Roxham Road, New York. There is a significant risk that people directed back will be detained by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) and placed in removal proceedings.

Unofficial refugee crossings into Canada, such as the one at Roxham Road, New York, are closed. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) continue to be stationed at Roxham Road. People caught attempting to cross into Canada at unofficial crossings such as Roxham Road will be directed back to the US, where they may be detained.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, many people are not permitted to apply for refugee status in Canada at official ports of entry. Despite the Federal Court of Canada ruling on July 22, 2020, that the Safe Third Country Agreement is unconstitutional, the Agreement remains in effect. There are some specific exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Certain people can claim refugee status an official Port of Entry at the Canadian border. These exceptions include:

  • People who have specific types of family members in Canada;
  • Unaccompanied children under the age of 18 who do not have a parent or guardian in Canada or the US;
  • Refugee claimants who are U.S. citizens or stateless persons habitually living in the US; or
  • People who have visas or travel documents allowing travel to Canada, or people from countries that do not require a visa for Canada, but do require a visa for the US (e.g. Mexico, Hong Kong SAR).

Anyone who wants to make a refugee claim in Canada should talk to someone with expertise in Canadian immigration and refugee law before traveling to the US-Canada border. Non-profit organizations who work with refugees may be able to provide referrals to a lawyer who is qualified to practice immigration and refugee law in Canada. A qualified lawyer can provide advice about who is permitted to apply for refugee status in Canada under the Safe Third Country Agreement and COVID-19 border closures.