In a major policy turnaround, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday, March 20 that Canada would turn away asylum seekers who tried to cross the border from the U.S., including at the well-known Roxham Road crossing in New York, which is located five miles from the closest official border crossing. Previously officials had allowed asylum seekers (irregular migrants in Canada-speak) to cross over at Roxham Road. There is even a small cement station in place there.

“We will be returning irregular migrants who attempt to cross anywhere at the Canada-U.S. border,” Trudeau said, implying that those turned back would be handed over to U.S. patrols. In Canada’s National Observer, Louisa Taylor likened the border closure to the detention of ethnic Japanese during World War II.

In recent years, the majority of African nationals requesting asylum in Canada have been from Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Angola, and Burundi. According to Jenn McIntyre, director of Romero House in Toronto, “As of Friday night (March 20), all crossings are closed to asylum seekers. This includes irregular crossings such as Roxham Road, and official Ports of Entry such as Niagara Falls and Lacolle. It is inconceivable.” Roxham Road, Niagara Falls, and Champlain–St. Bernard de Lacolle are in upstate New York.

Immigrants living in Maine have reported that in the summer of 2017 asylum seekers began discussing whether or not to leave Maine for Canada, when the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the current administration became clear and signaled that the U.S. asylum application system was broken. The exodus from Maine to Canada has been a steady trickle that continued after June 2019, when some asylum seekers who arrived in Maine from the southern border decided to continue north. The exact number of people who have left Maine for Canada since 2017 is not known, however the phenomenon is well-known in immigrant communities. Some employers have decried the loss to Maine’s workforce.