In a major policy turnaround, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in March that Canada would turn away asylum seekers who tried to cross the border from the U.S. The decision is said to be a protective measure against transmission of COVID-19. On June 16, that order was extended for another month, until at least July 21. If asylum seekers arrive at the border before July 21 and come into contact with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they risk being turned over to ICE in the United States and sent to detention facilities. From there, they could be deported.

Since March, a small number of asylum seekers – primarily Haitians – have, in fact, been turned back at the border, including at the well-known, irregular Roxham Road crossing in New York, which is located five miles from the closest official border crossing. Previously officials had allowed asylum seekers to cross over at Roxham Road, as well as at official ports of entry, such as Niagara Falls and Champlain–St. Bernard de Lacolle.

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. Word of mouth indicates that asylum seekers started weighing the benefits of leaving Maine for Canada in 2017, when the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the current administration signaled that the U.S. asylum application system was broken. Some of the asylum seekers who arrived in Maine in summer 2019 from the southern border continued on from Portland to Canada at that time.