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Heavy Traffic at Unofficial US-Canada Border Crossings After Biden and Trudeau Sign Pact

Victor Westerkamp
Victor resides in the Netherlands and writes about freedom and governmental and social changes to the democratic form of nations.
Published: March 29, 2023
Migrants cross after midnight into Canada at Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing point from New York State to Quebec for asylum seekers, in Champlain, New York, U.S. March 25, 2023. (Image: CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters)

Migrants crossing from the U.S. into Canada at unofficial crossing sites connecting the two countries were not deterred by the mutual border crossing covenant changes.

On Friday, March 24, U.S. President Joe Biden and Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau signed changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which regulates and synchronizes migrant apprehension tactics into effect. 

However, by the next day, Reuters reporters found out that human traffic around the various unofficial crossing sites of the busy 3,987-mile (6,416-km) land border hadn’t noticeably eased.

The agreement was signed in 2002 and came into effect in 2004. It initially provided both countries with a unified protocol when migrants into either country at official border passing sites would have to be rejected and told the trespassers would be sent back to the first “safe” country they arrived in and apply for asylum there.

The “unintended” effect of the measure was that refugees increasingly shunned the official checkpoints and diverted their attention to smaller, poorly supervised crossings, such as Roxham Road, which connects New York state with Quebec, making it harder for border control patrols to manage the situation. 

‘It will simply fail’

Before, when asylum seekers crossed Roxham Road, they wanted to be caught by authorities because they knew that was the way to file refugee claims. 

Nonetheless, by the recent amendments to the treaty, anyone crossing anywhere along the entire border and who files for asylum within two weeks will be rejected. However, the two-week term will probably compel intruders to go into hiding and make it even more difficult for border law enforcement to check on the intruders.

“That’s just a job-creation program for smugglers,” commented University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin on the new regulations. 

“This will divert people into more dangerous, more risky, more clandestine modes of entry across 6,000 kilometers of border,” Macklin said, adding that if the purpose of this change is to deter irregular crossings, “it will simply fail.”

Total chaos

The next day, on Saturday afternoon, when snow drizzled down on Roxham Road, the crossing seemed even busier than normal. The road was closed for the night, yet dozens still managed to pass. 

This included one couple with a baby and a toddler just after midnight. Police took them into custody, where they were admonished with the possibility of deportation. 

A Canadian border patrol agent told Reuters that law enforcement officers had just begun working along the updated guidelines, sending apprehended asylum seekers back into the U.S. 


The stated purpose of the new covenant was to ease the pressure on communities at the border, presently overwhelmed by the influx of immigrants who used unofficial entry points like Roxham Road to avoid being sent back to the official crossing points.

However, upon arriving at a bus station on Roxham Road on Saturday morning, Reuters reporters found a situation nothing short of total chaos. Some 25 people of various nationalities, such as Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, or Haiti, wandered about, wondering what to do and where to go next. One told Reuters he had heard about the new rules on the bus; another was informed of the change only upon arrival.

Into the night

The Quebec RCMP also did not immediately respond or seemed unsure how to answer to questions from the news agency about the fate of people stopped at Roxham Road. 

The entry ports of the U.S.-Canada border are guarded by the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA). By contrast, the rest of the border is supervised by the Royal Mounted Canadian Police (RCMP). 

For specific questions about immigrant matters, both agencies referred to the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, which, in turn, referred questions about enforcement back to the CBSA and RCMP, saying in a statement the two bodies will “work together to uphold Canada’s border integrity.”

A 30-year-old man from Pakistan, whose name was withheld for privacy, said he had come from New York City by taxi. “I don’t have anywhere to go,” he said before he vanished into the night, into Canada.

Reuters contributed to this report