Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca Writer
Leaders of the Somali community in Minneapolis are warning their fellow countrymen not to risk their lives by trekking across the U.S.-Canada border in freezing nighttime temperatures.
More than 400 people have illegally crossed the border near Emerson, Man., between April, 2016 and the end of January, according to the Canadian Border Services Agency. More than half are Somali.
Minneapolis community activist Omar Jamal told CTV Winnipeg that he has counselled as many as 30 families — mostly from Minnesota but also from Ohio — against crossing the border. About half have gone anyway, he said.
Jamal said the families are paying $600 to $1,000 a person for rides to the border, often with small children. “When the sun goes down at night,” he said, “they will start walking.”
Jamal said their immigration statuses vary. “Some of them just came out of jail … they were in immigration detention and awaiting their process, some have been convicted on some level of a crime, some of them may even have a green card,” he said.
One thing he said they have in common is fear of U.S. President Donald Trump’s 90-day travel ban on people from seven countries, including Somalia. The Jan. 27 executive order was suspended by a federal appeals court on Feb 9.
Jamal said there is a lot of “fearmongering” in the community and that people should keep in mind that the travel ban was only meant to be temporary. “If you don’t have any conviction,” he said, “I think you have a (better) chance of getting your documents here.”
Jibril Afyareh, an advocate with the Somali Citizens League, agreed that many of those heading north are people who have already been rejected by the U.S., and are now worried about deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“It seems those rejection documents are a valid reason to go to Canada as asylum seekers or immigrants,” he said. “And, as the Canadian prime minister has put it, he’s welcoming them,’ Afyareh added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously tweeted on the weekend Trump’s travel ban took effect: “to those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”
However, a Canada-U.S. treaty known as the Safe Third Country Agreement requiring refugee claimants to make their claims in the first country they arrive in remains in place, so asylum seekers can expect to be turned back if they show up at a regulated crossing.
Afyareh said he urges people to “stay calm” and avoid the risk of crossing into Canada.
He also said the ban has had a devastating effect on those who saw the U.S. as a beacon of freedom but are now being told “you don’t belong here.”
“Obviously we need to secure and work on the safety of this country,” Afyareh said. “I do this every day, working with the youth attorney trying to stop radicalization.”
“But this (travel ban) defeats the purpose,” he added. “This sends the message that you’re not wanted by this country which is not the case.”
Bashir Khan, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer, told CTV News Channel earlier this month that the asylum seekers have a high likelihood of success — even if the U.S rejected them.
“In my experience,” Khan said, “80 to 90 per cent of the people who are denied asylum in the United States do end up winning their refugee claim before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.”
Manitoba isn’t the only province seeing a spike in asylum seekers illegally crossing the border. In fact, Quebec has seen the biggest increase.
With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Beth MacDonell