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Assemblyman Billy Jones discusses local impact of Roxham Road closure

An obelisk marks the U.S. - Canadian border on Roxham Road
Pat Bradley
An obelisk marks the U.S. - Canadian border on Roxham Road

An unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road in northern New York has been used over the years by thousands of migrants seeking asylum in Canada due to a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. Canada and the U.S. closed the loophole effective midnight Saturday and migrants trying to cross at Roxham Road now face potential arrest and return to the U.S. The rural back road is in New York’s 115th Assembly District, represented by Democrat D. Billy Jones. He tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley he was at the crossing hours after the new rule took effect.

I went up to Roxham Road Saturday to basically see how the closure was going. As you know the announcement was made Friday afternoon that it would be shut down at midnight. So I mean, many of us, many local officials were concerned about what that would do. We were encouraged finally that they were talking about our northern border, that the Prime Minister and President were talking about the northern border and the issues we're having here. But to come out with an announcement at early afternoon on Friday and then have it shut down at midnight, we were just concerned about the influx of migrants and asylum seekers that wouldn't be able to get across and they would be stuck in quote-unquote, no man's land. And then, you know, with local officials, they were concerned about what we were going to do with these people.

So what are the implications for the area to be able to take care of those who either decide not to cross or are turned back?

Those are the concerns of local officials are what is going to happen. We don't have the resources. We don't have a plan in place. When I was up at Roxham Road we heard from some of the officials that some of the migrants and asylum seekers that showed up in the middle of the night were taken to Lacolle for processing. Don't know what happened to them after that. But that's just it. We don't know what, we don't have a plan in place. And we were calling on the administration and federal officials to give us a plan. Give us some resources to find out and give the locals some resources to find out or come up with a plan to deal with this influx of people that could not get across.

When I was up there, there were only three people. Two people went across because they said yeah we've got paperwork. And this other guy, who apparently only spoke French, was being told if you cross you’re subject to arrest and you know, you could be sent back. The taxis had left and he's standing there reading the signs and just looked so lost. He didn't know that the border had been closed. I mean, they're kind of forced almost into the situation.

Yeah, that's just the issue that we were worried about. You know, when we heard of the quick hastily decision. We knew there was something that was going to happen, right. We knew Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden were meeting and we figured, or we had heard, that they were going to talk about Roxham Road and the northern border but hadn't realized that they were going to say, boom, it's closed at midnight on I mean, without notice or very little notice. You know, it's not like a faucet. You just can't turn it off. Because people don't realize, migrants and asylum seekers don't realize, they're in route. Many of them were in route. They didn't realize that this was shut down. So that was just the issue that we were worried about, and issues like you just described are, you know, what happens? Does that individual then try to just go across and get caught in the woods ill prepared for our weather here. I know it's warming up. It’s spring, but it's still inclement weather for people that have come from different climates. We've heard of the stories. I mean, this isn't the first issues we've had here. In my 14 years of being a representative of border communities in one capacity or another the last several months have been probably the worst for illegal immigration, migration, on people's properties that I've heard. I hear from a lot of residents along there finding people in their driveways, on their properties and their camps. And you know, these people just aren't prepared for the winters and the springs that we have here in the North Country. And we've heard stories of finding people without proper clothing, without shoes, without boots. Just not a good policy for the property owners for the people on the border. Either country. And the asylum seekers themselves.

Billy with this situation, the closure of the border so quick and not knowing at this point what's really happening to the people, can New York state do anything since this is a federal policy?

That is one point that I've made all along. You know, when I hear from local officials and residents along there any issue, whether it be, whatever it shall be, we try to help out. I try to help out. My office tries to help out. But this is strictly a federal issue, federal policy. I know immigration and the border is a federal issue. But it becomes a local issue when we have people basically stuck here, stuck in these little towns. And we heard the stories about Vermont and people being dropped off in the middle of towns there. That becomes a local issue. And when local officials raise concerns about this I try to see what I can do to help out. I'm always trying to help out local officials and my residents. But you know New York state we do have money in the budget for the New York City crisis that they're going through with migrants there. So, if there's any I will try to, if we need the resources, I will try to advocate for that and just say hey we are having issues here in the North Country as well. But it is a federal issue. And we are looking towards, you know, the administration and our federal officials to come up with a plan and/or resources here.

Well, Roxham Road has gotten so much attention maybe you can get something...  

But only in the last month or so honestly. I think people really started to pay attention last month. Although we've been going through this situation, I think, that started back in the first year of the Trump administration back in 2017. And obviously closed down during COVID. And a lot of that is from what I understand and what I'm hearing from officials is a lot of the backup from COVID. Not that that's an excuse for not having an immigration policy or a bad policy. A lot of it is a backup from the COVID times when they were shut down there. But still, it's a situation. It's a serious situation. And it's a situation that our property owners and people along the border are dealing with on both sides. And also now we have these people, these human beings, migrants and asylum seekers showing up, ill prepared and not knowing that this port of entry is now closed.

The official Champlain-Lacolle Port of Entry is about three miles east of Roxham Road.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement refugees are required to request asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception. If anyone attempts to enter Canada to make an asylum claim and they do not meet any exemptions they will be returned to the U.S.