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Plattsburgh Cares seeks county help to help migrants turned back at Roxham Road

A migrant ponders his options as he reads a newly posted sign at Roxham Road
Pat Bradley
A migrant ponders his options as he reads a newly posted sign at Roxham Road

Volunteers who have been helping migrants seeking to enter Canada at Roxham Road are asking the Clinton County Legislature to help as more people are turned back at the border.

Plattsburgh Cares is a volunteer organization formed in 2017 as the number of migrants seeking to cross the border ballooned. They have been at Roxham Road distributing weather-appropriate clothing, snacks and toys for children. For those who are turned back at the official Champlain border crossing the group provides transportation, food, supplies and if necessary motel rooms, translation and referrals to legal help. Member Janet McFeteridge says things are much different in the aftermath of the abrupt closure of Roxham Road in March.

“What we’re finding is that because the closure happened so suddenly that people were already on their travel and they ended up coming to Plattsburgh and going up to the regular crossing and getting turned back with no options. They had no money. They didn’t know where to go and they were stuck in the North Country.”

McFeteridge notes that while the number of people seeking to cross has diminished they are still traveling to the area to try.

“The numbers weren’t nearly as big as when Roxham was open because that was like 5,000 a month in the past few months. But still we have seen a fair number of people who have come to the area thinking they can still go to Canada and then be stranded.”

Plattsburgh Cares President Kathy Sajor cites Canadian government data that in 2022 nearly 40,000 asylum seekers used Roxham Road to enter the country, saying it’s the most used irregular entry point into Canada. On the night that the Safe Third Country Agreement closed Roxham Road, Sajor says they assisted more than 60 individuals who were denied entry .

“It’s a nightmare. We understand budgets and line items and lack of funds. It’s the fault of our federal government for not giving us a heads up in time to prepare for this fallout. What we need is a comprehensive emergency response plan and we are relying on our county legislature to hear the need.”

Sajor says Plattsburgh Cares cannot handle the situation on its own and says county agencies need to help create a response plan.

"There needs to be a much broader approach so that people aren’t walking by the side of the road in inappropriate clothing or people aren’t going hungry or doing without medicine or whatever it is they need or they’re just confused and lost and frantic. By working all together we can create a community-wide response to this.”

While Sajor says they have aided at least 60 people since Roxham Road was shut down, Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry says county services have not been overwhelmed with requests for help from migrants.

“The numbers are low. Over the weekend the county had zero people what we call present. That is somebody that would call and ask for assistance or another agency would call us and say that somebody needed assistance. Since the start of say the Roxham Road closure of all of the ones the county has helped so far, in one way or another either like an overnight lodging or maybe purchasing a bus ticket for a place they want to go, those numbers have been very low.”

After Plattsburgh Cares spoke during the latest meeting of the county legislature, Henry arranged a meeting between the group and the Children and Family Services Subcommittee.

“They weren’t specific in their ask. The county already is doing with the budget we have and the state and federal restrictions of what we can do. So I’m not sure exactly what more they would want the county to do.”

McFeteridge hopes the meeting will lead to a better understanding of the situation.

“Once you meet people face to face you understand better. Come with me to the bus station. Watch me interact with someone from another country who doesn’t even know where they’re going to spend the night and the kids are crying from hunger. Just about anyone wants to help out at that point.”

At midnight March 25th the U.S. and Canada closed loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement that had been allowing migrants seeking asylum in Canada to cross into the country at unofficial crossings like Roxham Road.

The meeting between Plattsburgh Cares and the legislative subcommittee is scheduled for May 2nd.