For asylum seekers who want to cross the U.S. border into Canada between official points of entry, the path has gotten progressively clearer, with instructions passed on through word of mouth and reporters going over every part of the journey with a fine tooth comb.
They know, for the most part, that a taxi driver will take them as close to the border as possible, and that once they walk across, ignoring the signs that warn them not to do it, they’ll be detained by an RCMP officer. If everything checks out, they’ll be quickly released to wait for their refugee hearing.
There is one question, though, that is still shrouded in some uncertainty: What happens if, before reaching the border, an asylum seeker bumps into one of the many U.S. border patrol officers in the area, who are on the lookout for anyone who might be trying to enter the U.S. illegally?
Last month, Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn shed some light on the issue, recalling his mid-jog encounter near Vermont with a family, who stopped to ask him for directions as they headed towards Canada. After pointing them towards the border, Cohn himself bumped into a U.S. border patrol agents in the area. The officer, to Cohn’s surprise, had already spoken to the family and let them go.
“The border officer had already intercepted — and interviewed — the family even before I’d jogged by them,” wrote Cohn. “Unlike me, he spoke Spanish, having served on the Mexican border.”
“And like his colleagues on patrol, his instructions were not to stand in their way if they wanted to leave America for Canadian territory.”
VICE News reached out to the Department of Homeland Security to find out if that is in fact agency policy, and was told it depends on someone's immigration status.
For anyone who is destined for Canada, as long as they have the proper documents to be in the U.S., there is no need to worry about bumping into a U.S. border patrol officer.
Border Patrol agents have the right to interrogate anyone who is or is suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. If it’s discovered that someone is in the U.S. illegally or has an active warrant against them, the agents can take them into custody.
If they have valid immigration status, however, the person is let go and allowed to continue on.
“However agents do advise that all crossing must be done legally at an official port of entry,” said a statement from Homeland Security.
Anyone who is found to be trying to cross into Canada between designated ports of entry is “identified if possible, but not assisted in their travel to Canada and only detained if it is determined a crime in the United States has been committed,” said the statement.
Border Patrol agents don’t have statutory authority to physically prevent anyone from crossing into Canada, even if it is done irregularly, as it does not violate U.S. law.
Border Patrol officers also don’t check to see if the people they intercept have the proper documents to enter Canada, but if they have reason to believe that they’re going to try to enter irregularly, officers do notify the RCMP and advise them that it’s a violation of Canadian law to enter anywhere other than a designated port of entry.
Cover image of an asylum seeker, claiming to be from Eritrea, being confronted by an RCMP officer as he crosses the border into Canada from the United States near Champlain, N.Y., on August 21, 2017. Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press