Workers at a U.S. border charity that helps asylum seekers reach Canada say they’ve seen a spike in requests for shelter from people who no longer feel safe in the United States.
Vive, which translates to “live” in Spanish, is run out a former school in Buffalo, N.Y. The non-profit centre, which dates back to 1985, has about 200 beds for undocumented migrants who are now arriving by the dozens each day from as far away as Texas.
Vive manager Mariah Walker told CTV’s Peter Akman the non-profit has been receiving as many as 2,000 phone calls a day. Many of the undocumented migrants say they are living in fear of President Donald Trump, who has vowed to deport millions.
Vive runs on donations. It charges a registration fee of US$100 per adult and US$100 per week per person over age seven for access to beds, housing, meals, medical care, legal services and internet.
Staff assist asylum seekers in setting up meetings with the Canadian Border Services Agency, which will arrange for refugee hearings in less than a month if a migrant can prove he or she has a qualified family member north of the border.
Having a qualified relative in Canada is one of the few exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires asylum seekers who arrive in Canada or the U.S. to make their refugee claim in whichever country they first reach.
Mexican national Jose Alberto says he had lived in Chicago for 15 years but fled to Vive with his wife and two kids three months ago after news of raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Alberto says violence prevents him from returning to Mexico, but he was blocked by Canadian officials when he tried to make an asylum claim without paperwork proving that he has family in Canada.
Alberto says he plans to try again. “We try to go Canada because it is the place -- it is the future for my family,” he says. “I am a good person. I work hard every day. Every day."
One of the only ways around the Safe Third Country Agreement is for migrants to cross into Canada at an unmanned section of the border. Although border jumpers are arrested, they can expect a refugee hearing. Some provinces, like Manitoba, provide legal aid.
Statistics show the numbers of border jumpers have been rising. RCMP said Wednesday that they intercepted 1,860 people who crossed to claim asylum in the first three months of 2017. There were 887 in March alone.