New York officials, who once condemned Texas leaders for busing migrants from the southern border, calling the treatment inhumane, are buying bus tickets for newcomers who want to go north and seek asylum in Canada.
Mayor Eric Adams had originally welcomed the migrants, but he has since begun echoing the points of southern leaders, saying the city was buckling from the strain of absorbing more than 42,000 people in need.
Now, city officials are assisting the relocation of a growing number of migrants traveling to New York’s northern border, where crossings are surging.
The arrival of the migrants has set off concern among officials in Canada, which has traditionally been welcoming to immigrants but is trying to discourage illegal crossings.
Mr. Adams said on Tuesday that the city was not compelling people to leave, and that New York City’s efforts to transport the migrants elsewhere were different from those of southern leaders.
“We are not telling anyone to go to any country or state,” he said. “We speak with people and they say their desire is to go somewhere else. So, there’s no coordinated effort. We don’t have a website, we don’t have a recruitment campaign. We’re not telling people go to another country.”
New York City has been buying tickets for migrants who want to go to other cities to connect with family or friends for months, officials noted.
The city’s policy and Mr. Adams’s remarks underscore how jurisdictions of all political leanings are struggling to accommodate a global migration movement.
Many of the migrants headed to Canada know no one. Some learned about the possibility of traveling there on TikTok. Rosiel Ramirez and her family, who came from Venezuela, first considered it after they received messages from another family they met at a shelter in Brooklyn who recently struck out for Montreal.
Like other migrants, Ms. Ramirez, 26, said she was attracted to Canada because it is speedier at granting work permits to asylum seekers than the United States, where legal backlogs mean getting working papers can take years.
On Saturday evening, Ms. Ramirez and her family — her husband, their three children, her mother, her brother, his wife and their son — made their way to Port Authority Bus Terminal. National Guard troops, who had set up a special waiting area for migrants, gave them tickets for an overnight bus ride to Plattsburgh.
Ms. Ramirez had first arrived at Port Authority five months ago, when Texas officials were busing sometimes thousands of migrants a week to cities like New York and Washington, D.C.
She and her husband did not find stable work to help support their children, Rose, 10, Samara, 2, and Amber, who is 2 months old. When they heard the city was paying for bus tickets north, they decided to leave for good.
The Road to Canada
Migrant families who have struggled to find a foothold in New York City are increasingly taking the city up on offers of free bus tickets to towns near the Canadian border, where they can cross and seek asylum in a new country.
The destination for most migrants is Roxham Road, in a rural spot in Clinton County, N.Y., near the tip of the Adirondacks. The number of asylum seekers who crossed into Quebec via Roxham Road last year exceeded 39,000, doubling a previous record from 2017.
In December alone, 4,689 people entered Canada via Roxham Road, more than all of the combined “irregular border crossings” in 2021, according to Canadian immigration data.
Roxham Road, where Canadian immigration officials greet migrants in a prefabricated barn, is a popular informal entry point for those who don’t want to be subjected to a law that requires asylum seekers to request protection in the first safe country they arrive in.
Canada has encouraged immigration as it faces a labor shortage. But it has also made moves toward tightening its borders to tamp down on illegal crossings. The country has pushed to subject the entire U.S.-Canada border to the Safe Third Country Agreement, a treaty between the two nations that went into effect in 2004.
Canadian immigration officials did not respond to requests for comment, but Quebec officials have called for the informal crossing at Roxham Road to be shuttered. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the Canadian government’s goal is to “reduce these irregular passages and promote legal immigration,” according to Canadian news reports.
Janet McFetridge, the left-leaning mayor of Champlain, N.Y., where Roxham Road is located, said that for now, the flow of migrants seemed only to be increasing.
“It’s so ironic and disappointing,” she said. “The Democrats were so quick to criticize these governors for moving people and it seems like they didn’t even know where they were going. It’s too bad when human beings in need become a political show.”
The state recently said it would send $1 billion to New York City to help it support the newcomers. “Once these individuals are qualified to have status to get a job, the need to support them will diminish exponentially,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said last week.
Canada has been an attractive destination for migrants for several reasons. Once they make a refugee claim at the border, they immediately receive health coverage, social assistance and work permits within three to four months. In the United States, it can take longer, even years, to get legitimate working papers.
Making a claim is easier too. Unlike the United States, Canada does not have so-called “credible fear” interviews in which an immigration officer gets to decide, even before a judicial process starts, whether a refugee claim is legitimate or not.
“You get a fairer shake in Canada,” said Macdonald Scott, an immigration consultant at Carranza, a law firm, who has worked on asylum cases in Canada and the United States.
Still, he cautioned that economic refugees risk having their claims ultimately rejected unless they can produce evidence that they are high earners or have certain skills and specialties.
Crossing the Finish Line
Ms. Ramirez’s family pulled half a dozen suitcases to Port Authority on Saturday evening in single-digit cold. The $75 bus ride from New York City to Plattsburgh, one of the northernmost bus stations in the state, would take about seven hours. The temperature would drop nearly 30 degrees. They were told that vans would be waiting for them in Plattsburgh to take them to Roxham Road.
Five other immigrant families boarded with them. As the hours passed by, city lights started giving way to hard, snowy landscapes and towns with few streetlights. The children were mostly quiet. Amber, the baby, slept.
Like thousands of Venezuelans and other migrants from Latin America and elsewhere, Ms. Ramirez and her family made the risky journey through the Darien Gap, a treacherous stretch of jungle in Panama that has become a gateway for South Americans migrating north, last year. At the time, Ms. Ramirez was five months pregnant.
In the jungle, she was afraid she would lose her baby because the mountains were high and steep. Delirious with hunger, her children begged for arroz con pollo.
They made it to Texas, where Ms. Ramirez was separated from her husband and detained in a facility before they were all placed on a bus to New York City.
“Truly, I regretted it a lot after I put my girls through this much of a great danger,” she said. “Many people had also done it and many did not make it to the finish line.”
After they arrived in New York City, her husband, Ramón, 36, worked briefly at a cookie factory in New Jersey, but he was laid off. Amber was born in a hospital in Brooklyn in November.
In the early hours on Sunday morning, the finish line felt closer. At the Plattsburgh bus station, the families were met by about half a dozen vans and cars, the American equivalents of the coyotes who migrants paid to help them cross the southern border. Thirteen people piled into a nine-person van.
The ride on to the border was $50 per person, but some drivers have been known to charge as much as $150.
The van veered off the road into a small clearing. Ms. Ramirez stiffened and pulled Amber, who was wrapped in a blanket, to her chest. Temperatures outside had dropped to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Rose and Samara had on coats, but they looked flimsy for the Arctic chill.
“This is going to be our Israel,” Ms. Ramirez said. “Let us see, in the name of God, he who continues to instruct us, to guide us. He is the one who has been guiding us in every step we take, and here we are,” she murmured in Spanish.
Police officers were waiting for them, and the family was promptly placed under arrest and directed to the barn, where other migrants were waiting to be processed and sent to shelters on the other side. She bundled up her children as well as she could.
Her daughters are a testament to their long journey, which brought them across 10 borders in the last five years: Rose was born in Venezuela. Samara was born in Ecuador. Amber is an American citizen.
“My husband said to me: ‘Now, we’re only missing a Canadian.’” If they have a son, which he is hoping for, he’ll be named Jeremiah, she said, which means “Exalted by God.”