Crossing The Border: Refugees Living in Minnesota Now Seeking Asylum in Canada

February 15, 2017 10:40 PM

Federal authorities fear immigrants living in Minnesota will continue to risk hypothermia and frostbite to cross the border to seek asylum in Canada.

Aaron Heitke, Sector Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol station in Grand Forks, North Dakota, said Wednesday his agents have seen a noticeable increase in northbound border crossings.  


During a conference call with journalists, Heitke said that the majority of immigrants are traveling from the Twin Cities, including some who have been denied asylum in the U.S., but are still awaiting deportation hearings in immigration court.

“Obviously, no crime has been committed here in the United States and no crime has been committed in Canada until they actually enter into Canada,” Heitke said.

Canadian authorities said the people who are stopped after crossing the border are technically arrested -- but many are still being welcomed as refugees. So far this year, 69 people given that status have crossed the border near the northwest corner of Minnesota, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They are usually processed by authorities in Emerson, Manitoba.

If crossings continue at this pace, it would be a drastic increase from last year when 444 refugees crossed the border in that same location.

The increased border activity made international headlines this month when several men from Minneapolis told Canadian television news outlets they spent several hours walking through the barren northern landscape in freezing temperatures amid deep snow in hopes of being granted refugee status in Canada.

 “We knew (crossing) was dangerous, but we knew (Canada) was (a) better place than (the United States),” said Bashir Yussuf, one of three men interviewed by Canadian journalists. “We either die or we make it.”

His comments may reflect a sudden change in attitude for Somali immigrants living in Minnesota, a place long considered a final destination for people seeking refuge from the violence in Somalia.

Yussuf said President Donald Trump’s promises to make sweeping changes to immigration policy have led to a fear of immediate deportation.

“The new administration, the new cabinet, is creating (a) different situation,” Yussuf said, adding there is “no humanity” in the U.S. anymore.

Jibril Afyare, president of the Somali Citizens League of Minneapolis, said earlier this week that Trump’s controversial travel ban and comments regarding deportation have led to increasing uncertainty within Minnesota’s Somali community.

“The root cause (for the crossings) is there is a lot of anxiety and there is a lot of fear," Afyare said. “When people are desperate they do desperate things.”

Sector Chief Heitke said there is not one specific driving force behind the increase in border crossings.

Regardless of the reasons, he cautioned against making the dangerous journey.

“Most often we’re called in a rescue situation where someone has called 911 because they’re lost or they’re too cold to move on,” Heitke said.


Joe Augustine

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