CHAMPLAIN, NY — A migrant man named George wanted to make one thing clear as he approached the Canadian border: he loathes President Donald Trump.
He was so repulsed by the current state of America, and so fearful of his place within it, that he took his chances on a dead-end road at the northernmost edge of upstate New York, and braced himself to walk across a small, dirt-filled ditch to enter Canada illegally.
George spoke to INSIDER just before he made his illicit crossing to Canada in October, as some 40,000 other migrants have done in the last two years. Many have hung their hopes on the possibility that Canada will grant them asylum protections the US won’t.
Many of the migrants come from overseas, obtaining temporary visas to the US, flying to New York City, and traveling through upstate New York to traverse the illegal border crossing at Roxham Road.
But George is different. He told INSIDER he has lived in the US for 25 years — and now he’s had enough.
“At some point, you have to come to the realization that there is no other way but to travel, find a better situation so you can move forward with your life,” he said. “And going back home is not an option.”
Read more: THE OTHER BORDER ‘CRISIS’: While America is fixated on Mexico and the wall, thousands of migrants are fleeing for Canada in a dramatically different scene
‘They’re not safe in the US anymore’
George declined to provide his last name or identify his home country, but INSIDER observed him walk across the border — despite warnings from Canadian authorities that his crossing was illegal — and give himself up for arrest.
David Gervais, an immigration attorney based in Plattsburgh, New York, has often encountered immigrants in George’s predicament. Tens of thousands migrants have made the same crossing in the last two years, coming from all corners of the US, and the world, for the same reason.
“It’s a whole range of people. We’ve had people from California, Texas, Connecticut, and New York City, in New York state, all over the place. A lot of different ethnic groups,” Gervais told INSIDER. “It’s just a whole medley of different folks from different backgrounds that feel they’re not safe in the US anymore, or they’re not going to have a fair chance at an asylum hearing in the US. So they’re going to try their chances in Canada.”
Gervais said asylum is generally reserved for migrants who face persecution in their home countries, are unable to live there safely, and can prove that the authorities can’t or won’t protect them. With the Trump administration’s hostility toward asylum-seekers, its crackdown on illegal immigration, and its efforts to erode temporary protections for certain immigrants, many believe that Canada is a safer bet.
The catch is that people like George can’t just present themselves at a Canadian port of entry and request asylum there. A legal pact known as the Safe Third Country Agreement stipulates that migrants must request asylum from the very first “safe country” they arrive in.
The US is considered a safe country, at least by Canada’s definition, so asylum-seekers who come to Canada from the US are turned away at the ports of entry and told to make their claim in America.
But a well-known loophole allows migrants to request asylum if they reach Canadian soil without passing through a port of entry from the US, so migrants have been crossing illegally, surrendering to arrest, and requesting asylum.
‘You don’t want to be in a place like that’
It’s unclear how George’s case will fare in Canada’s asylum system. When asked if he faced danger back in his home country if he was deported, George told INSIDER he didn’t.
“No, to be clear, but there is so much instability, protests, and things of that nature,” he said.
According to Gervais, Canada’s asylum system may be more lenient than America’s, but migrants still need to be able to prove they face dangers like torture, risks to their lives, or cruel and unusual punishment.
“You have to be able to prove that you’re not safe in your country,” Gervais said. “You also need to prove that the authorities are not doing much to help you in your own country. It’s not always easy to prove. A lot of people don’t have documentary evidence to back it up.”
But George isn’t an anomaly — thousands of migrants have sought asylum in Canada after living in the US for years. Some of those immigrants had temporarily permission to live in the US, such as Haitians covered by Temporary Protected Status, and some had lived in the US illegally.
The migrants face a variety of conditions in their home countries — from poverty, to violence, to war — and while not all of them may qualify for asylum under Canadian or US laws, many feared an immigration crackdown by Trump and decided to take their chances up north.
Speaking to INSIDER at the border on a cold day at the end of October, George brought up the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the slew of package bombs sent to top Democrats and Trump critics across the country.
“This is just disgusting,” he said. “You don’t want to be in a place like that.”
George wasn’t sure what awaited him in Canada, other than a chance to “get a new life, give myself another chance, finish my education.”
“I don’t know much about Canada,” he said, “but what I’ve heard is that it’s a much more welcoming place for people to actually live a normal life compared to the US — when you’re an immigrant, when it seems like you’re pushed out.”