“Carl,” as the twenty-something asked to be known, had travelled all the way from Iraqi Kurdistan to get to this border town. He had been working for an aid organization, helping people displaced by the Islamic State group (ISIS). He started getting texts accusing him of being an infidel, a spy, a tool of the Americans. “We know where you work,” one said.
He felt like he had lived his whole life in fear, if not from ISIS, then from other extremist groups that rigidly forbid drinking alcohol and listening to music, both of which he liked to do. “I just want to go somewhere I can feel free,” he said.
Saying he wanted to visit a friend, he got a tourist visa from the American Consulate in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, and then flew to Seattle, where he did indeed have a friend. But his real destination was farther north — not Blaine, which he reached via a $300 taxi ride, but Canada.
He could just walk across. Then he could apply for asylum. He just had to work up the nerve.
Hundreds have done so in recent months, using Washington as a steppingstone to a country they believe might be more welcoming than the United States. In large part, Canada has lived up to their expectations, although the arrival of these newcomers has not been without controversy.
All across the northern border, illegal crossings into Canada have picked up as President Donald Trump has sought to restrict the flow of immigrants and refugees into the United States, particularly those from certain predominantly Muslim nations. At the same time, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enthusiastically resettled tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and offered safe haven to those from other countries, too.
Some making the trip pass briefly through the U.S., taking an indirect route because they find it’s easier to get visitor visas to this country despite Canada’s other open-door policies. Others have lived in the U.S. for years, often illegally, and decided they can’t do so anymore.
The greatest numbers have crossed on the East Coast and in the Midwest, attracting widespread news coverage when a few made their way through deep snow and arrived frostbitten. But as word of mouth has spread among desperate populations around the world, the westernmost part of the border also has become renowned.
Crossing there couldn’t be easier, suggest some YouTube videos, showing the largely unfenced Canadian road that straddles the border with Blaine: 0 Avenue.
Mona Hassannia, manager of Settlement Orientation Services, a Vancouver, B.C., non-profit that helps asylum seekers, calls the route through Washington an “underground railroad.”
After Quebec and Manitoba, British Columbia ranks highest in the number of illegal crossings caught by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) — 233 from January through April, according to government figures. More apparently make it into the province without being spotted by the RCMP, judging by statistics from Vancouver non-profits like Hassannia’s.
Source: Seattle Times