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With a surge of migrant foot traffic at Roxham Road – the illegal crossing south of Montreal – the Quebec government is ramping up the pressure on Washington to address the border crisis, circumventing potential federal involvement.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault met with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen the morning of Feb. 14 to discuss making changes to the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which ensures that any migrant who comes to a Canadian border checkpoint seeks asylum in the first “safe place” they arrived. The accord was codified in 2002 as a safety initiative following the 9/11 attacks. 

The STCA applies only to official land border crossings, making Roxham Road, at the Quebec-New York frontier, a loophole. At an illegal border point, migrants are not returned to the place they originally came from, they can freely claim refugee status. In the meeting with Cohen in Quebec City, Legault’s proposed amendments to the STCA would extend agreement provisons to all entry points. 

“I said to him, ‘I don’t understand why it’s taking this long to settle with the United States. What we’re asking is that the Safe Third Country Agreement be applied to all ports of entry, including Roxham,’” said Legault.

News recently broke that New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, has been using taxpayer dollars to fund one-way bus tickets to Quebec for migrants who have arrived in New York City. Once in the sanctuary city, migrants take the bus to Plattsburgh where taxis furnish the tail end of the transport to Roxham Road in Champlain, NY. 

Estimates suggest that as many as 250 migrants now use the illegal Roxham Road crossing each day, with the majority settling in Montreal. In the face of a rampant housing shortage, as well as reduced capacity in both schools and hospitals across the province, the upward trend in illegal migrant crossing has been difficult to manage on the ground.

The CBC reported that in a letter obtained by Radio-Canada, Legault asked Adams to “‘immediately’ put an end to ‘all forms of assistance’ to people that cross the border where it is ‘strictly forbidden.’” 

“The situation has overwhelmed Montreal’s ability to provide housing and other public services, with the flood of new students alone equivalent to the opening of 13 new schools,” Ewan Sauves, a spokesperson for Legault, said. “Last year, 39,161 people used Roxham Road to illegally enter Canada, comprising 99.1% of all such illegal border crossings.”

A recent poll by Justice pour le Québec found that 68% of Quebecers are in favour of sealing the illegal Roxham Road entry to Canada. 

The Parti Quebecois proposed a motion, tabled on Feb. 2, which suggests that Quebec should take Roxham Road matters into its own hands by forcefully imposing the road closure through provincial police presence.

Legault’s international appeal has also been reinforced by a domestic memo to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to discourage migrant crossings into Canada.

According to Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette, the 380 migrants who entered through Roxham Road on the weekend of Feb. 11-12 were transferred to other provinces, though mainly Ontario. She said that these are the “results” of a “new approach to border management” that the province’s administration is “happy” with.