Back in the dark days of slavery, certain American citizens would assist runaway slaves who sought passage to Canada, setting up what became unofficially known as the Underground Railroad. It turns out that there’s a new version of the operation grinding into action during the Trump administration. But this time, instead of slaves, it’s illegal aliens hoping to avoid the clutches of ICE by fleeing to the Great White North. And once again, Americans are helping them.
This weekend, the Washington Post featured the story of an upstate New York woman named Janet McFetridge who has been helping illegals make their way into Quebec. She provides them with some food for the road, perhaps some warmer clothing… and a hug. One of her charges, a 19-year-old illegal immigrant from Afghanistan, received two bags of potato chips and a warm hat.
McFetridge is part of a loosely assembled network of progressive activists, faith leaders and taxi drivers who have mobilized to help undocumented immigrants cross the northern border. To some, they’re selfless do-gooders ushering people to better lives. To others, they’re perpetuating a problem that has debilitated Canada’s immigration system.
For centuries, residents note, towns in the Champlain Valley have been a path to security, serving as an escape route for people fleeing slavery, the Vietnam War draft and Central American wars. Now, when it comes to immigration, this GOP-friendly part of New York has become a hub of the resistance.
“We view this as our Underground Railroad,” said Carole Slatkin, an advocate who has helped immigrants traveling through Essex, N.Y., a town that was part of a major route for enslaved people. “While no one is being flogged, and no one is being sold, there is this sort of modern-day equivalent of feeling like people are in danger.”
The roles have been reversed in terms of reactions to such a border crossing plan. During Donald Trump’s first days in office, Justin Trudeau was making a big deal of telling everyone how welcoming Canada was and how terrible Trump’s policies were. Now Canadian officials are crying foul at Americans helping the illegals on their way, claiming that they’ve been “overwhelmed.”
One of the people who was assisted over the border is Saman Modarage, a 51-year-old illegal alien from Sri Lanka. He had been living in the Washington, D.C. area and working at a liquor store for several years, but says that he “heard that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was raiding and auditing Maryland convenience stores searching for undocumented employees.” That’s when he decided to get some help heading north and crossing the border into Ontario.
All I can really say to that is Trump’s policies must actually be working. And, just maybe, Mitt Romney’s talk about self-deportation wasn’t so crazy after all.
But what of these people who are helping the illegals on their way north? Should we be upset with them? I suppose there’s technically something wrong going on here but I find it difficult to be too mad at them. In fact, they’re sort of performing a public service. Every illegal alien they help on their way is one less for ICE to have to track down. I was looking through some of the applicable federal codes after reading this story and I’m not sure these people are actually breaking the law. We have plenty of rules barring people from helping illegals into the United States or sheltering and concealing them after they get here. But I’m not sure we ever got around to passing any laws about helping them leave.
The more I think about it, rather than trying to arrest them, perhaps we should consider giving Ms. McFetridge and her associates a medal. Heck, we could offer to pay for a supply of potato chips and toques to hand out to her charges. Face it… that would be one heck of a lot cheaper than housing them in detention centers and tying up the immigration courts.