Canada has built a reputation for warmly embracing Syrians. But most of the newcomers are from elsewhere. At first, it was mostly Haitians in the U.S. who made the journey. Some said they were spooked by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and worried about losing the temporary residence status they’d been given in the U.S. following the 2010 earthquake in their native country. In recent months, Nigerians have become the most frequent border crossers. Many get visitor visas to come to the U.S., then take a bus or taxi to upstate New York, where they walk north into Quebec—straight into the arms of Canadian border guards waiting to arrest them.
The migrants are typically detained for a few hours and then bussed to an emergency shelter in Montreal, where they stay and work on their asylum applications. While they wait for their cases to be adjudicated, they can access healthcare and send their children to public school for free, just like any Canadian. And some citizens are not too thrilled about that.
“There’s a perception that Canada is being invaded,” said Wendy Ayotte, a member of Bridges Not Borders, a Quebec-based volunteer group that formed last summer to support the asylum seekers. “The perception is that these people are illegal and that they’re violating Canada’s borders and that they’re just queue jumpers trying to get freebies on welfare.”