U.S. border agents give rides to Quebec-bound migrants as side hustle, sources tell Radio-Canada

Several U.S. border patrol agents are giving migrants lifts to an irregular border crossing into Canada in exchange for money, according to information obtained by Radio-Canada sources.

Situation has been 'known for a few months,' according to Radio-Canada source

An asylum seeker at the Roxham Road crossing in Quebec.
An asylum seeker at the Roxham Road crossing in Quebec. Radio-Canada sources say several U.S. border patrol agents are giving migrants lifts to an irregular border crossing into Canada as a side business. (Romain Schué/Radio-Canada)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is investigating reports that some of its border patrol agents are driving Quebec-bound asylum seekers to the irregular border crossing on Roxham Road in exchange for money, picking up groups of people in nearby Plattsburgh, N.Y., while off duty.

Sources have told Radio-Canada the practice "has been known for a few months," adding that several agents are involved, but the exact number is unknown.

The CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) said Friday it "is in receipt of these allegations and is conducting an investigation" but "the commencement of an OPR investigation is not indicative of wrongdoing or the substantiation of alleged misconduct."

This situation has been reported to Canadian authorities, according to Radio-Canada sources.

Many people looking to cross into Canada use a regular bus line to get to Plattsburgh,which is about 30 minutes away from Roxham Road. 

From there, they walk through a wooded passage, enter Canada and seek asylum.

CBSA says it's 'aware of situation

When first contacted by Radio-Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirmed twice in writing that it was aware of the transportation situation involving U.S. border patrol agents and migrants.

"We are aware of the information you are reporting," said spokesperson Jacqueline Roby. She added that the CBSA "is in contact with the United States regarding irregular migration issues." 

In another written exchange, the CBSA repeated the same message while instructing Radio-Canada to contact its American counterparts, the CBP.

Subsequently, a member of the CBSA contacted Radio-Canada by phone to find out its sources — which it did not disclose. The member also said the CBP had called the CBSA about the situation following Radio-Canada's inquiries.

The CBSA then sent a new written statement, which said it had "no comment regarding [these] allegations."

However, a source familiar with the matter later confirmed that the CBSA is in fact aware of the situation.

Hands holding a sign that reads "FRONTERA BORDER ROXHAM RD."
Taxi drivers are seen here waiting for migrants at the Plattsburgh terminus with signs designating they will drive them to Roxham Road. (Romain Schué/Radio-Canada)

'Violation of the spirit of the law,' lawyer says

According to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, it is forbidden for anyone to organize the entry of one or more persons into the country or to incite, assist or encourage them to enter the country.

Immigration lawyer Stéphane Handfield says the law could also apply to American agents.

"Driving someone knowing they are going to cross the border is clearly a violation of the spirit of the law," said Handfield, who was also a Parti Québécois candidate in the last provincial election and continues to help the party on immigration matters.

Handfield said he's not surprised by the situation at the border. Before the pandemic, he said, people of Haitian origin, whom he had represented, had told him similar stories about how they made it to the border. 

"They were looking for Roxham Road to get to Canada. Instead of arresting them and detaining them because they were undocumented in the United States, [border agents] put them in their car and drove them to Roxham," he said. 

Driving someone knowing they are going to cross the border is clearly a violation of the spirit of the law.- Lawyer Stéphane Handfield

Questioned about these reports, Canadian officials have remained tight-lipped. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) would "not confirm or deny such information."

"For reasons of protecting our ongoing criminal investigations, we cannot comment on this type of situation," said RCMP spokesperson Charles Poirier.

For its part, the CBP said it takes "all allegations of misconduct very seriously" and stresses that a "thorough investigation" is underway.

Nearly 100,000 people have come to Canada to claim asylum since the start of last year, either through Roxham Road or by air.

The majority of them have settled in the greater Montreal area, where organizations say they are overwhelmed and lack the resources to care for them properly.

Many asylum seekers are also forced to work illegally, as revealed by a Radio-Canada investigation, due to work permits that take months to be issued.

Earlier this week, the office of the mayor of New York City said the city was funding the transportation of migrants who want to go elsewhere. Some are heading to Canada and Plattsburgh, thanks to free bus tickets.

This prompted Alexis Brunelle Duceppe, a Bloc Québécois MP to say "the Americans are ridiculing the federal government" in the House of Commons.

Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette also criticized New York's move, and said the situation "demonstrates above all else the importance of addressing the Roxham Road issue and the [Safe Third Country Agreement]" between Canada and the United States.

The agreement forces asylum seekers to make a refugee claim in the first "safe" country they reach. This means that border officials in Canada turn back would-be asylum seekers who show up at official checkpoints from the U.S.

The agreement does not apply to irregular border crossings, however, such as the one on Roxham Road.

Based on a report by Radio Canada's Romain Schué