NIAGARA FALLS — They may be immigration pioneers and among the last of the Roxham Rd. border crossers at the same time.
But one thing they don’t seem to have are any regrets.
“It’s been great,” said Edgardo, who came from Venezuela through the United States to Roxham Rd., where Champlain, N.Y., meets Quebec, and was bused to Niagara Falls in February.
It is possible Roxham Rd., which has seen 40,000 illegally cross, will soon be closed. With an agreement between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday, the third country asylum process is about to change and that should see Roxham Rd. replaced by a 15,000-applicant refugee program.
Although there were lost-in-translation moments, the thing you get from the migrants in Niagara Falls is they did not think of Roxham Rd. as an illegal passage but one they were encouraged to use. While people here don’t blame others for searching for a better life, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati welcomed the Biden-Trudeau deal.
“This has been a legal loophole that we have been dealing with for a long time and I don’t think it’s fair for asylum seekers to jump the queue at illegal or irregular crossings when you have all the proper processes — and you jump ahead everybody else,” he said. “So I think this is the right way to go about it.”
That said, Diodati and his community have still enjoyed doing their part to help those who have come into Canada this way and have got to know many as they wait for their paperwork to go through. Diodati is proud of the efforts of the employees, citizens, organizations and businesses who have met the challenge.
“Everybody has really stepped up,” he said, “the mosques, temples, synagogues, churches, community groups, food banks and small business.”
People have donated designer winter jackets, boots and hats, and tried to make the migrants feel at home. The benefactors we spoke with Friday said they appreciate it. Many can be seen walking around in their traditional clothing from their home country mixed in with Canadian wear.
“They have treated us great,” one man from Africa said.
But while the dream for him and the others may have started at rural Roxham Rd., it is here in one of the world’s most famous destinations that it has stalled.
“There is a process,” the young man Edgardo said about finding some sort of status that will allow him to legally find work. “We are going through the process.”
As that process is underway, for a month and a half since he arrived, he waits.
“We have more than 5,000 asylum seekers here now,” Diodati said.
Canada and U.S. announce changes to Safe Third Country Agreement come into effect at midnight
WARMINGTON: Niagara Falls in ‘crisis,’ coping with Roxham Rd. asylum seekers
LILLEY: With Roxham Rd., Trudeau is importing an American political problem
The government tells him they are renting 500 more hotel rooms, a number that could go as high as 2,500 to house more than 6,000.
What Niagara Falls hasn’t seen is appropriate federal funding to help absorb the cost.
“You can’t expect the local taxpayer to pay for a federal issue,” Diodati said.
A woman from Colombia named Lorey said she is looking forward to getting paperwork signed that will allow her to seek employment and not be reliant on the state.
The mayor says “fast-tracking” people to be able to work would be a win-win scenario.
“Interpreters and ESL (English as a second language) professionals will really help,” Diodati said.
It was humorous how they would speak into the translation apps on their phones and then have us speak into theirs. While there was a language issue, you don’t need translation to understand their friendly smiles.
They all said they hope to stay in Canada and it appears they got across the border just in time.