In 2010, 85 people crossed the border illegally at Stanstead, according to statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency. In 2011, that number rose to 168, and so far this year, it is 260.
Gina Csanyi-Robah, the executive director of the Roma Community Center in Toronto, said before Wednesday’s announcement that she was aware of the border crossings between Vermont and Quebec only because of media inquiries. She doubted it was an organized smuggling system.
“This community works by word of mouth. So if you have one family going and finding it safe to claim asylum, you can guarantee there will be 10 families behind them, the relatives, the friends. And those 10 families are going to tell another 10 families each,” she said.
For the Roma in Canada, life is less oppressive than elsewhere, but she said she believes the Canadian government is changing its immigration policies with the specific intent of excluding Roma. Aside from the government policies, Roma have been well received in Canada, she said.
Canadian officials said many arrived indebted to a criminal organization and in some cases engaged in crime to pay back the smuggling debts. Twelve have been charged since arriving in Canada.
Thirty of the irregular arrivals have been arrested under newly enacted immigration laws that allow for the mandatory detention of those suspected to have arrived in Canada via smugglers, Kenney said.
Kenney declined to identify their ethnicity but said the groups of Romanian nationals illegally crossed into Canada between February and October.
Kenney noted that Canada has one of the most generous immigration systems in the world but said it won’t tolerate those who abuse it or cheat it to jump the queue.
“We are sending a strong message to those who are thinking of using the services of criminal human smugglers to sneak their way into Canada: Don’t do it,” Kenney said.
Roma communities are known for their insularity, and authorities did not make any asylum seekers available for comment.
The funnel points along the Mexican border have shifted. In 2010, most Romanians were apprehended in the Tucson, Arizona, sector; in 2011, it was split between Tucson and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. In 2012, the Imperial Valley of Southern California became the favorite crossing site, with 509 Romanian apprehensions there so far this year.
Statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that 384 Romanians were apprehended along the Mexican border in fiscal year 2010, 575 in 2011 and 901 in 2012. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have noticed the spike.
The agents apprehending them know they are dealing with Gypsies, said Lauren Mack, ICE San Diego spokesman. And they are aware the Romanians are headed to Canada.
“We have noticed and are aware of an increase in the number of Roma who are being smuggled into the United States and are concerned about it,” she said.
In the October crossing in Stanstead, Nicholas Dostie, the tow truck driver hired to take the California van back to the border, said the men, women and children were carried back in a caravan of Mountie cruisers.