Most had come to the U.S. from halfway around the world to seek asylum, but said they feared a crackdown under President Donald Trump. So they continued north, where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear that such asylum seekers are welcome.
“He’s ill-informed,” Janzen said of Trudeau. “And same with Mr. [Ahmed] Hussen, who’s the immigration minister. I don’t think they realize the impact of their decisions right now.”
Since January, more than 300 people have crossed into Emerson. The town’s population is 678.
The crossers are generally arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), taken to the official border crossing for processing, and then sent to Winnipeg, where most end up at the refugee resettlement agency Welcome Place.
They’re largely from Somalia, according to Welcome Place Executive Director Rita Chahal, with many also coming from Djibouti, Nigeria, Eritrea, as well as from some Central American countries.
An agreement between the U.S. and Canada called the Safe Third Country Agreement prevents people in the U.S. from applying for asylum in Canada at any official border crossing.
But if asylum seekers cross illegally into Canada, they can make their claim. The mayor wants those rules changed.
“You and me, we figured this out two months ago,” Janzen says to Bert Gilchrist, another bar regular who tonight is wearing a winter hat and a Toronto Maple Leafs jacket. “Like, close the loophole!”
A spokesperson for Canada’s Ministry of Public Safety wrote to NBC News to say, “The Safe Third Country Agreement is an important tool used by Canada and the U.S. to cooperate on the orderly handling of refugee claims. Our government is continuing to monitor the situation closely and will carefully evaluate any new developments.”
Janzen fears that, as the weather warms, the situation is only going to get worse. In February, the RCMP intercepted 142 people coming into the province; in March, they stopped another 170.
“I can’t believe after all this … nothing has changed” Janzen sighs, nursing a Bud Light. “Other than more people are crossing.”