Ana Karen Vasquez-Flores, 33, was discovered dead by New York police last week after entering the country on foot from Canada. This tragic event highlights the dangerous route that people seeking asylum in the United States must undertake. On December 14, at approximately 11 a.m., the unfortunate finding was made in the Chazy River in the village of Champlain, which is situated roughly 65 kilometres south of Montreal. The episode highlights the growing difficulties encountered by migrants, especially those trying to enter the country from its northern border.
According to Major Nicholas Leon of the Clinton County Sheriff, Vasquez-Flores was supposed to meet someone in the United States after crossing on foot. The alarm was raised when the person she was meant to meet was interviewed by U.S. Border Patrol agents shortly after Vasquez-Flores left Canada. The subsequent search, which spanned two days and involved first responders in Clinton County, N.Y. state forest rangers, and the N.Y. state fire department, tragically ended with the discovery of her lifeless body in the Chazy River.
Major Leon expressed that Vasquez-Flores followed the intended route, but the unpredictable nature of the rivers in the area proved to be fatal. He highlighted the danger posed by the rising and falling water levels, driven by rain and snowmelt. Despite the best efforts of search teams, the harsh conditions claimed another life in a region where migrants are increasingly attempting to enter the U.S. on foot.
U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Swanton Sector, covering a stretch of the border from the New Hampshire-Maine state line to the western edge of St. Lawrence County in New York state, reported an alarming surge in the number of people crossing on foot from Canada into the U.S. A Facebook post by the sector revealed a staggering 550 percent increase compared to the previous year, with 6,925 apprehensions from 79 different countries recorded between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023.
The rise in foot crossings is attributed to stricter restrictions at the southern U.S. border, prompting thousands of Mexicans to fly to Canada. Canada’s lack of a tourist visa requirement for Mexican citizens makes it an attractive entry point. Once in Canada, many migrants attempt to cross into the U.S. on foot. The motivations are diverse, ranging from seeking asylum to facing challenges in Canada, such as work permit delays of up to a year and the rising cost of living.
Tragically, Vasquez-Flores’s case is not isolated. The perilous journey has claimed lives before, as highlighted by the deaths of Fritznel Richard, Jose Leos Cervantes, and a Romanian family of four, an Indian family of three, and a local Akwesasne man who was assisting them in crossing the U.S. via the St. Lawrence River in late March. The circumstances surrounding these incidents underscore the urgency of addressing the challenges faced by migrants attempting to enter the U.S.
In response to the increasing dangers faced by migrants, Mike Niezgoda, a public affairs officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, issued a statement emphasizing the risks associated with walking across the border outside of designated ports of entry. The statement highlighted the winter season’s harsh conditions, including sub-freezing temperatures, forested hilly terrain, swampland, deadly ice, and numerous rivers, streams, and lakes. Those caught in these conditions, even for a short amount of time, face the severe risks of frostbite, hypothermia, and death.
Major Leon acknowledged that the search and rescue teams had been involved in two similar searches in the same week, with the other migrants found alive. However, he expressed concern that such incidents are likely to increase, especially during the winter months when migrants may not be fully aware of the high rivers and freezing temperatures they may encounter.
As the investigation into Vasquez-Flores’s crossing continues, it remains unclear if any arrests have been made in connection with her journey into the United States. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Champlain, Janet McFetridge, described Vasquez-Flores’s death as a tragedy, echoing the sentiments of a community and a nation grappling with the human toll of migration.
The heartbreaking story of Ana Karen Vasquez-Flores sheds light on the harsh reality faced by migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border on foot from Canada. As the number of such crossings continues to rise, it becomes imperative for authorities on both sides of the border to address the root causes and challenges faced by these individuals, ensuring that migration is driven by necessity rather than desperation. The tragic loss of lives, such as that of Vasquez-Flores, serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive and humane solutions to the complex issue of cross-border migration.