The new Underground Railroad: Immigrants fleeing the US for Canada

Many refugees who came to the US are now seeking compassion and asylum with our northern neighbors.
7:52 | 03/15/17

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Transcript for The new Underground Railroad: Immigrants fleeing the US for Canada
Tonight we take you on a treacherous journey across America's icy northern border. An exodus of sorts. Immigrants in fear of the next executive order fleeing T Canada. Facilitated by an underground railroad-style network crossing over illegally, often at their own peril. Here's Eva pilgrim. Reporter: It's a harrowing sight playing out again and again. Immigrants risking it all to illegally cross the border on foot but 're farrom the epicenter of the political debate. We're going to build the wall and Mexico's going to pay for the wall. Reporte this is the border with Canada. A an over 5,000 mile, largely unsecured boundary, icy and treacherous. Where people once desperate to get into the United States are doing everything in their power to get out. This man found tired and freezing by a cbc reporter. Do you know where you are? I don't know where I am now. Do you want to know? You're in Canada. Reporter: In the first two months of this year, more than 2,000 have crossed. Many spurred by the recent immigration orders and perceived risk of deportation. They leave behind lives in America sometimes decades in the making. And travel on a system of informal paths dubbed underground railroads to the great white north. But the road is difficult and conditions are harsh. This somali refugee made the trek. It was so cold, it was dangerous6 some of us, they cut the blood in their legs. Because they're walking like eight hours or nine hours. It was crazy. Reporter: His journey on this so-called underground railroad started here in the twin cities all the colors of Mogadishu tucked away into the markets and cafes that make up this vibrant somali communities. Minneapolis is one of the biggest cities in North America where you have the most somali residents, close to 80,000. Reporter: Under the hum of everyday life, a burst of fear. They fear they will capture them to back home, take them to Somalia. Reporter: At this cafe we meet Mohammad Mahmoud, for many the first stop on this railroad. I told him, you already risk your life. You just come see in T usa. Reporter: Mahmoud offers what he can. Food, money, a warning. Just dream. This is the dream. This is the free land. Don't leave. Reporter: Three blocks from Mahmoud's cafe, OMAR walks through a market, the next meeting point. If some of them want to go to Canada, this is where they usually come looking for rides. Reporter: Rides to the border with Canada, he says which come with steep prices. A person costs a few weeks ago $600 per person. But as the number went up, I think so did the price. I know I heard $1 thousand per person. Reporter: Jamal says he has received hundreds of calls from somalis considering fleeing to Canada. Which for many is an extension of a voyage that begins with escaping a civil war in Somalia, extends to South Africa, south America, then continues on to the U.S. Some people have lost their fingers and limbs due to frostbite. And they're taking children with them. So basically they're putting their life at risk. I've never seen the numbers like this. Reporter: Mark prokosh, immigration attorney, says many of his clients go north against his counsel. There's, in my view, no imminent threat to these individuals. And so it's pretty dangerous for them to try to make the journey up to Canada in the middle of winter. Reporter: Due to a stipulation, many immigrants must cross illegally to apply for asylum. If they were to arrive at the border and present themselves to Canadian immigration, they would not be able to apply for asylum because they had already applied for asylum in the United States. Reporter: This 400-mile path just one of many frigid routes. 1,500 miles east, a steady flow of crossers leaving New York for Quebec. For many families, this is the beginning of the end of their journey to Canada. They take a bus ride north, then a taxi to rocksham road, the border. You're leaving? You knowf you're crossing here you will be arrested, you know that? You crossed already. You're under arrest for illegal entry to Canada. Where are you from? Sudan? Reporter: There have been so many people coming to cross into Canada this way, they've actually carved out a path right here in the snow. This time of year it's frostbite, hypothermia. Reporter: For U.S customs and border control in north Dakota, dropping temperatures mean potential for life-saving operations on the American side of the border. You're at windchills of 35 to 50 below zero. Your exposure time is measured in minutes. Reporter: Agent in charge Eric Kuhn shows us areas where his team has noticed illegal crossings. You can see that dark line right there, kind of where the land under ewe lates, that's the border. Stick to the fat path. Waist-deep snow. Reporter: This shuttered port of entry has become the main artery for foot traffic. That's where it parallels the border, spans across here. Reporter: As nightfalls in Canada, so do temperatures. In Emerson, Manitoba, a watchful eye on the border. Wearing their winter jackets, boots. They were cold. Reporter: The Emerson inn, the first refuge for many crossers. I give them food, coffee, and then I shelter them. Reporter: In quiet moments of introspection, growing concern over Canada's acceptance of refugees. Do we need it? No. Do we want it? No. Are we going to do it? Probably yes. I'm at an age where I'm getting close to retirement. And unfortunately, when they come here and apply for refugee status, they're getting more than I do as a Canadian who's contributed to this country for 40 years. Reporter: On this night, the royal Canadian mounted police telling us five pewple illegally crossed into Canada under the cover of darkness. This year so far, 183 people have been intercepted in Manitoba alone welfare agencies overwhelmed. We have to go and pick up families, we have to pick up people. Reporter: Rita runs welcome place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This is the Salvation Army, a temporary shelter. We have some arrangements with them. Hi, guys. Hi. Have you finished all your papers? Yeah, we doctoring to take today. Reporter: It is here we meet that refugee who completed the trip. U.S. Is a good country, but now the worst country in the world. Because I didn't do nothing, I just fear my country. I just seek asylum. What happened when you got to Canada? Canada, they was welcoming. They gave to me good food, they gave to me a good house, they allow me to apply in asylum. We are a country that is built on -- the values are compassion and caring and acceptance and love. And I think that's what you're seeing among Canadians and those who are reaching out. We'll have to make sure we're not disturbing. Reporter: Jahal shows us to one of the rooms the refugees stay in. Very basic. It's not a fancy place by any means. Reporter: A room, a bed, and for now, at least, a pause from a seemingly interminable journey. While it might be the end of one journey, it's also the beginning of another one. I feel happy. I feel I am in a safe country. I'm in good country. Reporter: For "Nightline," Anita pilgrim in Champlain, new

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