MONTREAL — More than 40 South American asylum seekers have been arrested in the past week near the Quebec-Vermont border in what an official said was a crackdown against an unusual surge in illegal immigration.
"This is a major spike in the number of people crossing illegally. It's a significant number," said Dominique McNeely, a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency.
Four of those arrested were charged: two for smuggling people and two for being in Canada illegally, Mr. McNeely said.
Most of the 43 people apprehended are from Colombia, and some are Venezuelans, said Claire Desgens, a Sherbrooke legal-aid lawyer contacted by the newcomers.
One of the four people charged is a U.S. citizen, and another is a Colombian with permanent residency status in the United States.
The arrests were made by CBSA and the RCMP around Stanstead, a small town sitting right on the border, 165 kilometres southeast of Montreal.
The majority of the 43 have been released and, having applied for refugee status, are now in the Montreal area awaiting a hearing before the Immigration Refugee Board, Ms. Desgens said.
Mr. McNeely said the migrants entered via unguarded roads around Stanstead in Quebec's Eastern Townships.
An immigration agent who testified at the bail hearing of one of the four accused said the authorities believe that the refugee claimants might have received bad advice.
Ms. Desgens noted that, in many cases, people who are portrayed by immigration officials as smugglers are, in fact, relatives living in the United States who were accompanying the asylum seekers.