Statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that 901 Romanians were apprehended along the Mexican border in fiscal year 2012 — a sharp rise from 575 in 2011 and 384 in 2010. The region where the Romanians are crossing from Mexico has shifted between the Tuscon sector, the Rio Grande valley and El Centro in the Imperial Valley of Southern California.
‘‘You don’t normally find people from Romania crossing in El Centro,’’ said ICE San Diego spokesman Lauren Mack. ‘‘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.’’
Mack said ICE is aware the Romanians are headed to Canada.
Romanians seeking to enter the U.S. or Canada need pre-approved visas. They do not need visas to enter Mexico.
Members of the Roma ethnic group are descendants of nomads who moved out of what is now India 800 years ago. They speak a distinct language, a variation of Hindi. They have faced centuries of repression in Europe.
Gina Csanyi-Robah, the executive director of the Roma Community Center in Toronto, said she was only aware of the border crossings between Vermont and Quebec from media inquiries, but she understands what drives Roma to seek new lives in Canada.
She expressed doubt that an organized smuggling system is behind the spike in arrivals, saying it is more likely that the Roma have learned by word-of-mouth that the Vermont crossing has been successful.
‘‘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.
She said she has heard of people reaching Canada via Mexico and the United States.
‘‘For people that are desperate for something, it’s not a long route for a better life,’’ Csanyi-Robah said.
Ring reported from Stanstead, Vermont.