Coyne: Blame Trudeau? Blame Trump? Truth is there are no easy answers to asylum-seekers

One of the better and realistic commentaries on the current influx:

If you are on the right, the sudden flood of asylum-seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border is easily explicable as the inevitable consequence of Justin Trudeau’s online recklessness.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war,” the Hippie King advised his followers in January, “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel was explicit this week that blame for the border “crisis” “lies solely at the feet” of the prime minister, whose “irresponsible” tweet had given “false hope” to asylum seekers in the U.S.

If you are on the left, the situation is just as easy to explain. It is all on account of Donald Trump, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric has left refugee claimants in the United States in terror that they will be sent back to their countries of origin. The Charlottesville rally of white supremacists, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan wrote in a letter to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, “further challenges simplistic notions that the United States remains a safe destination for asylum seekers.”

There’s some truth in both notions. Each leader has in his own way signalled a differing level of receptivity to refugee claims. And yet in substantive terms, neither country’s policies have changed much in the interim.

Trump may have imposed, or attempted to impose, a temporary ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but as the prime minister himself has said, the U.S. domestic asylum system remains “safe, has due process, has appeal rights.”

Of course, if Trudeau believes that, it makes it odd that he should have so ostentatiously contrasted Canada’s “welcome” with Trump’s approach. Especially since it isn’t particularly true. Canada has not thrown open its borders. The rules are unchanged. Asylum seekers are promptly detained by the RCMP on entry; their claims are subject to the usual assessment process, with deportation awaiting those found to be without basis.

Indeed, if either explanation holds, it makes it odd that the “crisis” took so long to develop. You’ll recall when the first asylum-seekers started sneaking across the border in the dead of winter, at great risk to life and health, many people (including me) were concerned that this presaged an enormous, unmanageable surge once the temperatures began to rise. Yet it wasn’t until late summer that the asylum-seekers became a story again. As of June 30, only about 3,000 asylum-seeker had entered Canada from the U.S., not far off usual numbers.

Almost all of the roughly 7,000 asylum-seekers to have arrived since then are from one country: Haiti. The reason for this is quite clear. Allowed to remain in the U.S. on “temporary protected status” in the wake of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, they face probable deportation once the program expires next January.

That’s not unusual: Canada’s own program expired last August. Those who have not applied for permanent residency status have been deported by the hundreds; of those who have claimed asylum, the government reports, one-half to two-thirds have been rejected.

It may fairly be charged, however, that the Trudeau government has not done enough to advertise this to the Haitian community in the U.S., an error the government is belatedly and wobbily seeking to repair. Too late — the Haitians have adopted the same strategy followed by earlier asylum-seekers: crossing the border on foot, rather than by air or sea, and over open country, rather than the usual crossing points.

The explanation for this is by now familiar: were they to cross by the normal routes, they would be promptly returned to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country (STC) agreement between our two countries, which stipulates that refugee claimants must apply in the first country they enter. But that agreement only applies at the official entry points. By crossing irregularly — or illegally, if you prefer — they instead become subject to the usual strictures of Canadian refugee law, under which they cannot be deported without having their claim heard.

This confounding dilemma has prompted its own search for easy answers, none offering the promised escape. On the right, initial demands for the government to “enforce the law” (it is), or to physically stop them from crossing (an impossibility), or “send them back” (the U.S. won’t take them), have subsided into calls for the STC to be expanded, if not to the whole of the border, then to more entry points. But the U.S. would have to agree to that, and so far shows no sign of being amenable.

The left shows no more signs of realism. The primary proposal is for the STC to be suspended, so as to remove the incentive for border crossers to evade the official entry points. But suspending the STC would amount to an open invitation to try your luck on the Canadian refugee process. At worst, you’d spend a few months in the resulting backlog, with the right to work and obtain social benefits in the meantime. And the longer the backlog, the greater the incentive to jump in the hopper.

I don’t want to minimize the situation: there are other groups in the U.S. whose visas will also soon expire, meaning potentially thousands more asylum-seekers crossing the border in the months to come.

At the same time, we should not overstate matters. The country is not being overrun. Those entering are being screened. We can afford to put up a few thousand asylum-seekers until their claims are heard. And even if that sticks in your craw, there isn’t much we can do about it — not unless we are prepared to suspend our own constitutional protections, at risk of sending legitimate refugees to their deaths.

This is difficult to admit: those of us in politics and the media are in the easy answers business. But some problems cannot be solved. They can only be managed.

Andrew Coyne: Blame Trudeau? Blame Trump? Truth is there are no easy answers to asylum-seekers

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: