Closing Roxham Road will lead to ‘humanitarian catastrophes,’ immigration experts warn

We will see. Not everyone who crossed at Roxham Road, relatively risk-free, will uudertake the greater risk now that all crossings will now be subject to the STCA. A natural experiment in progress, and the current situation was untenable politically:

Quebec immigration experts say closing Roxham Road to asylum seekers may go against Canada’s international obligations and could result in more deaths at the border, after an already deadly year.

Two men died attempting to cross the Canadian border within two months of each other.

The first, 43-year-old Fritznel Richard, was trying to reach his family in Florida in time for the holidays. His body was found in early January. The second, Jose Leos Cervantes, 45, was also heading into the United States on Feb. 19, and collapsed just as U.S. border patrollers approached him and the two people he was with, shortly after they had made it into Vermont.

Richard and Leos Cervantes were crossing into the States, whereas people taking the Roxham Road unofficial border crossing south of Montreal are coming into Canada. Experts say the very reason the crossing became popular is because it is accessible and safe. They worry its closure will simply lead people to take the kinds of risks that have resulted in the deaths of people heading south.

“The global result of this is just more danger, more deaths and more humanitarian catastrophes,” said Mireille Paquet, an assistant professor of political science at Concordia University.

Details of the deal reached between Canada and the U.S. to close Roxham Road leaked to various media outlets over the course of Wednesday afternoon, hours before U.S President Joe Biden was set to arrive in Ottawa for his two-day visit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Friday’s agreement between the prime minister and Biden, which actually dates to April 2022, evokes an evolving global approach to surging migration: widening legal pathways while cutting off the irregular ones.

Radio-Canada reports the closure will take effect at midnight.

Details of the agreement were released Friday afternoon in a joint statement made by the two leaders.

The statement says the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection “enshrines our belief that irregular migration requires a regional approach centred on expanding legal pathways and humane border management and recognizes that we must address the underlying economic and security drivers of migration.”

Under this principle, Canada will welcome an additional 15,000 migrants on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere over the course of the year to continue expanding safe, regular pathways as an alternative to irregular migration.

Before the meeting, the L.A. Times and Le Devoir reported that migrants who are caught within 14 days of making it across the border into Canada outside of official checkpoints would be deported. Those details were not released in the joint statement.

Prior to the joint statement’s release, Stéphanie Valois, the president of the Quebec association of immigration lawyers (AQAADI), said the deal could go against international conventions Canada has signed.

Those agreements stipulate that refugees “should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom,” according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees website.

Valois said it’s unlikely that closing Roxham — where an RCMP post has been set up to briefly detain and process asylum seekers — will stop people from crossing altogether, and that it would only prompt migrants to go into hiding after arriving in Canada.

“It seems completely counter-productive to me,” she said.

‘Worst scenario possible’

Paquet noted that 15,000 is a low number compared to the amount of asylum seekers other countries, such as the U.S. and Germany, accept every year, as well as in comparison to the nearly 40,000 migrants, primarily from Haiti, Turkey, Colombia, Chile, Pakistan and Venezuela, who crossed at Roxham Road in 2022.

There are currently 4.6 million people seeking asylum across the world, according the UNHCR’s latest figures.

Accepting migrant crossings at the border does not mean accepting them to stay permanently, she said, echoing Valois, but accepting to heart “their story and their request for protection,” as outlined in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees signed in 1951.

“This is closing the passage, but it’s also turning our backs on our international commitments,” Paquet said.

Frantz André has helped hundreds of asylum seekers after arriving in Quebec through Roxham Road. He flew to Florida in late January to bring Fritznel Richard’s ashes to his wife Guenda and to attend Richard’s funeral in Naples.

André struggled to believe the deal, which would in effect mean Canada will no longer accept asylum seekers at the border, if they already made a claim in the U.S.

“There’s no way — I mean, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “We’re simply creating the worst scenario possible.”

Source: Closing Roxham Road will lead to ‘humanitarian catastrophes,’ immigration experts warn

Another article, with USA activist perspectives:

Closing the northern U.S. border to asylum seekers bound for Canada solves a political problem for Justin Trudeau, but immigration advocates denounced it Friday as a “shameful” decision that will only endanger lives.

Friday’s agreement between the prime minister and President Joe Biden, which actually dates to April 2022, evokes an evolving global approach to surging migration: widening legal pathways while cutting off the irregular ones.

But making it harder than ever for migrants to claim asylum will only encourage them to undertake ever more dangerous journeys, said Yael Schacher, director for the Americas at Refugees International.

“Asylum is getting more and more restricted in the United States, so not having a way to get to Canada to ask for asylum is a big cut-off,” Schacher said.

“The problems with the U.S. asylum system and access to asylum in the United States are already getting worse, so there’s all the more need for this pathway to Canada, which is now being cut off.”

Biden and Trudeau have agreed to a supplement to the 2004 treaty known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, which governs asylum claims by migrants crossing the Canada-U.S. border.

The treaty expressly forbids such claims at official entry points, but was silent on other unofficial border crossings — a big reason why Canada has seen for years thousands of would-be claimants slipping into the country at junctures like Roxham Road in Quebec, where they can request asylum without fear of being returned to the U.S.

That all changes as of early Saturday morning, when the supplement — the “Additional Protocol 2022” — takes effect, extending the terms of the treaty so they apply along the full extent of the nearly 9,000-kilometre frontier.

The extension runs afoul of commitments both leaders have made to respect the rights of people who are in need of asylum, said Savitri Arvey, a senior policy adviser with the Women’s Refugee Commission.

“Overall, it represents a continuation of various steps that the Biden administration has taken to block access to asylum,” Arvey said. “It inevitably impacts the most vulnerable and forces them to take even more dangerous routes.”

The two countries have already agreed to the new protocol, which will require amendments to existing U.S. regulations, according to a draft order posted Friday on the U.S. Federal Register.

It will ensure the agreement applies to “individuals who cross between the official (points of entry) along the U.S.-Canada shared border, including certain bodies of water as determined by the United States and Canada.”

Canada has agreed as part of the deal to welcome an additional 15,000 migrants from across the Western Hemisphere this year — a figure that towers over the paltry 4,000 they agreed to last June at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

Migrants have been flooding Roxham Road in recent years; more than 39,000 asylum claims were filed in 2022 by people who were intercepted by the RCMP, the vast majority of them in Quebec.

Rema Jamous Imseis, the UN Refugee Agency’s representative to Canada, acknowledged in a statement the challenges posed by the sheer scale of migrants arriving in both countries.

The agency “urges all governments to keep in mind their obligation to provide haven to those fleeing conflict, violence or persecution.”

Amnesty International Canada was decidedly less diplomatic, condemning the decision as “shameful” and “an affront to the rights of refugee claimants seeking safety in Canada.”

There’s nothing like the same number of would-be claimants moving south from Canada into the U.S., prompting questions about the political upside for Biden — who has much larger migration headaches at the Mexico-U.S. border.

One thing is clear, said Schacher: the agreement “will benefit Canada much more than the U.S. Trudeau is winning on this deal.”

One emerging theory revolves around Title 42, the pandemic-era public health measure imposed in March 2020 that gave the U.S. broad power to expel migrants for fear of the spread of COVID-19.

The Biden administration’s original plan to was to rescind the measure on May 23, 2022 — less than six weeks after U.S. regulatory documents say the supplement to the Safe Third Country Agreement was signed on April 15.

A lawsuit brought by Republican state attorneys-general, however, forced the U.S. to cancel its original plan to revoke Title 42. It’s now slated to end May 11.

“We are very concerned that following May 11, the plan (at the southern border) is for a proposed rule that would block asylum seekers who had transited through other countries,” Arvey said.

“The comment period for the proposed rule actually closed on Monday, and we know the intention is for that to go into place on May 11. So there are some parallels there for sure.”

The U.S. has long been preoccupied with ensuring parity between north and south in its border measures, fuelling speculation that the Canada-U.S. agreement could be in anticipation of new post-Title 42 measures.

“I think it might be something like, ‘Well, we have to think about parity between the way we treat like Mexico and Canada,'” Schacher said.

Canada, too, has a lot of international credibility on migration issues, she added, and could be a big help in selling a new “managed migration paradigm” for the hemisphere that puts the emphasis on legal pathways.

“That would be a big deal for the Biden administration, because Canada is seen as even more progressive on refugee issues generally than the United States.”

Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, called the new deal an “unfortunate development” for asylum seekers.

Source: Canada-U.S. deal on migration will limit safe options for asylum seekers: advocates

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.

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