The safe-third-country amendment paves a balanced road to refugee protection, The deaths in the St. Lawrence River show that border ‘control’ is a fallacy

Two contrasting perspectives, Michael Barutciski of York University, praising the agreement as being balanced, Christina arguing that it will result in significant hardship, human smuggling and deaths.

I find Barutciski more realistic and his arguments more convincing.

Starting with Barutciski:

After years of controversy, the Trudeau government is putting an end to the unofficial crossings at Roxham Road, which were undermining public confidence in border integrity. While all migrants must be treated with dignity, we should also recognize that effective protection is about balancing the rights of asylum seekers with legitimate state concerns. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears aware, at last, that asylum is a two-way street and that the situation was leading to a backlash. He announced last week with U.S. President Joe Biden that the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) will extend across the entire Canada-U.S. border. This can lead to a balanced overall policy if there is a genuine commitment to a comprehensive regional approach.

Although commentators insisted the U.S. would never agree to remove the loophole in the STCA that allowed the Roxham Road situation, the timing was right for a renegotiation. The Biden administration is leading a collaborative strategy to establish orderly migration in the Americas, and the recent scandalous revelations that U.S. officials were encouraging irregular migrants to cross at Roxham Road provided Ottawa with the additional impetus to take a broader, hemispheric approach to migration.

Even before these revelations, the application of the STCA was undermining public trust. It left the impression that the government was unable to control the border; illegal entry at Roxham Road became so easy that it was almost an invitation for undocumented migrants to try their chances at obtaining asylum in Canada. It also gave the appearance of an incoherent system favouring irregular migrants over those who present themselves at official crossings. The latter were generally turned back to the U.S. in accordance with the STCA, which stipulates that they should seek protection in the first “safe” country they enter. No protection principle could justify such a double standard, one that treated asylum seekers differently based on which part of the land border they used to enter.

The additional protocol announced recently follows the most rational option: By extending the STCA to the entire border, it guarantees that collaboration between the U.S. and Canada is not limited to official crossings. Neither country is obliged to return migrants, although they now have the formal structures to proceed this way if they so choose. The dissuasion element will make irregular migration more complicated, so the logic is that fewer migrants will choose this path. Refugee advocates and their academic allies have countered by claiming that migrants will now start to cross at more remote places, implying border control is futile. This is essentially an argument for open borders.

By amending the STCA, Ottawa has backtracked from its previous position that the 1951 Refugee Convention automatically grants every asylum seeker at Roxham Road the right to a hearing. Indeed, the word “asylum” was deliberately omitted from the convention’s 46 articles, and following a failed endeavour to adopt an asylum treaty in 1977, no further attempts have been made to codify a legally binding right to seek asylum. Just as international treaty law does not stipulate such a right, the Supreme Court’s landmark Singhdecision never determined that every asylum seeker automatically has the right to a hearing once they set foot in Canada.

Yet the government’s previous position played well to activists and academics who continue to prefer the status quo, which has an understandable appeal if the issue is simply about handling irregular migration at the border in a somewhat predictable and semi-orderly manner. However, this view remains tone-deaf to the symbolic impact of the RCMP’s credibility-sapping participation in border theatre: Until recently, border agents tried to dissuade migrants from entering illegally by yelling out that they will be arrested, even though everyone knew they would be immediately released to pursue their asylum claims in Canada.

Last month’s diplomatic development should stop this situation from continuing. It appears to be a simple version of a quid pro quo arrangement previously suggested to advance negotiations: Washington has agreed to amend the STCA, while Ottawa has committed to resettling at least 15,000 asylum seekers from Latin America. But as migration flows stabilize, the Canadian contribution should expand well beyond 15,000 resettled refugees. By tending to humanitarian needs, Canada’s labour shortages could also be addressed by new legal pathways for migrants, who have much to contribute to the economy.

Instead of the current undignified status quo that forces migrants to enter illegally at Roxham Road, ambitious collaboration could bring us closer to a humane model for orderly migration not just between Canada and the U.S., but around the world. The crucial question is whether there will be a long-term commitment.

Michael Barutciski is co-ordinator of Canadian Studies at York University’s Glendon College. He was previously director of the diplomacy program at the University of Canterbury Law School and fellow in law at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre.

Source: The safe-third-country amendment paves a balanced road to refugee protection

Following with Clark-Kazak:

The recent deaths of eight people at the Canada-U.S. border are the tragic but predictable consequences of policies that fail to account for the realities of global migration.

Last week, police reported that eight bodies – including an infant and two-year-old child – were found in the St. Lawrence River near the Kanien’kehá:ka community of Akwesasne. Six adults holding Indian and Romanian citizenship, along with two Canadian children of the Romanian couple, were reportedlytrying to cross irregularly into the United States. Casey Oakes, an Akwesasne resident, is still missing.

What may surprise Canadians is that the victims appeared to be heading from Canada into the United States. But the issue of irregular migration has long cut both ways – and recently changes by both parties only make matters worse.

This tragedy occurred less than a week after U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement. While most of the media and political attention has focused primarily on the resulting closure of the irregular border crossing at Roxham Road in Quebec, the deal also requires, with limited exceptions, anyone claiming asylum after arriving by land to make their refugee claim in the first country they reach, either the U.S. or Canada.

The Canadian government’s primary objective appears to be to limit the overall number of refugee claims in Canada. The deal allows Canada to turn back refugee claimants at official land ports of entry, and to deport people who cross irregularly from the U.S. and subsequently make an asylum claim.

While they are small in number compared with the 2.4 million encounters by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the country’s southern border with Mexico in 2022, Mr. Biden faced domestic political pressure to address the increasing numbers of people crossing irregularly into the U.S. from Canada. These irregular crossings, typically motivated by family and community networks and employment opportunities in the U.S., required the Americans and Canadians to publicly co-operate on the issue.

Many migrant fatalities over the past year have involved people crossing north to south. In January, 2022, the Patel family from India died while attempting to enter from Manitoba. Fritznel Richard, a Haitian man, died trying to reach his family in the U.S. from Quebec in December, 2022. In February, 2023, Jose Leos Cervantes, from Mexico, died shortly after crossing into New York State in sub-zero temperatures. These deaths occurred because there was no option like Roxham Road to allow for relatively safe, irregular passage from Canada to the U.S.

However, the resulting STCA amendment actually reduces overall immigrationpathways, thereby increasing the chances of irregular crossings and death.

Research shows that the securitization and militarization of borders has only driven up human smuggling and risky journeys on the land and sea borders of the European Union and at the U.S.-Mexico border, which the International Organization for Migration deemed “the deadliest land crossing in the world.”

While rich countries in Europe and North America benefit from globalization and the free movement of capital, many also attempt to close their borders – administratively and physically – to people seeking safety, security and a better life. These are not evidence-based policies. They are political measures to try to reassure domestic constituencies that they are “in control.”

But controlling borders – especially one as long and geographically complex as the Canada-U.S. border – is an impossible proposition. For as long as desperation remains the driver, irregular border crossings will continue, in both directions, no matter the risk.

Last month, in keeping with its decades-long patterns, Washington budgeted US$25-billion for border control, immigration detention and deportation. But despite such spending, the U.S. is estimated to have the largest undocumented population in the world, at more than 10 million. These people are often then driven into precarious employment that can lead to exploitation.

These resources would be better invested in clearing massive immigration backlogs – another problem Canada shares with the U.S. – and in creating more legal pathways to residency and citizenship. Funding could also be redirected to supporting communities along the border that are negatively affected by increased securitization and surveillance, but are otherwise neglected and marginalized. The Kanien’kehá:ka community of Akwesasne, for instance, has to contend with colonially imposed complications associated with its territory straddling Ontario, Quebec and New York State, which makes access to services (including health care) a challenge.

By following the U.S.’s lead on migration and border policies, Canada is making a costly mistake – in terms of how it is failing to invest in solutions that address the root causes of irregular migration, but also in terms of the impact their short-sighted policy making will have on human lives.

Christina Clark-Kazak is an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

Source: The safe-third-country amendment paves a balanced road to refugee protection, The deaths in the St. Lawrence River show that border ‘control’ is a fallacy

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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