UN agency concerned about impact of Canada’s immigration backlog on refugees

Of note. Implementation and delivery matters:

The UN refugee agency says it is concerned about the impact of Canada’s immigration backlog on the federal government’s commitment to resettle the world’s most vulnerable people, including Afghans who risk being targeted by the Taliban as they await refugee protection.

Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection at the United Nations refugee agency, said Canada’s immigration backlog of more than two million applications is “very distressing.”

Refugee advocates and the opposition parties in Ottawa have repeatedly expressed concern that Canada’s overrun immigration system is delaying resettlement for refugees.

Ms. Triggs, who met senior government officials in Ottawa Wednesday, said refugees face increased risks the longer their cases are stuck in government processing.

“I will be raising with the relevant deputy ministers and others our concerns about that backlog. What it does, of course, is expose people to the kind of dangers that you’re raising, of torture, attacks – the very dangers, of course, that underpin why they have refugee status in the first place,” Ms. Triggs said in an interview.

“The whole point of the need for refugee protection is that that needs to be fast. You cannot leave people in backlogs and pipelines for many months or, in some cases in some countries, for years.”

Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail reported that Afghans who aided Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan have been tortured by the Taliban while they struggle to navigate federal government red tape.

Concerns grew further on May 14 when a 24-year-old Afghan man who was urgently seeking protection from Canada was shot dead by the Taliban. While Ms. Triggs was careful not to comment on specific cases, she expressed concern about the fate of Afghan women, who now face more restrictions under Taliban rule.

Ms. Triggs said the COVID-19 pandemic bogged down immigration processes in many resettlement countries, such as Canada, which are now trying to catch up amid an “unsustainable” increase in the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide. An unprecedented 100 million people have been forcibly displaced by conflict, violence, human-rights violations and persecution, the UN refugee agency announced Monday.

“Part of the advocacy that we will engage in is to encourage governments to look at their processes to see if they can be made what we call fair and fast,” Ms. Triggs said.

She said she is not qualified to suggest specific system changes for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), but cited instances in which other countries have forgone their “cumbersome” immigration policies in the interests of urgency. For example, she said Poland, Slovakia and Moldova immediately opened their borders to Ukrainian refugees earlier this year when Russia invaded.

She also said a move toward digital application systems will speed up processing in resettlement countries.

IRCC did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has previously said the Liberal government’s investments in additional resources, including $85-million to help reduce the backlogs and 500 new processing staff, should help IRCC return to its prepandemic processing times by the end of the year.

Ms. Triggs said resettlement programs are available to less than 1 per cent of globally displaced people, which is why she said governments need to work to address the root causes of mass displacement. She said Canada can be a leader on this front, particularly in Central America, where violence and persecution have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

“Canada can play a role in looking at root causes in the region, at stabilizing populations, advocating for investments for finding ways to deal with gender inequality, with the abuse of women and girls, poverty and of course, instability,” she said.

Ms. Triggs is in Ottawa for a meeting of the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework Support Platform, a multicountry initiative that encourages greater responsibility sharing on forced displacement in Central America and Mexico. Canada is currently chairing the platform, with a focus on the needs of women and girl refugees and migrants.

Source: UN agency concerned about impact of Canada’s immigration backlog on refugees

The Silence of the Right on Ukrainian Refugees

Of note (not unique to USA as contrasting Canada’s previous firm policies in terms of access to work permits, healthcare and settlement services to Ukrainian temporary residents under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program compared to Afghans and others illustrates:

Last summer, anti-immigration advocates mobilized in opposition to the resettlement of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in the United States. “It threatens the national security of the United States,” wroteStephen Miller, the former top Donald Trump adviser. Miller charged in another tweet that President Joe Biden had “cruelly betrayed his oath of office” by expediting the entry of Afghans fleeing the Taliban without, Miller said, proper vetting. A prominent immigration-restrictionist group issued a report warning of fraud and abuse in the nation’s refugee programs, and immigration hard-liners flooded conservative airwaves throughout the fall to denounce the administration’s plans.

Then came another refugee crisis, this time in Ukraine. In March, Biden said the U.S. would admit up to 100,000 of the millions of Ukrainians who had left their country after the Russian invasion. The announcement was sure to provoke the outrage of the nation’s most ardent immigration foes, whose cries about an influx of refugees from a war-stricken region had barely faded from the news.

Except it didn’t.

Anti-immigration advocates have been far quieter about the Biden administration’s policy toward Ukrainian refugees than they were about its stance toward Afghan refugees. What’s more, the criticism they have leveled has had almost nothing to do with concerns about vetting or national security. Miller, for example, tweeted dozens of dire warnings about Afghan refugees during the summer and fall of 2021. He has also tweeted frequently about Ukraine since the crisis escalated at the beginning of this year, but not a single time about Biden’s plan to accept 100,000 refugees. (Through a spokesperson, he declined an interview request.)

To the groups who resettle refugees in the U.S., the divergent responses from the political right are a stark but familiar example of the long-standing bias against immigrants from poor or predominantly Muslim countries in favor of those from Europe, who are predominantly white. Those attitudes are also reflected in—and might contribute to—public opinion about America’s refugee policy. In a poll conducted last month for The Atlantic by Leger, 58 percent of respondents supported the U.S. accepting refugees from Ukraine, while just 46 percent backed admitting those from Afghanistan. Asked whether the U.S. should admit more refugees from one country than the other, 23 percent of respondents said the U.S. should take more people from Ukraine, while just 4 percent said the U.S. should accept more from Afghanistan, despite America’s two-decade involvement in the war there. Gallup found even broader support for admitting Ukrainian refugees, the highest for any refugee group it has polled about since 1939.

“Americans get a certain amount of compassion fatigue for certain parts of the world that are chronically in turmoil, and no American alive today can ever remember a time of peace in the Middle East,” Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that seeks a reduction in overall immigration to the U.S., told me. “It’s also true that Ukraine has not been viewed routinely as a source of refugees, of political conflict, at least not in the modern world.”

Senior officials with refugee-resettlement groups told me that they haven’t put much stock into the reaction of immigration hard-liners, because Republican governors and leaders in Congress have remained broadly supportive of accepting Afghan refugees. But they have sharply criticized the Biden administration for what they say is unequal treatment of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. “It certainly appears that Ukrainians are receiving special treatment,” Adam Bates, a policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, told me.

Under its Uniting With Ukraine program, the Biden administration is waiving all fees associated with applying for humanitarian parole. By contrast, IRAP says, the U.S. government charged more than 40,000 applicants from Afghanistan as much as $575 to seek similar protection last summer. The government is also scrapping requirements that Ukrainians submit evidence that they were specifically targeted by the Russian military or President Vladimir Putin, whereas Afghan applicants must provide proof of individualized, targeted violence against them by the Taliban.

The White House declined to comment. The administration has touted its evacuation of more than 82,000 Afghans to the U.S., including many allies who helped the U.S. military during its 20-year war. In both crises, the government has sought to route many applicants around the official refugee and special-immigrant visa programs because they are so backlogged. Officials have said that the humanitarian parole that the U.S. is offering to Ukrainians lasts for only two years, which Bates took as a suggestion that the government assumes many refugees will want to stay in the country only temporarily. I asked him what he thought was the real reason the Biden administration was expediting the process for Ukrainians in ways it did not for Afghans. “This is just speculating,” he cautioned in his reply. “But to me, I do not think that the influence of systemic racism and xenophobia in this country has been limited to just one party in the context of immigration.”

The politics of immigration have bedeviled Biden from his first days in office. Republicans have accused him of countenancing a veritable invasion of the southern border by migrants and asylum seekers, while progressives criticized his decision to keep in place some Trump-administration policies reviled by immigrant advocates. Biden’s critics on the right say his lax handling of the southern border has left the country stretched too thin to respond effectively to the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine. “The problem is that resettling refugees takes work and money and infrastructure, which has been overwhelmed by all the illegal aliens who were using asylum as a gambit to get past the Border Patrol,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies, told me.

Many others, however, say the U.S. has both the moral obligation and the capacity to open its doors to those fleeing war and persecution.

Conservatives who have raised alarms about resettling Afghan refugees say the need to vet them is stronger because the American invasion created enemies who could try to sneak into the U.S. to exact revenge. They’ve also warned about the cultural differences between Afghanistan and the U.S., highlighting reports of child trafficking by male evacuees who claim young girls as their brides.

Krikorian has assailed the nation’s refugee policy across the board and told me the U.S. could do more good simply by sending money overseas to help resettle evacuees in countries closer to their homeland. But he had harsher words for the Biden administration’s pledge to admit refugees from Ukraine. “We clearly have more obligation to Afghans than we do to Ukrainians,” Krikorian said. At the same time, he said, individual Afghan refugees presented bigger security and cultural concerns than did Ukrainians. As an example, Krikorian referenced reports of widespread sexual abuse of young boys by members of the Afghan security forces made by members of the U.S. military during the war. “I wouldn’t say because of that, we don’t take Afghans, but we do take Ukrainians,” he said. “But in individual cases, in doing vetting and assessing whether it’s a good idea to bring somebody into the United States, we definitely should take that into consideration.”

Those reports and the stereotypes they feed may help explain why the public voices stronger support for refugees from Ukraine than from Afghanistan, and, on some level, why the government has treated them differently. But to those who work on behalf of refugees, they are beside the point. “Of course, we need to vet immigrants who are coming into the U.S. to make sure that they are not a threat to the American public. But we need to do that consistently,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told me. “Both populations have strong rationales for seeking refuge here in the U.S. We shouldn’t pit one population against the other.”

Source: The Silence of the Right on Ukrainian Refugees

Chouinard: L’indolence d’Ottawa

Fairly representative of Quebec commentary. Challenge of course is likely USA disinterest in closing loophole given their immigration debates:

Le premier ministre François Legault a raison de s’impatienter face à l’indolence du gouvernement fédéral dans le dossier du chemin Roxham. Ce poste d’entrée terrestre est devenu une véritable voie de contournement pour des dizaines de milliers de demandeurs d’asile refoulés aux frontières en raison d’un accord désuet liant le Canada aux États-Unis. Cette situation doit changer.

Faut-il fermer le chemin Roxham ? Si Québec en arrive à cette demande un brin draconienne, à laquelle Ottawa a d’ailleurs immédiatement opposé une fin de non-recevoir, c’est que la voie de la raison n’aboutit pas. En effet, la renégociation de l’Entente sur les tiers pays sûrs (ETPS) traîne en longueur, ce qui a pour résultat de créer un refoulement de demandeurs d’asile aux portes du Canada. L’ETPS, en vigueur depuis 2004, permet au Canada de refuser les demandes formulées à un poste frontalier canado-américain officiel, et de retourner les réfugiés vers les États-Unis, considéré comme un pays « sûr ».

Conséquence ? Au poste frontalier non officiel situé non loin du passage de Lacolle, une centaine d’entrées irrégulières par jour se font au Québec, selon les données avancées par le ministre québécois de l’Immigration, Jean Boulet. Si le ministre plaide pour la fermeture des vannes, c’est qu’il a sous les yeux des données qui annoncent une flambée des passages. Depuis la réouverture du chemin Roxham, le 21 novembre dernier, 13 600 personnes ont traversé au Québec pour échapper aux États-Unis et à la crainte d’être retournées dans leur pays d’origine. Sur ce nombre, 10 800 ont formulé une aide financière de dernier recours, selon les données de Québec.

Le Québec déploie donc énergie et ressources financières pour assurer aux réfugiés toutes les bases de la survivance — un toit, de la nourriture, un revenu minimum, des soins médicaux. Si au moins le processus de régularisation du statut de ces arrivants était fluide et efficace ! Mais non, Québec affirme devoir attendre en moyenne 11 mois chaque fois qu’un permis de travail est demandé. En pleine pénurie de travailleurs, il ne peut même pas bénéficier immédiatement d’une main-d’œuvre pourtant disponible. La situation est doublement absurde.

En 2018, 18 500 personnes sont passées par le chemin Roxham. L’année suivante, quelque 16 000. Après deux ans de fermeture du chemin pour cause de pandémie, la réouverture de l’automne a déjà permis le passage de plus de 7000 personnes. Québec extrapole qu’il pourrait devoir ouvrir sa porte à 35 000 personnes cette année, bien qu’on n’en soit pas certains.

Dans le dossier délicat et complexe de l’immigration, où le Québec et le Canada ne cohabitent pas sur un terrain d’harmonie parfaite, il est facile d’opposer les vertus humanitaires aux arguments de nature économique : pas assez de soutien financier, pas suffisamment de logements, pas de permis de travail ne pèseront pas lourd dans la balance à côté d’une menace de mort planant sur certains demandeurs d’asile dans leur pays natal. Le sort incertain de ces personnes, si d’aventure elles étaient retournées là d’où elles viennent, est préoccupant, tel que l’a démontré la juge Ann Marie McDonald dans un jugement de la Cour fédérale de juillet 2020.

En demandant la fermeture de cette route non officielle, devenue par défaut un poste-frontière bidon, le Québec milite dans les faits pour le retour aux règles de l’art. Ça n’annonce pas la fermeture des portes, mais plutôt un encadrement qui pourra éviter qu’il se retrouve avec un flux incontrôlable de citoyens dont il doit prendre soin, le temps que leur demande soit analysée en bonne et due forme. C’est là aussi que le bât blesse, car les processus d’immigration encadrés par le gouvernement fédéral sont ralentis par un manque de ressources et d’inadmissibles lourdeurs administratives.

Bien que la réputation du Canada soit enviable dans le monde quant au processus équitable de traitement des demandes d’asile, ces manquements concrets ont fini par créer un corridor d’attente aux conséquences lourdes tant pour les individus que pour les autorités responsables, comme le Québec. Cela fait des années que la crise migratoire mondiale a créé un peu partout des zones de réfugiés positionnés aux frontières du pays d’accueil en attente d’un statut, d’une réponse, d’un avenir. La voie parallèle créée sur le chemin Roxham, en réaction à un accord bilatéral qui n’a plus raison d’être, n’est pas si différente.

Reste en trame de fond une querelle historique entre le Québec et le Canada autour du dossier de l’immigration, qui est de compétences partagées, n’en déplaise à François Legault. Son espoir de posséder en cette matière les « pleins pouvoirs » a essuyé une récente rebuffade, mais sa préoccupation d’être plus en contrôle, ne serait-ce qu’en vertu d’un désir de sauvegarde du français, est justifiée. Tout comme son souhait de voir se régler le dossier du chemin Roxham.

Source: L’indolence d’Ottawa

Le conflit Québec-Ottawa au sujet du chemin Roxham se poursuit

Not surprising. More comprehensive article than in English press:

Justin Trudeau n’a pas mordu, mercredi, aux demandes renouvelées de Québec, qui réclame la fermeture du passage frontalier du chemin Roxham. La situation est pourtant insoutenable, selon le gouvernement de François Legault.

Québec prévoit qu’au rythme actuel, plus de 35 000 demandeurs d’asile se présenteront à ce point de la frontière canado-américaine cette année. C’est beaucoup trop, soutient le gouvernement Legault, qui a appelé mercredi le fédéral, pour une deuxième fois en moins de cinq mois, à « arrêter ce flux quotidien ».

« On veut que [les passages] se fassent de manière ordonnée, régulière et légale. On est rendus à un stade où on excède nos capacités », a indiqué le ministre québécois de l’Immigration, Jean Boulet, à l’Assemblée nationale.

L’élu de la CAQ évalue la capacité d’hébergement du Québec à 1150 demandeurs. « On y est, ou à peu près », a-t-il dit en mêlée de presse. Et, avec l’été, le gouvernement Legault ne s’attend pas à voir le flux de migrants diminuer. « Il y a une augmentation actuellement », a souligné le premier ministre mercredi.

« [Roxham], c’est une passoire ; c’est reconnu à l’échelle internationale, a déploré le ministre Boulet. Ça ne peut pas continuer comme ça. »

Nouvel accord en immigration ?

À Ottawa, le gouvernement de Justin Trudeau n’a pas voulu s’engager, mercredi, à barrer la route aux migrants qui se présentent au sud de la Montérégie.

Il assure que les négociations avec les États-Unis en vue de la signature d’une nouvelle entente en immigration vont bon train. « Je sais qu’il y a des progrès avec les ressources qu’on a mises sur ce point [de passage] particulier à la frontière », a précisé en point de presse le ministre fédéral de la Sécurité publique et ex-ministre de l’Immigration, Marco Mendicino. Il assure que le chemin Roxham est « un dossier qui est très important » pour son gouvernement, et dit qu’il « collabore toujours avec le gouvernement Legault ».

Son collègue de l’Immigration, Sean Fraser, a répété que le gouvernement devait « respecter les droits des demandeurs d’asile » et suivre « des normes légales » quant à leur accueil.

En chœur, les quatre principaux partis à l’Assemblée nationale ont exigé qu’Ottawa revoie l’Entente sur les tiers pays sûrs, l’accord qui régit la traversée des demandeurs d’asile au Canada.

Entré en vigueur en 2004, le pacte autorise le Canada, dans les faits, à refuser toute demande d’asile effectuée à un poste officiel à la frontière canado-américaine sous prétexte que les États-Unis sont un pays « sûr ». Ne pouvant donc pas passer par les postes douaniers qui parsèment la plus longue frontière terrestre du monde, les migrants ont historiquement été refoulés vers des points de passage irrégulier comme celui du chemin Roxham, ce qui concentre donc leur arrivée au Québec.

Jean Boulet veut voir le gouvernement fédéral à la table de négociation avec les États-Unis au plus vite afin qu’ils revoient cette entente. Or, jusqu’ici, Ottawa s’est traîné les pieds, a-t-il avancé mercredi. « Cette entente-là, ou on la met de côté, ou on la redéfinit, ou on la modernise. Et à cet égard-là, Ottawa a énormément de travail à faire », a-t-il affirmé.

Des appuis à la position caquiste

En exigeant la fin des demandes d’asile au chemin Roxham, la CAQ rejoint les arguments du Parti québécois (PQ), qui insiste depuis le début de la semaine pour que soit réglée la situation dans ce coin de la Montérégie. « Qu’on encourage les passages illégaux seulement au Québec et que ça atteigne des dizaines et des dizaines de milliers d’entrées par année, c’est de faire porter au Québec un fardeau administratif […] qui n’a aucune logique », a clamé le chef péquiste, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, en matinée.

Le Bloc québécois a entrepris de transposer les demandes du gouvernement québécois à Ottawa. Le parti d’Yves-François Blanchet a déposé une motion devant le Parlement, mercredi, pour demander au gouvernement qu’il suspende cette entente avec les États-Unis « et qu’elle réclame le passage des migrants par les voies régulières partout au Canada et, conséquemment, la fermeture du chemin Roxham ».

La motion a été battue, faute d’obtenir l’unanimité.

« La capacité d’accueil responsable de l’État québécois a des limites dont il faut tenir compte — sauf si on veut, en effet, faire déborder la capacité québécoise en [matière] d’accueil, d’intégration et de francisation », a expliqué le chef bloquiste, Yves-François Blanchet.

Le Parti conservateur du Canada a aussicritiqué l’approche du gouvernement libéral, jugée trop laxiste. « Si nous voulons limiter l’arrivée de toutes ces drogues et armes illégales, nous avons besoin d’investir plus dans nos points d’entrée et de sécuriser le chemin Roxham », a déclaré la députée conservatrice manitobaine Raquel Dancho.

Des bémols

Pour le Parti libéral du Québec, la position défendue par le gouvernement caquiste, le PQ et le Bloc a quelque chose d’« inhumain ». « La moindre des choses, ici, c’est à mon avis de démontrer une certaine humanité face à des personnes qui sont démunies », a soutenu le député libéral Carlos Leitão.

Québec solidaire craint pour sa part qu’une fermeture unilatérale du chemin Roxham ne fasse que mettre en danger les quelques dizaines de milliers de demandeurs d’asile qui se présenteront à la frontière québécoise cette année. « Ça [déplace] le problème vers des endroits inconnus, ça [fera] encore davantage de demandeurs d’asile qui vont traverser n’importe où, sans aucun contrôle », a signalé le porte-parole du parti en matière d’immigration, Andrés Fontecilla.

Québec n’en est pas à sa première sortie pour demander la fermeture de ce passage frontalier. En décembre, le ministre Boulet était passé par Twitter pour dénoncer la menace que poseraient les arrivées par ce point sur le système de santé québécois. L’élu s’était partiellement rétracté dans les jours suivants, et avait admis que « la qualité humaine » de son message n’était « pas optimale ».

Plus de 10 600 demandeurs d’asile se sont présentés au chemin Roxham depuis le début de l’année, selon les données du ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration.

Source: Le conflit Québec-Ottawa au sujet du chemin Roxham se poursuit

Globe article:

Quebec is asking the federal government to close a popular, unofficial border crossing south of Montreal because the province can’t handle the number of asylum seekers entering the country, but refugee advocates are rejecting Quebec’s claims.

More than 100 refugee claimants are entering Quebec every day from the United States through a rural path called Roxham Road, Premier François Legault told reporters Wednesday.

“It’s unacceptable,” Legault said at the legislature. “It’s impossible because we don’t have the capacity.”

The federal government takes 14 months to study an asylum claim and in the meantime, Quebec has to house and care for would-be refugees and school their children, the premier said.

“We cannot afford to give services,” Legault said, adding that if the current pace continues, Quebec will not have adequate housing for 36,000 new arrivals.

Refugee advocates, however, say they don’t accept the premier’s claim.

“What is Quebec’s capacity for compassion? For justice? It’s maybe not unlimited, but the capacity is there,” Paul Clarke, interim executive director of Action Réfugiés Montréal, said Wednesday in an interview.

Clarke, whose group sponsors and offers services to refugees, said that while it can be difficult for asylum seekers to find shelter in Montreal, he doesn’t think the situation is any better in other Canadian cities.

Quebec needs people, advocate says

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said that during the pandemic, many people who had crossed the border at Roxham Road found work in Quebec’s long-term care homes.

“We not only have the capacity, but we also have the need, in fact, for more people,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

Part of the problem, she said, is the length of time it takes the federal government to issue work permits to asylum seekers.

“The federal government could alleviate things tremendously simply by giving work permits shortly after people arrive, so that they can get to work, and there are many jobs that they could very usefully fill,” Dench said.

The irregular border crossing at Roxham Road reopened in November after it was closed during the pandemic. Since the beginning of the year, the RCMP have intercepted 7,013 asylum seekers who have crossed irregularly into Quebec from the U.S. That number is up from 4,246 last year.

In 2019, more than 16,000 asylum seekers were intercepted by the RCMP after crossing irregularly into Quebec.

Legault said many of those who cross irregularly are ultimately not able to stay in Canada.

“You have to understand, the problem is that many of these people are not really refugees,” the premier said. “A refugee is someone who is physically at risk in their country. But the majority are not refugees; eventually, when the file is analyzed, they are refused, returned back home.”

Clarke said it’s not possible to determine which refugee claimants will be successful. “To say half of these people aren’t going to make it, well, which half, Mr. Legault?

“If he’s saying that, then he is acknowledging that people are coming to Canada and they do need protection. So how do you figure out which half?”

Under the 2004 Canada–United States Safe Third Country Agreement, refugee claimants who enter Canada outside an official port of entry must be processed in Canada and cannot be immediately returned to the U.S. Claimants who come through official entry points of entry, however, are sent back to the U.S.

Dench said closing the Roxham Road entry point would merely push people to cross at other points of entry — which would make it more difficult for the federal government to process asylum seekers.

“The reason they’re concentrated in Quebec is simply a matter of geography, because there is a large land border between the U.S. and Canada that people can cross over,” Dench said.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Tuesday that a balance needs to be found.

“Resources have been provided for that particular issue at the border,” he said. “We are also in discussions with the U.S. to regulate the movements of any asylum seekers. This is part of the strategy in order to both defend the rights of refugees while at the same time protecting Quebec citizens.”

Source: Quebec asks feds to close Roxham Road, says province can’t handle influx of refugees

Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

Of note:
Canada’s treatment of Ukrainians fleeing war has been distinctly different to those fleeing other humanitarian crises, the House of Commons immigration committee said Wednesday, and MPs want that to change.
The committee voted Tuesday to issue a public statement, urging the government to provide the same special immigration measures it extended to Ukrainians to refugees from other regions.The statement reads that “time is of the essence,” and said the committee calls on the immigration minister to ensure Canada’s response to humanitarian crises in other regions “are treated with the same vigor as Ukraine.

Canada has expedited immigration applications from Ukraine and created an extraordinary program to allow Ukrainian citizens and their families to come to Canada and work or study for three years while they decide their next steps.

The program does not apply to non-Ukrainians who fled the country.

Canada has received 112,000 applications from people fleeing Ukraine and has so far approved more than 26,500, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said at a press conference Wednesday.

The MPs on the committee say the measures should also be available to Afghans who are still in their Taliban-controlled home country, and refugees from other regions facing humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Myanmar and China.Fraser didn’t address the committee’s request in his press conference, but did say Canada remains “extremely committed” to helping people escape Afghanistan.

Canada has so far welcomed 10,025 Afghans since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Fraser said refugee resettlement efforts, including initiatives in Afghanistan and Syria, can take years to implement and must be accounted for in the government’s annual immigration-level targets tabled in Parliament.

Meanwhile, consultations with the Ukrainian community reveal many wish only to come to Canada temporarily and then return home when it is safe“We will continue to look at more ways that Canada can settle refugees, complementary to our resettlement efforts,” spokeswoman Aidan Strickland said in a statement. “Each situation is unique and should be considered as such to ensure that Canada is responding accordingly.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi applauded Canada’s actions to bring Ukrainians to a safe haven, but also reminded government officials of other refugee crises.

In February, before Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, the UN refugee agency counted about 84 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.

“Since then, that number has probably grown to well over 90 million. We must be in the region of 95 million now,” Grandi said at the press conference with Fraser.

Grandi was in Ottawa Wednesday to announce a new global task force, chaired by Canada, aimed at finding other ways to bring refugees to safe countries.

The initiative builds on a Canadian pilot program to allow skilled refugees to apply for permanent residency through economic channels. The idea is to bring additional refugees to the country, in addition to those welcomed through humanitarian processes.

The pilot removed some of the barriers that would traditionally have precluded refugees from applying for permanent residency in Canada through economic channels.

It was expanded late last year to accommodate 500 skilled refugees, and Fraser says he hopes to see even more welcomed under the program in the future.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan says the idea behind the pilot program is great, but she has noted some issues with the execution. For example, the program is supposed to include a loan option to allow refugees to meet the economic requirements to support themselves when they come to Canada, but that loan is not yet available.

Source: Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

And a good op-ed by Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl:

It is hard to rationalize the strikingly different approaches the Canadian government has taken to two major refugee crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

There have been benefits offered to Ukrainians looking to escape the Russian invasion, but not to Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s takeover, including authorization for emergency travel to enter Canada on a temporary basis with open work permits for up to three years. In addition, the government has promised to develop a family-reunification sponsorship program for both immediate and extended-family members.

There have also been benefits offered to Afghans, but not to Ukrainians, such as special programs for arrival as refugees with permanent residence and entitlement to all associated supports and services.

Certainly, the specific context of a refugee crisis can necessitate unique policy responses. But a common framework should be in place to provide similar support for individuals in crisis, with differences in treatment only where demonstrably justified.

The Canadian government has said that the “temporary residence” approach is justified by the assumption that most Ukrainians will return home. The reality, however, is that many Ukrainian refugees who choose to come to Canada can be expected to stay. No one knows how long the war in Ukraine will last, what the outcome will be, how much destruction will occur and whether or when it will be possible for individuals to return. The large Ukrainian community in Canada provides an added incentive to stay.

Indeed, an example from the past may foreshadow future decisions of Ukrainians coming to Canada. In response to the crisis in Kosovo in 1999, Ottawa initiated emergency airlifts of Kosovars on the expectation that many would return home as soon as the situation abroad was resolved. They were provided with permanent residence to entitle them to supports and services while in Canada. Kosovars were also offered transportation to return home and funding to re-establish themselves there. Despite these incentives to return, and the absence of a significant Kosovar community in Canada, only 30 per cent did so.

It would therefore be well worth providing supports and services that meet the needs of new Ukrainian arrivals. Many people fleeing Ukraine are women with small children, so even with open work permits, they may not start work immediately, and many won’t be able to earn enough money to support the needs of the family. Support from the community will be invaluable in many cases, but it cannot be expected to carry the full load.

Although the federal government has announced that Ukrainians arriving as temporary residents will have access to national settlement services, they are not eligible for federal income support or interim health coverage normally provided to refugees, leaving it up to individual provinces to decide on access to health care, schools and income support.

Afghans, for their part, need emergency travel authorization and reunification of extended-family members. Such measures would help to compensate for the fact that the implementation of the two special programs for Afghan refugees has been slow and rife with problems, and that private-sponsorship applications remain blocked.

Many Afghans are at greatly increased risk from having helped Canada in Afghanistan, and many have fled to neighbouring countries that don’t want them and are unable or unwilling to provide support. Ukrainians are in a horrendous situation, but they are at least being welcomed by EU countries who want and are able to help them. Some Afghans were airlifted to Ukraine from Afghanistan. Yet, even these Afghan refugees are not entitled to Canada’s new policies, which are available only to Ukrainian nationals.

We see no justification for Canada to offer such different treatment to two groups coming to our country at around the same time. Some observers have already begun to wonder if the policy differences have been influenced by race, religion or political benefit, and the lack of limits to the number of Ukrainians being allowed to enter Canada only fuels that argument. The perception is heightened by the fact that crises under way in Africa and elsewhere have gotten no special response at all.

Canada needs a common refugee framework that includes expedited entry and permanent residence, eligibility for supports and services and reunification of extended family members. Fair and equitable responses – for any refugee group – will help people in need of protection to make the transition to a successful life in Canada, no matter how long they choose to stay.

Source: Canada needs a unified approach for people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan

Canada expands settlement support for Ukrainians coming to Canada

Press release confirming these precedents, again drawing contrasts with other groups of refugees:

The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced that Canada is offering temporary federal support to help Ukrainians settle in their new communities. Settlement Program services, which are typically only available to permanent residents, will soon be extended until March 31, 2023, for temporary residents in Canada eligible under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET). This is an extraordinary temporary measure aimed at supporting Ukrainians arriving under this special, accelerated temporary residence pathway. Key services that will be available to Ukrainians as they settle into their new communities include

  • language training
  • information about and orientation to life in Canada, such as help with enrolling children in school
  • information and services to help access the labour market, including mentoring, networking, counselling, skills development and training
  • activities that promote connections with communities
  • assessments of other needs Ukrainians may have and referrals to appropriate agencies
  • services targeted to the needs of women, seniors, youth and LGBTQ2+ persons
  • other settlement supports available through the Settlement Program

Settlement services are delivered through more than 550 agencies across Canada. The Government of Canada will continue working closely with provinces and territories, which are mobilizing to support Ukrainians arriving in Canada. They play a key role in helping temporary residents through settlement and social services.

Starting early April 2022, the Canadian Red Cross, in support of the Government of Canada, will provide arrival services at the Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver international airports. This support includes providing translation services, as well as information in their language of choice to help connect Ukrainians with government and community services.

We have also created a Ukraine Cross-Sectoral Collaboration Governance Table, which will bring together settlement sector leadership, provincial and territorial representatives, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the Canadian Red Cross, federal partners and other stakeholders. This table will facilitate communication and collaboration on the Ukraine response and will help to triage logistics for cash donations and volunteers.

IRCC is exempting certain individuals who are low-risk from providing biometrics on a case-by-case basis at the decision maker’s discretion. Biometrics are currently a requirement before arrival in Canada for the majority of Ukrainian nationals. IRCC relies on biometrics for identity management and to ensure the integrity of Canada’s visa programs. The collection of biometrics is an essential component of the security screening process to protect the safety and security of Canadians and Ukrainian nationals when they arrive on Canadian soil. The easing of biometrics requirements will ensure Ukrainian nationals arrive in Canada as quickly and as safely as possible.

Service Canada is working with service delivery partners to provide Ukrainian newcomers with information about Government of Canada programs and services, in particular the social insurance number (SIN), including through SIN clinics delivered at convenient locations. To help connect Ukrainian newcomers with available jobs, the government also launched Job Bank’s Jobs for Ukraine webpage, including a fact sheet in Ukrainian, on March 17, 2022. Since its launch, the site has been viewed close to 96,000 times.

Canadians have been stepping up to help Ukrainians. Together, and with our partners, we will welcome Ukrainians into our communities and provide the supports they need to thrive, until they can safely return home.

Source: Canada expands settlement support for Ukrainians coming to Canada

Immigration Experts Contrast US Support for Ukrainian, Afghan Refugees – Voice of America

As elsewhere:

More than 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine in the month since Russia’s invasion began. United Nations officials said this kind of exodus has not been seen since World War II. And just as uncommon, some immigration attorneys say, is the quick response from countries welcoming refugees.

Ukrainian refugees are crossing mainly into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. Currently, Poland has taken the majority of refugees. Ukrainians also are trying to reunite with family members in the United States and have even arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border

Given the growing pressure on the Biden administration to find direct paths for displaced Ukrainians to come to the United States, the White House announced Thursday it would welcome as many as 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the eastern European nation.

But is the U.S. accepting Ukrainian refugees differently from Afghan refugees, who similarly fled war in large numbers?

“Absolutely,” said Ally Bolour, an immigration lawyer in California, adding, “I really need to preface by saying that it’s amazing that the U.S. is going to let in supposedly 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.”

But, Bolour said, there is a disparity between the ways the U.S. has welcomed Afghans and Ukrainians, starting with the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation. That program provides legal status in the United States and protection from deportation for up to 18 months. It also provides work permits for people to work legally in the country.

For Ukraine, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced its TPS designation a month after Russia’s invasion.

For Afghanistan, the administration didn’t grant TPS for Afghan refugees living in the United States until about seven months after the U.S. left Afghanistan.

“I’m not criticizing the announcement that Ukrainians are getting in,” Bolour said. “It’s to show the comparison and contrast. It’s just to show that there’s a disparity.”

Humanitarian parole

Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, agreed that the U.S. was quick to announce TPS for Ukrainian refugees but noted that both Ukrainians and Afghans have to go through the normal immigration system.

“And we don’t have a good system for allowing people to come to the United States quickly,” Yale-Loehr said.

Yale-Loehr said that for Afghan refugees, the humanitarian parole process has been overwhelmed by more than 40,000 applicants, many of whom have been waiting for six months for a decision on their cases.

“I don’t see how the administration is going to be able to speed up processing with the expected flood of humanitarian parole applications from Ukrainians. And if the administration does speed it up for Ukrainians, I think there will be legitimate complaints about why they were able to do it for Ukrainians so much more quickly than for Afghans and people from other countries,” Yale-Loehr said.

Humanitarian parole is special permission given to those hoping to enter the United States under emergency circumstances. While it does not automatically lead to permanent residency, parolees can apply for legal status — either through the asylum process or other forms of sponsorship, if available — once they’re in the U.S.

Refugee resettlement is a complex bureaucratic process with strict vetting to determine whom to accept for resettlement.

But with the White House promise to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the Russian invasion, some experts doubt the administration’s ability to process refugees faster than its current pace.

Yale-Loehr said he does not believe the administration will be able to admit anywhere near 100,000 people in the next six months.

“I think it will take a lot longer than people think to get those people here,” he added.

The process, for both Ukrainians and Afghans, begins at the United Nations, when a person is officially designated a refugee.

Once applicants pass the initial U.N. screening, they are referred to the United States. At this point, the refugees have to pass interviews, medical exams and background checks. Getting the green light to travel to the U.S. can take two to five years.

The number of refugees allowed under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was dramatically cut under the Trump administration, leaving fewer resources within the government and resettlement agencies to handle the significant increase of refugee applications and arrivals.

“The refugee resettlement agencies were devastated by the cuts that the Trump administration made. So, they’re not geared up again to be able to handle large flows of refugees yet. And it often takes a year or more for background checks for normal refugee processing. I don’t know how they’re going to speed that up,” Yale-Loehr said.

This fiscal year’s cap for refugee acceptance is 125,000 but only 6,494 refugees were admitted in the first five months mostly because refugee resettlement agencies are straining to support 76,000 Afghan evacuees, who are not counted toward the refugee cap.

Title 42 exemptions

Some Ukrainians have traveled to Mexico to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border where they hope to receive asylum in the United States.

Under current U.S. immigration law, officials at the border are expected to screen those who say they are afraid to go back to their home country because of persecution or ongoing conflict or a significant chance they might be tortured or killed.

But reaching the border does not guarantee immediate access into the U.S. because of the Title 42 guideline, which is a pandemic-related policy that mandates the rapid expulsion of migrants as a public health precaution. However, the Biden administration has agreed to allow U.S. immigration officials to use discretion toward Ukrainians at the border and decide on a case-by-case basis

“They just made an exception for Ukrainians as part of our foreign policy. I don’t think there’s anything in the legal framework that necessarily would have exempted Ukrainians from Title 42. So, I think they just made a foreign policy decision that they were about to let Ukrainians cross but not Russians or Afghans or people from other countries,” Yale-Loehr said.

As reported by the San Diego Tribune, Ukrainians have walked to the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request asylum and were allowed entry into the country.

Support from the American public for Ukrainian refugees and Afghan refugees also differs.

In March, a YouGov poll of 1,500 Americans showed that 54% of respondents are in favor of admitting Ukrainian refugees and 25% opposed.

For Afghan refugees, about 42% support welcoming Afghans.

Another poll, from Pew Research Center, showed that Democrats are more supportive of admitting Ukrainian refugees to the U.S. than are Republicans: 80% of Democrats said they supported admitting Ukrainian refugees, while for Republicans, the number was 57%.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA via email the U.S. commitment to Afghan refugees will not “wane as we open our doors to Ukrainians.”

“We are proud to have welcomed more than 75,000 Afghans in the United States since Kabul fell in August 2021. We continue to welcome Afghans through Operation Allies Welcome, including more than 600 who arrived within the past two or so weeks. Our commitment to resettling Afghans – particularly those who served on behalf of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan – remains steadfast,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Source: Immigration Experts Contrast US Support for Ukrainian, Afghan Refugees – Voice of America

From adaptability to vulnerability: Changes in admission criteria and refugee participation in social assistance

The Toronto Sun headline, as typical, spins the study with the header Canada’s immigration laws deter economic independence among some refugees whereas the article is more nuanced in how it characterizes the change, a valid change to address humanitarian objectives. And as the study notes, the gap decreases over time:

The 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) replaced the Immigration Act, 1976 as the primary legislation guiding immigration in Canada. It marked a major policy shift—from an emphasis on adaptability to vulnerability—in the admission of resettled refugees. Prior to the IRPA, those awarded refugee status had to demonstrate their capacity for economic independence in Canada. This would normally be within a year after arrival and would consider age, educational attainment, skills, presence of family members and other factors. The IRPA significantly altered Canada’s refugee priorities by committing to admission on humanitarian grounds and prioritizing those in need of protection (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2016; Lu et al., 2020).

Changes in selection policy had a particular impact on the characteristics of government-assisted refugees (GARs). For example, prior to the IRPA (1997 to 2001), 53% of newly admitted GARs had less than a high school education. However, this percentage increased to 74% among GARs who arrived after the IRPA (2005 to 2009). The share of lone-parent GARs also increased from 6% in the pre-IRPA cohort to 12% in the post-IRPA cohort. Because of these changes, refugees admitted after the IRPA may be more prone to relying on social assistance than those who arrived before the IRPA. This is less likely for privately sponsored refugees (PSRs) who are more likely to have family or friends in Canada and are better positioned to find employment through their sponsors or familial networks.

A recent article published in International Migration compared the long-term use of social assistance among resettled refugees arriving under pre-IRPA guidelines (1997 to 2001), during the transition period (2002 to 2004), and after the IRPA (2005 to 2009). Authors Lisa Kaida (McMaster University), Max Stick (McMaster University and Statistics Canada) and Feng Hou (Statistics Canada) used the Longitudinal Immigration Database to determine whether resettled refugees arriving after the introduction of the IRPA were more likely to rely on social assistance than earlier cohorts. The analysis examined GARs aged 20 to 54 at landing. The social assistance rates among PSRs were also calculated for comparative purposes.

Chart 1 displays the social assistance rates of resettled refugees (GARs and PSRs) admitted during the three periods. The social assistance rate is defined as the percentage of refugees whose family received social assistance income in a specific tax year. The results show that two years after landing, transition-period (71%) and post-IRPA (72%) GARs received social assistance at higher rates than pre-IRPA (66%) GARs. In contrast to GARs, pre-IRPA PSRs had higher social assistance rates (33%) than transition-period (30%) and post-IRPA (28%) PSRs in year 2.

While the social assistance rates of GARs dropped each year after landing, the rates for transition-period and post-IRPA GARs declined more slowly than those for the pre-IRPA cohort. The gap in social assistance rates between pre-IRPA and transition-period GARs continued to widen until year 8 (14 percentage points). The gap between the pre- and post-IRPA cohorts peaked in year 5 (16 percentage points).

After year 8 (for the transition-period cohort) and after year 5 (for the post-IRPA cohort), the gap in social assistance rates narrowed between these cohorts and the pre-IRPA cohort. By year 10, the difference in social assistance rates between the pre-IRPA cohort and the other two cohorts fell below 10 percentage points. Labour market characteristics of transition-period and post-IRPA GARs, especially their lower employment rates compared with pre-IRPA GARs, largely explained the differences in social assistance rates.

Social assistance rates of PSR cohorts slowly declined up to years 5 and 6, and then hovered at around 20% to 25% until year 10. The difference in social assistance rates between pre-IRPA, and transition-period and post-IRPA PSRs remained small from years 3 to 10.

The findings suggest that GARs arriving after the introduction of the IRPA took longer to integrate into the Canadian labour market and become economically independent than those arriving prior to the IRPA. However, transition-period and post-IRPA GARs started to close the gap with their pre-IRPA counterparts five to eight years after arrival. By the 10th year, their rates of social assistance decreased to 35%.

Source: From adaptability to vulnerability: Changes in admission criteria and refugee participation in social assistance

Streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians creates a ‘two-tiered,’ ‘racialized’ system, opposition says

Interesting that a Conservative MP, Brad Redekopp, raised the issue, given the party’s close connection to Ukrainian Canadians and that 14 percent of his riding, Saskatoon West, is of Ukrainian ancestry:

Opposition parties says the Liberal government’s streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians creates a two-tiered, racialized system that prioritizes Ukrainian immigrants over refugees from other conflict zones, including Afghanistan.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser appeared before the House of Commons immigration committee Thursday, where he faced questions about the differences between the government’s new special program and its dedicated refugee resettlement initiatives. During the meeting, Conservative committee member Brad Redekopp accused the government of prioritizing Ukrainian immigrants over Afghan refugees.

“Under your watch, it seems like you’ve set up a racialized system, a two-tiered system, where white Europeans come in faster than people from Afghanistan. How do you explain that?” Mr. Redekopp asked the minister.

Mr. Fraser rejected Mr. Redekopp’s claim, saying the situation in Ukraine demands a different response. He noted that Ukrainians can find their way to other Western countries for Canadian processing and biometrics screening more easily than Afghans.

“It has more to do with their ability to leave Ukraine, compared to … those who don’t have that ability to leave Afghanistan, than it does a decision by the federal government to be more kind to one group of people than another,” Mr. Fraser said.

He added that the government opted to offer streamlined immigration measures to Ukrainians, rather than a dedicated refugee program, because European counterparts and the Ukrainian Canadian community have indicated that most Ukrainians who come to Canada will want to eventually return home. This is not the case with people coming from Afghanistan, he said, hence the need for a refugee program.

“With respect to Afghanistan, I wish the circumstances were the same. I don’t have the same hope that it will be safe for the people that we are welcoming permanently as refugees to return home one day, despite their potential desire to do so, and that’s allowed us to create difference responses for the unique circumstances.”

Jenny Kwan, NDP immigration critic, also said the government has made it easier for Ukrainians compared with refugees from other countries. She noted what witnesses have told the committee regarding the discrepancy.

“They all said that they support the special measures for Ukraine, but what they’re concerned about is that it’s not being applied elsewhere. All the witnesses agree that government should extend those special immigration measures to other regions also experiencing conflict, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Hong Kong, et cetera,” Ms. Kwan said during the committee meeting.

Mr. Fraser said he wants to see the impact of the special measures for Ukrainians first before considering any similar streamlined programs.

Last year, the government committed to resettling 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan, and so far more than 9,500 have arrived in Canada since August. Much like the Liberal government’s Syrian refugee resettlement program, Afghan refugees have access to federal services and the Resettlement Assistance Program.

More than 10,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since Jan. 1. Most travelled to Canada under their own devices before the government announced the special immigration measures last week, Mr. Fraser said.

The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel eliminates most of the normal visa requirements and allows Ukrainians to stay in Canada for up to three years if they pass a background check and security screening. The measures are offered through the immigration stream; as a result, Ukrainians are not considered refugees and will not have access to the same support.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress recently called on the federal government to implement departure and arrival plans to assist Ukrainians with travel to Canada, provide financial support for a transitional period and encourage provincial governments to recruit and sponsor displaced people. The UCC is also urging the government to provide funding for settlement agencies, which could help Ukrainians co-ordinate transport, housing and health care and assist with work permit applications.

The government is in the process of setting up a family reunification program that would allow relatives in Canada to sponsor family members from Ukraine to move here permanently. Details are expected in the coming weeks.

Source: Streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians creates a ‘two-tiered,’ ‘racialized’ system, opposition says

Biden administration announces asylum system overhaul: What you need to know

Useful overview:

The Biden administration announced the final version of its long-awaited U.S. asylum overhaul Thursday, aiming to speed up processing at the border and alleviate backlogs throughout the country’s immigration courts.

Fixing asylum, a process that can drag out for years, was one of President Biden’s campaign promises. The overhaul represents the most significant change to the nation’s immigration system since he took office.

The new policy is scheduled to take effect May 28, two months after it’s published in the Federal Register. The change won’t affect most asylum seekers as long as a pandemic-related rule limiting access at the border remains in force. But the new system will probably be in place once that rule is lifted and the uptick in asylum requests begins.

“The current system for handling asylum claims at our borders has long needed repair,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a news release. “Through this rule, we are building a more functional and sensible asylum system to ensure that individuals who are eligible will receive protection more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be rapidly removed.”

Asylum seekers will now have their claims heard by an asylum officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within several months, if the plan works as intended, instead of waiting years for a final determination from an immigration judge.

The Homeland Security and Justice departments released a draft proposal in August. After reading through 5,000 public comments about the draft, officials on a call with reporters Wednesday said they made some changes but maintained the overall framework of the proposal. The officials — from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts — spoke to reporters on condition that they not be named.

Under the rule, anyone denied protection by an asylum officer could request a reconsideration from Citizenship and Immigration Services within seven days. If turned down, the person could ask that an immigration judge review their application and later bring their case to the Board of Immigration Appeals and federal circuit courts. After all bids are exhausted, or if none are pursued, the person would be subject to deportation. The rule does not apply to unaccompanied children who arrive without a parent

Supporters say the policy improves what has long been considered a scary process for traumatized migrants. Instead of having to initially recount their worst experiences in an adversarial court setting as they defend themselves against deportation, migrants will now be able to make their case in an asylum office.

But many advocates worry the changes weaken constitutional due process rights for asylum seekers by essentially expanding the so-called expedited removal process, a mechanism used to quickly turn back immigrants apprehended at the border.

Richard Caldarone, who manages litigation at the Tahirih Justice Center, a national nonprofit serving immigrants who fled gender-based violence, said the new process serves no significant humanitarian purpose because it doesn’t give trauma survivors enough time to find a lawyer, gather evidence and recover.

“Survivors of trauma will not be able to recite what happened to them 72 hours after arriving in a safe place to a government official,” he said. “Given the emphasis that DHS has placed on speed for asylum seekers, this will be like the former process — designed in a way that will systematically fail to elicit people’s best asylum claims.”

A better system, Caldarone said, would give people a year before their asylum hearing to prepare and then quickly provide a decision as to whether they could stay or be deported. That would allow people to heal from trauma and lead to fewer appeals, he argued.

The backlog of pending immigration court cases has exploded in recent months, reaching nearly 1.6 million by December, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan data research center at Syracuse University. It has tripled since 2016.

Under the new system, asylum officers will grant decisions within roughly 90 days. Immigration court appeals will generally take another 90 days, officials said.

During his first year in office, Biden took roughly 300 executive actions on immigration, nearly a third of them to reverse course on Trump-era policies, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

One area he did not change: For the last two years, the border has been closed to the vast majority of asylum seekers under a restrictive pandemic-era policy initiated by former President Trump. The policy, known as Title 42, invokes a 1944 public health statute to quickly expel migrants who attempt to enter the U.S. in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Among more than 1.7 million people detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the southwest border during fiscal year 2021, 61% were expelled under Title 42, according to agency data.

Experts say those rapid removals under Title 42 resulted in an increase in unauthorized crossings into the U.S. by people who would have otherwise requested asylum at an official port of entry. The rapid removals back to Mexico also led to repeated border crossing attempts by migrants — inflating the number of Customs and Border Protection apprehensions.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally ended that policy for children traveling without a parent, saying their expulsion “is not warranted to protect the public health.” Immigrant advocates and Democratic congressional leaders have argued that the policy is illegal and have ramped up calls in recent weeks to also end its application to adults traveling alone and parents traveling with their children.

But asylum seekers will see no substantial changes, even once the updates are in place, until the CDC decides to end Title 42 entirely. In recent weeks, as the response to the pandemic has changed within the U.S., federal officials have begun planningfor the possible end of the policy.

The asylum overhaul will be implemented in phases, though officials said they have yet to decide where to roll out the initial program and whether to target any specific population, such as single adults or families.

On a call with reporters last week, Mayorkas said the phased implementation of the new asylum system is designed to avoid straining Citizenship and Immigration Services. The agency has teetered on bankruptcy, he added, and was “virtually dismantled” under the Trump administration, whose immigration approach deterred many immigrants from filing applications before the pandemic further reduced the agency’s caseload.

“We have to be mindful of the resource constraints of the asylum division in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as we rebuild that agency,” he said, noting that the agency is almost entirely funded by application fees.

Under the proposed rule, the agency estimated it would need to hire 800 new employees and spend $180 million to be able to handle 75,000 cases annually.

Before the pandemic, migrants encountered near the border were screened by agency asylum officers for fear of persecution. Those who passed the initial screening would have their cases moved to the immigration courts, where a judge would decide whether they qualified for asylum or another form of protection and could stay in the U.S.

Meanwhile, they were detained or released pending a final court hearing. Immigrants facing deportation don’t have the same right to a publicly funded attorney as people in criminal proceedings, and most represent themselves.

To qualify for asylum, immigrants must prove a fear of persecution in their home country based on one of five protected categories: political opinion, race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.

Officials hope the new asylum policy will curb unauthorized migration.

“The ability to stay in the United States for years waiting for an initial decision may motivate unauthorized border crossings by individuals who otherwise would not have sought to enter the United States and who lack a meritorious protection claim,” the rule states.

The goal is also to reduce the stress for those who ultimately receive asylum or other immigration protections, according to the rule, as currently, “they are left in limbo as to whether they might still be removed, are unable to lawfully work until their asylum application has been granted or has remained pending for several months, and are unable to petition for qualified family members, some of whom may still be at risk of harm.”

Source: Biden administration announces asylum system overhaul: What you need to know