2019 TRUDEAU REPORT CARD C+ Overall, Immigration B

The intro to the section on immigration, largely written by Howard Duncan (I participated in an earlier report card). A downgrade from last year’s A-.

A bit overly harsh, as any government whatever its stripe would have found the influx of asylum seekers difficult to manage given the legal, policy and operational constraints.

The critique of the government’s communications, while valid in terms of its overly downplaying the issue and too much “virtue signalling,” underestimates the challenge given the tenor of debates south of the border and in Europe, and their crossover into some Canadian debates:

The influx of irregular border crossers continued to rise this year,and so have public discourse and import. On the one hand, the Trudeau government should be commended for its response in balancing between two very different views on the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA); demands to ‘close the loophole’ and outlaw any asylum claimants from the US, and calls for the complete suspension of the STCA, questioning whether the US can be considered a ‘safe third country’ at all. The Trudeau Government managed these conflicting calls by upholding Canada’s legal and moral obligations to allow individuals claiming asylum to have a fair hearing.

While practically and programmatically, the government has done an acceptable job at responding, they haven’t done a good enough job of explaining what they are doing, and why they are doing it. The Liberals have allowed the Canada-US border issue to develop into a very volatile political issue due to an outrageous lack of communication and coordination.

This is exemplified in the way the government has responded to provincial governments that raised concerns (such as the Ford government in Ontario). The Liberal response was not aimed at addressing legitimate concerns of the governments, but rather deflected all concerns by pointing fingers and labelling governments as racist, exclusionary and a disgrace to Canadian values. This attitude along with the divisive comments has only antagonized those who don’t share Liberal political ideologies. Concerns from major host cities such as Montreal and Toronto about the mounting costs of refugees and the strain of refugees on public housing and social services reflects a complete lack of coordination in all levels of government.

The failures in communication are mounting. The failure by Minister Hussen to clearly communicate to the Canadian public what’s happening in Roxham Road (a favored border crossing in Quebec) and Emerson, Manitoba (another border crossing) is a case in point. Trudeau’s own town hall comments have further managed to blur the line between refugees and asylum seekers in public discourse.

These lapses reveal a very large weakness within the Liberal government in building
and sustaining the consensus and support necessary to see difficult policies through to fruition. By taking a moral high ground, the Trudeau government has yet to demonstrate true leadership on immigration. The Liberals have allowed a policy problem, key to realising Canada’s future prosperity, to become an issue of politics. As a result, immigration has become a deeply divisive political issue and will be a subject of much debate in the upcoming elections.

While practically and programmatically, the government has done an acceptable job at responding, they haven’t done a good enough job of explaining what they are doing, and why they are doing it. The Liberals have allowed the Canada-US border issue to develop into a very volatile political issue due to an outrageous lack of communication and coordination.

This is exemplified in the way the government has responded to provincial governments that raised concerns (such as the Ford government in Ontario). The Liberal response was not aimed at addressing legitimate concerns of the governments, but rather deflected all concerns by pointing fingers and labelling governments as racist, exclusionary and a disgrace to Canadian values. This attitude along with the divisive comments has only antagonized those who don’t share Liberal political ideologies. Concerns from major host cities such as Montreal and Toronto about the mounting costs of refugees and the strain of refugees on public housing and social services reflects a complete lack of coordination in all levels of government.

The failures in communication are mounting. The failure by Minister Hussen to clearly communicate to the Canadian public what’s happening in Roxham Road (a favored border crossing in Quebec) and Emerson, Manitoba (another border crossing) is a case in point. Trudeau’s own town hall comments have further managed to blur the line between refugees and asylum seekers in public discourse.

These lapses reveal a very large weakness within the Liberal government in building and sustaining the consensus and support necessary to see difficult policies through to fruition. By taking a moral high ground, the Trudeau government has yet to demonstrate true leadership on immigration. The Liberals have allowed a policy problem, key to realising Canada’s future prosperity, to become an issue of politics. As a result, immigration has become a deeply divisive political issue and will be a subject of much debate in the upcoming elections.

The concern is not with immigration numbers, but with the government’s ability to project the public’s opinion and manage these flows in a financially responsible way. Irregular border crossings have come to a halt during these vicious winter months, following several cases of frostbite. Yet another run at the border is expected in the coming months.

All eyes are focused on how the Liberal government will respond.

….

Source: Trudeau Government Report Card 2019

A lot is riding on how we manage asylum seekers

Good overview of the challenges regarding to the increased number of asylum seekers with an almost wistful plea for increased federal-Ontario-Quebec cooperation.

No real discussion of what “workable solutions” to address the flow would entail or what form a greater formal provincial role in asylum seekers would entail apart from a “considerable injection of cash” (beyond what already provided in the Budget):

The next federal election is just eight months away. Immigration, and particularly asylum seekers and irregular border crossers coming from the US, is sure to be a thorny issue for the current federal government. These crossings, following on the heels of large numbers of Syrians seeking asylum in Europe, have stoked fears among many Canadians that the country is facing its own refugee “crisis.” Opponents have been quick to criticize the federal government, saying it is not doing enough to stem the flow of irregular border crossings. The Prime Minister’s rivals have repeatedly pointed to his January 2017 tweet saying that Canada will welcome those seeking refuge as the instigator of this increase in asylum claims. The Prime Minister faces stiff opposition from both his federal rivals and his provincial counterparts.

If Canada is to weather the inevitable ratcheting up of political rhetoric and the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in the Western world, the federal and provincial governments will need to work together to manage asylum seekers. It is a tall order to ask politicians to take the high road and to find common ground on such a tricky file. It is even harder when immigration politics mixes with intergovernmental relations and fiscal federalism. But the survival of Canada’s immigration system may very well depend on it, and this election presents an opportunity for political leadership.

In 2018, 19,419 persons crossed the border between Canada and the United States outside of regular ports of entry. A majority did so with the hope of claiming refugee status in Canada. These movements are a reflection of the increasingly inhospitable global climate toward refugee resettlement and of the anti-immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump.

These border crossings are considered “irregular” because of Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, signed as part of a bigger package of reforms to coordinate border management policies after 9/11. Under the agreement, both countries are designated “safe third countries” because they allow and process refugee protection claims according to international standards and obligations. The core principle of the agreement is that persons should seek protection and asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. So, migrants who land first in the United States cannot claim asylum at a regular port of entry in Canada, and vice-versa. Significantly, the agreement does not apply outside of designated ports of entry. People crossing at locations that are not regular ports of entry, such as the now famous Roxham Road in Quebec, may therefore make asylum claims.

The well-publicized increase in total asylum claims over the past two years is not unprecedented in Canada: similar spikes occurred in the recent past. For example, there were 44,640 claims in 2001. But the numbers in the last two years are extraordinary: 50,390 claims in 2017 and 55,020 in 2018, a sharp rise from the recent low of 10,365 in 2013. The surge in crossings at non-designated ports has driven the increase: there were over 20,593 such crossings in 2017 and 19,419 in 2018. Arrivals are not distributed evenly across provinces; Quebec received more than 90 percent of “irregular” arrivals in 2017 and 2018, and Ontario is the destination of a large share of these individuals and families while they await status determination. In August 2017 alone, over 5,500 people crossed the border into Quebec. By 2018, though, the number of border crossers seemed to have levelled off to a more consistent flow of around 1,500 people a month.

The combination of drivers behind these arrivals means that there are no easy solutions to dealing with this new normal. Proposals range from making the entire border a port of entryto cancelling the Safe Third Country Agreement. Canada needs to find workable solutions that humanely manage the flow of asylum seekers crossing the Canada-US border without actively encouraging it.

While the focus is often on Ottawa’s response to asylum seekers, all three orders of government play critical roles. In addition to border security, the federal government is responsible for the initial intake and screening of asylum seekers, along with funding and managing their claims for refugee status. The provinces are responsible for providing housing and social services while people wait to hear if the Immigration and Refugee Board will approve their claims. Cities, particularly Toronto, face the significant challenge of having to find shelter space and provide on-the-ground services. For the system to work, the federal government has to take leadership and quickly process the claims to help resolve people’s status in Canada, while the provinces and municipalities provide the necessary support that allows them to settle into their new life and thrive in their communities. The sharp increase in asylum seekers in the past two years has exposed the weak points in the system and led to considerable federal-provincial conflict.

Conflict between the three main players — Ottawa, Quebec and Ontario — has largely defined the federal-provincial relationship in responding to the asylum issue. Quebec has been vocal in calling for support from Ottawa to help it deal with the costs associated with being the main point where the crossings are happening. Ontario — where a large portion of the asylum seekers are landing, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area — has repeatedly asked the federal government to help cover the cost of housing and social services for these individuals. Ottawa has dedicated approximately $150 million to help provinces and municipalities with the costs of resettlement, in addition to the estimated $1 billion it plans to spend over the next three years on processing asylum claims. It is also taking steps like reopening a previously closed Immigration and Refugee Board office to speed up processing. But these first moves have not gone far enough to resolve the tensions. The spat got so heated that Ontario pulled out of discussions on how to deal with the entire issue, a move that also signals the provincial government’s lack of desire to fully engage to find a mutually agreeable solution. The lack of engagement has led mayors from Toronto and other big cities to make their case directly with Ottawa.

This period of conflict is unusual. As our past research shows, immigration is an area where the federal and provincial governments have increasingly cooperated to develop policy. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the provinces expanded their role in selecting and settling migrants. And, in recent years, federal-provincial-territorial collaboration has been a defining feature of immigration policy. So, what is the difference when it comes to dealing with asylum seekers?

In the past, the provinces and the federal government largely agreed on the basic objectives of the immigration program. Expanding the provincial role in selecting migrants helped achieve a shared goal of streaming migrants away from settling mainly in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. It also helped ensure that the skills of migrants matched labour market needs. In short, there was a measure of consensus that the provinces needed to play a role in the program to ensure that the benefits of immigration were shared equally across the country and for migrants to succeed in their new lives. This consensus generated cooperation.

No such consensus on how to manage asylum seekers seems to have emerged yet. The lack of consensus reflects the traditional lack of provincial engagement in asylum policy, where the federal government has long taken the lead. Quebec, Ontario and Ottawa also have competing interests at the moment. Quebec is on the front line, and is understandably concerned with stopping irregular border crossings into its territory. Ontario — Toronto in particular — is facing a major challenge housing the influx of people. Ottawa is focused on dealing with the mounting backlog of refugee claims while ensuring the process remains rigorous and fair.

Politics, of course, is also playing into the conflict. Doug Ford wants to score points battling the federal Liberals. François Legault’s newly elected government is requesting that Ottawa support its plan to lower immigration levels and is asking for more powers under the 1991 Canada-Quebec immigration agreement. Justin Trudeau has built his brand on the value of pluralism and support for immigration, something that the Liberal Party has traditionally proposed must be achieved through centralization. These are difficult positions to reconcile. But political differences can be overcome to find workable solutions: the height of federal-provincial cooperation on immigration came when there was a Conservative federal government and Liberal governments in Ontario and Quebec.

The federal and provincial governments must work together once again. Their shared goal should be a balance between protecting the integrity of our immigration system and treating asylum seekers with compassion. Strong federal leadership is necessary to achieve this goal, along with a clear recognition of the interdependence of all three orders of government in successfully managing the file. The federal government needs to inject considerable cash into the entire system, chiefly focusing on speeding up the processing of asylum claims. Ottawa controls the principal levers, direct and indirect, to manage the influx of migrants — and so it needs to work with the provinces to find common ground on how it should wield these tools.

A federal-provincial agreement on the broader policy approach, as well as on funding the resettlement of claimants, would help establish this common ground. But this agreement needs to be more than a blank cheque from the federal government. The provinces must accept that they have a role and responsibility in supporting asylum seekers. If the benefits of economic migration are to be shared by all — as the provinces have fought hard for over the years — then the responsibility to assist humanitarian migration also needs to be shared by all.

Canada’s enviable immigration system relies on the public’s support. This backing is not the result of some unique Canadian openness to multiculturalism and pluralism — though these are important parts of our national identity. The public largely supports immigration because it is seen to be in the interests of the entire community. It is mainly a controlled process, bringing in skilled workers and family members.

Canada’s geopolitical position, with vast oceans on three sides and a relatively stable democracy to the south, means that the country has not been subjected to massive flows of asylum seekers. But this is a fragile situation. If the current and next governments don’t handle the new normal of consistent flows of asylum seekers properly, public support could erode, and the legitimacy of the entire Canadian immigration system could be put in jeopardy.

Source: A lot is riding on how we manage asylum seekers

MALCOLM: The latest Liberal fearmongering – Conservatives will ‘militarize the border’?!

Fear-mongering, like virtue signalling, is all too common, whether it be from the right or left. And Malcolm, whose writings are consistent in condemning Liberal actions (and inactions), and arguably fear-mongering herself, rarely addresses some of the inconvenient truths of her critiques.

In this case, if Canada were to declare the whole border official entry points for purposes of the Safe Third Country Agreement, the implication would be that we would need to have more staff at the border to enforce it, not to mention US agreement (unlikely) to take back any person attempting to cross the border.

And should we declare Roxham Road an official point of entry (and if the US would agree), many would simply look for other places to slip across the border?

One could argue that in fact allowing Roxham Road as a loophole makes it easier for the government to know who is arriving and perform the needed security and related checks and go through the IRB process rather than being completely unmanaged:

But While accusing the opposition of fear-mongering about illegal immigration, top Trudeau government officials have stepped up their own fear-mongering campaign against the opposition.

The 2019 federal election may be nine months away, but the campaign has already begun. The latest comes from Trudeau’s immigration minister Ahmed Hussen, who accused the Conservative Party of wanting to “militarize the border.”

Last week, Conservative MP and immigration critic Michelle Rempel held a news conference where she called on the government to study the issue of how Canada screens and vets migrants who illegally cross into Canada. Rempel’s proposal was mild, and well within reason.

Canada is experiencing an unprecedented and ongoing surge in illegal border crossings, which has been accompanied by stories of alleged terrorists and migrants with national security red flags slipping into Canada.

Rempel noted in her news conference that the Conservatives have been asking for a review of Canada’s immigration screening policy since the border crisis escalated in 2017.

Responding to Rempel’s proposal, Hussen dismissed the Tory position on immigration and bizarrely seemed to invent a new position for them.

“I haven’t seen anything from the Conservatives. They don’t have a plan,” said Hussen, before quickly changing his tune. “Do you know what their plan is? To militarize the border and place a CBSA official or RCMP official every 100 metres,” said Hussen.

In the same breath, Hussen claimed both that the Conservatives didn’t have a plan and that their plan includes militarizing the border.

Of course, there is no evidence that the Conservatives — or any sane person for that matter — has ever called for officials to be stationed every hundred meters along the border.

The shared Canada-U.S. border, after all, spans 8,891 kilometres. With border officials ever 100 metres — ten per kilometer — that would mean staffing the border with about 90,000 border stations, and asking our American neighbours to do the same.

If the mainstream media bothered to fact-check Liberal politicians like they do the opposition, Hussen’s wild allegation would surely fail the test.

In reality, the problem is mostly contained to one small section of the border.

In 2018, 19,419 migrants illegally entered Canada in between official ports of entry, 18,518 of them crossed into Quebec. This is in line with the Trudeau government’s claim that 95% of all illegal crossings occur along Roxham Road.

The problem does not span Canada’s nearly 9,000-kilometre border. It’s isolated to a very small location — making it much easier to tackle.

Canada could drastically reduce the flow of illegal migration by taking a simple step: closing the border at Roxham Road and stopping migrants from crossing there. Instead, the Trudeau government has done the opposite.

First, they built a land bridge so migrants wouldn’t have to walk through a ditch.

Second, they permanently stationed RCMP officers at this unofficial crossing point (which is less than five kilometres from the official crossing at Champlain, NY) to register incoming migrants.

Third, they set up makeshift refugee camps so that asylum seekers could start their paperwork and quickly become eligible for government handouts.

Finally, they began shuttling migrants to Montreal or Toronto — their choice — and setting them up in government-funded housing.

Not only has the Liberal government helped to facilitate illegal immigration, they’re normalizing it and thereby encouraging more of it.

Perhaps that is where Minister Hussen is coming from. When you believe in open borders, everything else begins to look like “militarization.”

Source: MALCOLM: The latest Liberal fearmongering – Conservatives will ‘militarize the border’?!

Doug Saunders: The politics of border-crossing bogeymen are unwise – and dangerous

Valid points:

There’s a trick, long known to certain politicians, to get an electoral boost when you’re down in the polls: You declare that dangerous people are about to come across the border, and you latch onto a conspiracy theory claiming that the other political party, or some dark forces associated with them, are responsible.

It can be an effective tactic. Immigration is often a popular election issue, especially when it’s mixed with atavistic fears of mysterious predators entering your territory. It is also a profoundly dangerous tactic.

On Wednesday night, we heard the U.S. President attempt this trick, for the umpteenth time. Americans, Donald Trump declared in an address, are being “raped, murdered and beaten to death with a hammer” by nefarious figures streaming across the southern border, and “thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now” to build his wall.

Never mind that the threat is an utter fiction – illegal border crossings from Mexico to the United States are at their lowest rate in almost half a century, and those who make the crossings are measurably less murder-prone than Americans.

It’s also based on a wild conspiracy theory. Mr. Trump has repeatedly told voters that migrants approaching the U.S. border include “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,” as well as terrorists, even though his own immigration officials deny this. He’s said that their march on the border is being funded by mysterious Democratic-linked forces; in October, he publicly endorsed an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory blaming Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros for the “caravan.”

But Canadians can’t watch this with any sense of superiority. For the first time in decades, this tactic has crept into mainstream Canadian politics.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer shocked many members of his own party last month by taking up a cause that had emerged from the fringes, denouncing a United Nations document known as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

That document, if you bother to read it, is an anodyne, purely symbolic statement of principles intended to reduce overall immigration numbers, and especially to discourage irregular – that is, illegal – immigration. Like other such UN compacts, its main purpose is to provide principled-sounding statements for preambles of other documents.

Instead, Mr. Scheer claimed that the Compact “gives influence over Canada’s immigration system to foreign entities.” He then denounced the “crisis at our borders” and “chaos at our borders” caused by “illegal border crossers” – suggesting that cross-border chaos, danger and criminality would be products of this document.

Where did this weird theory come from? As Laurens Cerulus and Eline Schaart found out in an investigation this week for Politico, it was the product of a calculated social-media campaign by “a coalition of anti-Islam, far-right and neo-Nazi sympathizers” based in Europe. It was taken up in September by far-right parties in Europe, and by figures in Mr. Trump’s circle.

Mr. Scheer’s decision to join Mr. Trump in picking up this ugly thread might have seemed like an expedient way to turn immigration fears into anti-Liberal sentiment. Yet, the larger danger of such conspiracy theories is not just that they are absurdly false – but that some people really believe them.

In October, 11 people were shot to death in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a man shouting anti-Semitic slogans. To judge by his social-media posts and statements, the alleged shooter, Robert Bowers, had come to believe that criminal migrants headed to the Mexico-U.S. border were being funded and supported by Mr. Soros and other Jewish figures and organizations – the same conspiracy theory Mr. Trump endorsed. A few days earlier, a Trump supporter in Florida had sent pipe bombs to Mr. Soros and other Democratic-linked figures in apparent support of this theory.

These incidents, and others like them, followed a 2011 massacre in Norway orchestrated by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people – many of them children – because he had come to believe a theory, promoted by European right-wing politicians, that “globalists” and “cultural Marxists” (including his victims) were conspiring to bring in threatening Muslim immigrants.

That conspiracy theory has now reached Canada. In January, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette walked into a Quebec City mosque and shot 19 people, killing six. In his police interview, he said he had been spurred to action after watching reports about Mr. Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, and after hearing conspiracy theories about Canada’s Syrian refugees. “I saw that and I like lost my mind,” he said. “I don’t want them to kill my parents, my family.”

Nobody but these killers themselves are responsible for their actions. But they all had been led to believe fictions about border-crossing bogeymen and the figures who supposedly back them. Given the dangerous implications of such inventions, to amplify them in the name of momentary political gain wouldn’t just be profoundly unwise. It would be absolutely reckless.

Source: The politics of border-crossing bogeymen are unwise – and dangerous

John Ivison: Unilateral regulatory changes could be answer to Canada’s border problems

Interesting series of suggestions from former immigration officials and Conservative staffers, some more well thought out than others (Ivison and I spoke briefly regarding this option).

But fundamentally, I am unconvinced that unilateral approaches, without US cooperation or at least acquiescence, will work. Will the US accept back those refused asylum seekers? And if not, then what.

Not to mention the likely legal challenges that will emerge. After all, the government lost one Federal Court decision regarding appeals to negative refugee rulings and unclear whether an appeal would have changed that decision:

In his State of the Union address in 1995, Bill Clinton said the U.S. is a nation of immigrants but also a nation of laws. It is wrong and self-defeating to permit abuse of those laws at the border, he said.

In his recent interview with the National Post, Justin Trudeau sounded more concerned with rationalizing the surge of migrants on Canada’s southern border than regaining control of the flow of asylum-seekers crossing from the U.S.

He offered no new ideas on how to stop those entering Canada illegally between official ports of entry and suggested the new arrivals will be an economic boon for the country.

“The fact that we have extremely low unemployment, we’re seeing labour shortages in certain parts of the country, (means) it is a good time to reflect that we are bringing in immigrants who are going to keep our economy growing,” he said.

The government has paid lip-service to modernizing the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. that states migrants claiming refugee status must make their claim in the first “safe” country they arrive in – Canada or U.S.

A loophole in the pact with the Americans means it does not apply between official points of entry.

But there has been no progress in actually closing that loophole. The Trudeau government appears to have thrown up its hands in the face of American intransigence.

But Canadians’ faith in an immigration system that is legal, secure and economically-driven has been shaken. There is disbelief that the federal government can do nothing to take back control of Canada’s borders.

With good reason. There is no question that the political and legal environment has limited the government’s room for manoeuvre. But it is also true that the Liberals have not shown the will to reinforce the integrity of the refugee system. For example, once elected, the Trudeau government decided not to appeal a Federal Court decision that ruled it was unconstitutional for the government to strip asylum-seekers from countries designated as “safe” from appealing negative refugee rulings.

James Bissett was head of Canada’s immigration service and is a former Canadian ambassador. He suggested that by passing new regulations under the current Immigration Act, the government could act unilaterally and prevent applications for asylum from people residing in a “safe” country (apart from citizens of that country).

“Designating the U.S.A. a ‘safe’ country and passing an order-in-council accordingly would stop the flow across the border. I don’t see this as a violation of the Safe Third Country agreement, but if it is, then we should unilaterally end the agreement,” he said. “But I’m afraid the government doesn’t want to stop the flow and hopes a large portion of the population will agree to keep the flow coming.”

Andrew House, a lawyer at Fasken and a former chief of staff to successive Conservative public safety ministers, called Bissett’s idea a “sound approach” but said that there is “virtually no possibility” of it being adopted by the Liberal government that dropped the legal appeal on refugees.

Howard Anglin, Jason Kenney’s former chief of staff when he was immigration minister, agreed that building on the existing designation of the U.S. as a safe third country would be legally possible but would likely face major practical problems. While the 1951 Refugee Convention ruled out asylum shopping, the U.S. is unlikely to take back claimants who don’t have legal status in the States, he said.

But Anglin said Canada could at least pass a regulation making anyone with legal status in the U.S. (either temporary or permanent) ineligible to claim asylum. It could include anyone who has been denied asylum in the U.S., after having gone through its asylum process.

“There is some risk the U.S. might consider this a unilateral expansion of the Safe Third Country agreement, and thus a violation of it, and that they could become difficult in administering it on their end, or even cancel it altogether,” he said. But, despite the likely outcry from refugee lobbyists, he said most Canadians would understand why Canada should not encourage asylum shoppers.

Andrew House was more enthusiastic about another of Bissett’s suggestions – that those who cross illegally be brought to an official port of entry and have their case examined there. House suggested that this could be done without abrogating the Safe Third Country agreement.

“There is no sensible reason why Canada would not choose to view the geography in imminent proximity to a port of entry as the port of entry.

“The language in the STCA is clear: ‘country of last presence’ means that country being either Canada or the United States, in which the refugee claimant was physically present immediately prior to making a refugee status claim at a land border point of entry.

“Consider the geography of many Canadian ports of entry – they are not right on the border, they’re often set back several hundred metres. And yet we deem the ‘country of last presence’ to be the U.S., not Canada. Why doesn’t Canada choose to interpret the STCA in such a way that a person attempting to cross 100 metres to the left of a port of entry is simply apprehended, brought to the port of entry and processed per the intended operation of the STCA – that is, turned back to the U.S.?”

If Canada is to live up to its aspiration to be a nation of laws, it’s high time it started exploring some of these regulatory changes. The lack of action smacks of a clash between the administrative will and the political won’t.

Source: John Ivison: Unilateral regulatory changes could be answer to Canada’s border problems

John Ivison: Trudeau sounds resigned to his inability to solve Canada’s border-crosser problem

Interesting and nuanced commentary, including recognition by the Prime Minister in terms of the limitations:

Justin Trudeau appears to have given up hope of reducing the flow of people crossing from the United States illegally to claim asylum, and is test-driving fresh rationalizations on why a migrant surge might not be such a bad thing. The new line from the Prime Minister is that the flow of asylum seekers may prove an economic boon for Canada.

“The fact that we have extremely low unemployment, we’re seeing labour shortages in certain parts of the country, (means) it is a good time to reflect that we are bringing in immigrants who are going to keep our economy growing,” Trudeau said in a pre-Christmas interview.

The statement came in response to a question about a contention by his predecessor, Stephen Harper, that an immigration system that is legal, secure and economically driven will have high levels of public acceptance, while the “irregular” migration phenomenon has made the system less secure and less economically driven.

It is clear there are labour shortages. A Business Development Bank of Canada study in September found four in 10 small- and medium-sized companies struggling to find new employees. But an orderly immigration system aims to match the skills of newcomers with the demands of employers. The free-for-all at the border is a triage situation. The only thing economically driven about it is the desire of the migrants crossing illegally to have a higher standard of living than they had in their country of origin.

Who can blame them? But it’s no way to run a country.

To claim this abuse of process will help the economy to grow is the latest attempt by the Trudeau government to justify its loss of control over the Canada-U.S. border. In November, Bill Blair, the border security minister, tried to sanitize the situation by pointing out that 40 per cent of migrants crossing illegally are children, suggesting that Canada is merely living up to its human rights obligations.

Neither argument can rationalize a situation where the integrity of the immigration system is being violated.

Trudeau pointed out that the Liberals have injected extra resources ($173 million in budget 2018) to ensure that everyone who arrives in Canada, even if they cross between official border crossings, is given a full security screening. “There are no loopholes or shortcuts, in that our immigration system continues to apply to everyone who arrives in this country,” he said.

This is true. The flow of migrants, mainly from Nigeria and Haiti, is costing the federal government a pretty penny — $340 million for the cohort of migrants who arrived in Canada in 2017, according to a November report by the Parliamentary Budget Office — not to mention straining provincial resources (the PBO estimated a cost of $200 million each for Ontario and Quebec). Such generous provision has attracted yet more asylum shoppers — year-over-year numbers suggest more people crossed illegally into Canada between January and September this year (15,726) than in the same period last year (15,102).

The endless appeals process means there is a massive backlog that is likely to require reform to reduce.

But at least the government has some control over the process once migrants have claimed asylum. When it comes to reducing the number flowing across the border, the Liberals appear accepting of their impotence.

Blair’s mandate letter gave him the lead role in talking to the Trump administration about “modernizing” the Safe Third Country Agreement, which states migrants claiming refugee status must make their claim in the first “safe” country they arrive in — Canada or the U.S.

A family from Haiti approach a tent in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, stationed by Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as they haul their luggage down Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y., Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

A loophole in the pact with the Americans means it does not apply between official points of entry.

But there appears to have been little progress on closing the loophole since public safety minister Ralph Goodale met then-homeland security secretary John Kelly in March, when they agreed to “monitor the situation” at the land border. Blair visited Washington in November to meet homeland security officials and his office says talks are “ongoing.”

They are likely to remain so.

No matter how much money the government spends trying to process asylum claims, a solution requires cooperation from the Trump administration — and that has not been forthcoming.

Even under Obama, there was no interest in extending the Safe Third Country Agreement to anyone crossing from the U.S. — a move that would increase the number of asylum claimants south of the border. There is likely to be a similar lack of concurrence about joint border enforcement patrols to stop people crossing in the first place.

But the agreement is currently as useless as a pulled tooth. There can be few issues of greater importance in the cross-border relationship and the point should be made forcefully in Washington whenever the Americans want something.

Canada’s consensus on immigration is in jeopardy, as economic migrants ignore this country’s laws and its borders.

Trudeau sounds resigned to being bound in an insoluble quandary. The upshot is that he is trying to promote an uncontrolled migration system as one that is not only orderly, but is of net benefit to Canada.

It is going to be a tough sell.

Source: John Ivison: Trudeau sounds resigned to his inability to solve Canada’s border-crosser problem

A Conservative Judge Torched Donald Trump’s Latest Illegal Assault on Immigrants

Canadian conservatives advocating simplistic solutions to asylum seekers should take note:

If there were any lingering doubt that Donald Trump’s latest plan to curb asylum is flatly unlawful, Judge Jay Bybee quashed it on Friday.

In a meticulous 65-page opinion, Bybee—a conservative George W. Bush appointee—explained that the president cannot rewrite a federal statute to deny asylum to immigrants who enter the country without authorization. His decision for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a twofold rebuke to Trump, halting the president’s legal assault on asylum-seekers and undermining his claim that any judge who blocked the order is a Democratic hack. The reality is that anyone who understands the English language should recognize that Trump’s new rule is illegal. Like so many of Trump’s attention-grabbing proposals, this doomed policy should never have been treated as legitimate in the first place.

Friday’s ruling involves a proclamation that Trump signed on Nov. 9, ostensibly to address the “continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border.” The order alluded darkly to the caravan of asylum-seekers then approaching the border, which Trump tried and failed to exploit as a campaign issue. To remedy this “crisis” and protect “the integrity of our borders,” he directed the federal government to deny asylum to any immigrant who enters the United States unlawfully.

Ten days later, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar halted the new rule, holding that it likely exceeded the president’s authority. Trump responded by dismissing Tigar, a Barack Obama appointee, as an “Obama judge.” The comment led to a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts, who told the AP: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

As Trump escalated his feud with Roberts, his Department of Justice appealed Tigar’s ruling to the 9th Circuit. It faced a seemingly propitious panel: Bybee, Judge Edward Leavy, and Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz. Bybee is a very conservative jurist who authored the original “torture memo,” justifying the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation of detainees. Leavy is a staunchly conservative Reagan appointee; only Hurwitz, an Obama appointee, leans to the left. Under Trump’s partisan vision of the judiciary, the DOJ would seem to have a good shot at reviving the asylum rule.

But Bybee didn’t bite. In a crisp and rigorous opinion for the court, he wrote that Tigar was correct to conclude that the policy almost certainly violates the law. The problem, Bybee explained, is that Congress expressly provided asylum-seekers with the right that Trump now seeks to revoke: an ability to apply for asylum regardless of how they came into the country. The Immigration and Nationality Act states that “[a]ny alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival …), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section.” This provision implements the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which the United States has ratified. It directs signatories not to “impose penalties [on refugees] on account of their illegal entry or presence.”

The plain text of the law couldn’t be clearer: Immigrants in the U.S. are eligible for asylum whether they arrived legally (through a “designated port of arrival”) or illegally. If the president wants to change that fact, he’ll have to convince Congress to break its treaty obligations and alter the law.

Obviously, the Trump administration has not persuaded Congress to overhaul asylum law. So it tried to work around the existing statute by allowing unauthorized immigrants to request asylum—then directing the government to deny their application. Bybee easily disposed of this semantical workaround. “It is the hollowest of rights,” he wrote, “that an alien must be allowed to apply for asylum regardless of whether she arrived through a port of entry if another rule makes her categorically ineligible for asylum based on precisely that fact. … The technical differences between applying for and eligibility for asylum are of no consequence to a refugee when the bottom line—no possibility of asylum—is the same.”

In light of the proclamation’s fundamental illegality, Bybee, joined by Hurwitz, affirmed Tigar’s nationwide restraining order. Leavy dissented in a curious five-page opinion insisting that the INA grants the executive branch power “to bring safety and fairness to the conditions at the southern border.” His anemic analysis is no match for Bybee’s thorough demolition of the DOJ’s illogical position. It seems quite likely that a lopsided majority of the Supreme Court will eventually agree with Bybee’s majority opinion.

It is satisfying to see a “Bush judge” (in Trumpian parlance) hand the president such a stinging legal defeat. Roberts overstated the case in totally dismissing the role of partisanship in the judiciary; of course some judges are political. But for now, a majority of the federal judiciary remains willing to stand up to the president, at least when he issues blatantly illegal orders. Judges like Roberts and Bybee may let Trump manipulate ambiguous laws to do some very bad things to immigrants. But they are not willing to let the president ignore a clear and constitutional directive from Congress.

The next time Trump floats a flagrantly lawless idea, then, it’s worth remembering that nativist bluster cannot transmogrify an illegitimate command into a permissible executive order. Just because the president considers ending citizenship for the children of unauthorized immigrants, for instance, does not mean he can actually get away with it. Like the INA, the Constitution grants certain rights that the president cannot unilaterally rescind—including birthright citizenship. Bybee felt no compunction to pretend that Trump’s illicit scheme has any legitimacy. Neither should the rest of us.

Source: A Conservative Judge Torched Donald Trump’s Latest Illegal Assault on Immigrants

Asylum denials hit record-high in 2018 as Trump administration tightens immigration policy

Good data confirming other reports:

Immigration judges rejected a record-high number of asylum cases this year, refusing 65 percent of immigrants seeking the refugee status, according to a recent report published by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). More than 42,000 asylum cases were decided in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2018, the most since the group began tracking the data in 2001.

The rise marks the sixth consecutive year that the denial rate has increased, according to TRAC’s data. In 2012, the refusal rate was 42 percent; 2018’s rejection rate is nearly 50 percent larger, according to TRAC’s data. The group obtained data from the Department of Homeland Security through Freedom of Information Act requests.

TRAC pointed out the increase “largely reflects asylum applicants who had arrived well before President Trump assumed office.”

asylum-denials-fy2018-trac-syracuse-university-figure01.jpg

Immigration court asylum decisions, between fiscal years 2001 and 2018, shown in a graph provided by Syracuse University.

Immigration judges have been busier than ever before. Courts decided on 42,224 asylum cases this fiscal year, an 89 percent increase from two years ago, according to TRAC’s data. There is little relief in sight: as of Sept. 30, there were more than 1 million backlogged immigration cases, including those seeking asylum.

“I worry that people’s due process is at risk and that’s at play in the rise of denial rates,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, in a telephone interview with CBS News. “People’s claims are getting denied not because it wasn’t valid, but because there just wasn’t enough time to collect evidence and representation in an environment that’s seeking speed.”

Mr. Trump made immigration a key issue of the midterms, often tweeting about a migrant caravan traveling through Central America and Mexico and deploying thousands of troops to the southern border ahead of Election Day on Nov. 6. Days later, Mr. Trump signed an executive order barring asylum from anyone who illegally entered the country, a decree later blocked by a federal judge.

Asylum is a specific immigration process reserved for people of any nation fleeing persecution. Asylum seekers must establish they face “credible fear” in their home country, and – in a majority of cases – are allowed to live on U.S. soil while a judge determines the validity of their claim. Mr. Trump and other proponents of stricter immigration laws say the system has been abused by migrants, calling the practice “catch and release” and have made attempts to limit the system.

A change in immigration language from former Attorney General Jeff Sessionsearlier this year severely limited the ability for asylum seekers to establish persecution based domestic and gang-related violence, two forms of persecution that disproportionately impact migrants from Central America.

asylum-denials-fy2018-trac-syracuse-university-figure02.jpg

Change in representation rates compared with fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2018 (average).

Nearly 80 percent of last year’s asylum decisions were for immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, countries with already historically low asylum grant rates, according to Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migrant Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

“You’re dealing with an administration that’s putting a lot of pressure on immigration judges while looking skeptically at asylum and humanitarianism,” Pierce said in a telephone interview Monday evening with CBS News.

Immigration judge selection continued to play a major role in asylum decisions, according to TRAC. Asylum law can have wide-ranging interpretation, leaving immigration judges with more discretion than some other areas of law, said Reichlin-Melnick. For example in San Francisco’s immigration court, depending on the judge, asylum denial rates ranged from 10 percent to 97 percent.

“It’s refugee roulette,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “The single biggest factor on whether you win your case is just who you end up in front of.”

Source: Asylum denials hit record-high in 2018 as Trump administration tightens immigration policy

John Ivison: Budget officer finds illegal migrants entering via a ‘loophole within a loophole’

The loophole, allowing those in the asylum process who arrived as irregular arrivals to sponsor their relatives during the determination process, should be relatively easy to close, in contrast to the provision in the Safe Third Country Agreement that it doesn’t apply to those not arriving at official border crossings, which would require highly unlikely agreement with the Trump administration:
While a politician may wish something to be true, simply saying it in the House of Commons does not make it so.

Bill Blair, the newly minted minister for border security, made a claim about the refugee system in question period Thursday that cannot be supported by the available facts.

“The system is working,” he said.

He was responding to questions about a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which pegged the cost of “irregular” — for which read “illegal” — migration at $340 million for the cohort of migrants who arrived in Canada in 2017-18 – a cost-per-migrant to the federal government of $14,321. (That does not include provincial expenses, which Ontario claims come to around $200 million. The PBO estimated a similar amount for Quebec. The federal government has reimbursed the provinces a total of $50 million.)

Technically, Blair is correct. The refugee system is working — in much the same way the Russian military’s Antonov Flying Tank worked during the Second World War.

In that case, the plane could leave the ground and drop a tank by parachute, albeit without crew, fuel or armaments. It worked. It just didn’t work well — and the project was rapidly abandoned.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., advises migrants that they are about to illegally cross the border from Champlain, N.Y., and will be arrested, on Aug. 7, 2017. Charles Krupa/AP

The federal government should adopt a similar approach and go back to the drawing board.

The PBO report is revealing, and not just for the cost estimates. In fact, it emerges in a footnote the costs are likely more than $14,321 per migrant — Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada estimates the number at $19,000.

But during its investigation, the PBO team elicited some interesting responses from government departments that show how bizarre the migrant story has become.

Another footnote revealed that Canada Border Services Agency officers have identified a phenomenon where one claimant enters Canada illegally and acts as an “anchor relative” for other family members. Those family members can then enter at a port of entry and not be considered illegal migrants. (The PBO asked for data but CBSA said it is not currently being tracked).

But think about that for a minute — a practice Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has called a “loophole within a loophole.”

This means a migrant can cross into Canada from the U.S. between official entry points, avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement that would have otherwise made them ineligible. (The agreement between Canada and the U.S. states that migrants seeking refugee status must make their claim in the first “safe” country they arrive in — either Canada or the U.S.)

Once a claim has been made, the migrant can access Canada’s generous welfare system as he or she navigates the asylum claims process that gives them multiple hearings and appeals. In the meantime, they can effectively sponsor other members of their family, who can then arrive as regular migrants — also avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Blair tried to sanitize this blatant abuse of process by pointing out that 40 per cent of migrants crossing illegally are children — postulating that this is a question of humanity and human rights obligations.

But due process should work both ways, and in this case the integrity of the system is being violated.

The anchor relative provision does not just apply to nuclear families but to parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces.

The obvious solution is to close both loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement — amend it so it applies between official points of entry, and more tightly define who migrants can bring in.

But there appears to have been little progress in persuading the U.S. to change an agreement that sees people it clearly does not want within its borders effectively deporting themselves.

There are other reforms that could be undertaken. Experts who have looked at the system talk about the “failure of finality” — the endless appeals process that effectively gives migrants a new hearing at the Refugee Appeal Division if their claim is rejected by the Refugee Protection Division, and still another one at the Federal Court if the appeal fails.

The Liberals have done little beyond what they do best — throwing money at the problem. In response to the new arrivals, budget 2018 allocated $173.2 million over two years to “manage the border.”

But the PBO report gives lie to Blair’s claim the “system is working.”

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Immigration and Refugee Board had capacity to hear 24,000 claims. During that period there were 52,142 new asylum claims, of which illegal migrants represented 23,215. The system was flooded with claims beyond its capacity, creating a backlog of 64,929 cases.

More than half of the refugee claims were made by irregular migrants from Nigeria and Haiti. That is not a dog-whistle for swivel-eyed racists, or “fear-mongering,” as one senior Liberal put it. It is a fact.

They are flooding from those countries because word has got out that the Canadian system can be gamed with great ease — that an entire family can set up in the Great White North for the cost of a plane ticket from Lagos to New York City and a bus ride to the Quebec border.

Canada has seen similar surges in refugee claims before. In 2010, the Conservatives introduced visa requirements for Mexicans and Czechs, after a flood of bogus claims. The intake of refugees fell from 25,783 in 2010 to 10,227 in 2013 and the backlog halved. For the 2017 calendar year, claims were at 47,427 and the backlog was of a similar magnitude.

If the system was working, as Blair claimed, it would be fast, fair and final.

Currently, it is the very opposite — sluggish, arbitrary and inconclusive.

Source: John Ivison: Budget officer finds illegal migrants entering via a ‘loophole within a loophole’

And John Ibbitson on the potential electoral implications of the costs:

The problem of people crossing the Canada-U.S. border illegally and then seeking asylum just became a bigger headache for the Liberals, one they emphatically do not need less than a year before the next election.

The situation at the border appeared to be improving. In 2017, more than 20,000 asylum-seekers crossed illegally into Canada from the United States. In the early months of 2018, the flow was actually increasing, compared with the year before. But then the numbers started to taper off – at least on a year-over-year basis. Ottawa seemed to have things under control.

“There is a challenge, but it is not a crisis,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale insisted in July.

But if the numbers aren’t increasing, the cost sure is. In a report released Thursday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that handling the claims of asylum-seekers cost the federal government more than $14,000 a case in the last fiscal year, will cost almost $15,500 this year and will cost $16,700 next year. By that time, taxpayers will be doling out $400-million a year to handle these claims and to provide the migrants with health care.

As the Tories quickly pointed out, the accumulated costs will be more than $1-billion by the end of the next fiscal year.

“Justin Trudeau’s failure to address the crisis he has created has real consequences for Canadians,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement, “and this report brings those consequences into sharp focus.”

These sums don’t include the cost of sheltering, feeding, clothing, educating and otherwise caring for the needs of these asylum-claimants, which are largely borne by provincial and municipal governments, and which has set the Ontario government back an estimated $200-million.

It gets worse. Asylum-claimants who cross the border illegally are overwhelming the tribunals established to hear refugee claims, creating a current backlog of 65,000 cases. It will take about three years to handle the claim of someone arriving this year. Next year, the backlog could stretch to four years.

Each individual claim is unique. Each person seeking asylum in Canada has a story to tell, and that story can be heartbreaking. But, on its face, most of the people crossing into Canada illegally from the United States appear to have a weak case.

Last year, many of the migrants were Haitian citizens who feared being forced to return to Haiti by the Trump administration. To be blunt, that’s not Canada’s problem.

This year, many of the claimants were Nigerians who obtained a visa to enter the United States and then headed straight for the border. These appear to be economic migrants, whose claims for protection as refugees should not be accepted.

What will happen next year? Will a fresh crop arrive at our border seeking asylum – Latinos who fear deportation from the United States, or nationals from Caribbean or African countries seeking a chance for a better life? Will the ever-lengthening wait times for hearings, which allow asylum-seekers to stay in Canada, convince more and more migrants that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain – including free health care – by crossing the border illegally? Or will the numbers drop down below 2017 levels? No one knows.

What we do know is that the problem of people crossing the border illegally corrodes confidence in Canada’s immigration and refugee system. This country’s future well-being depends on a robust intake of immigrants to compensate for a low natural birth rate. If people conclude that bogus refugee claimants are gaming the system, they could lose confidence in the entire program, which would be a disaster for Canada.

None of this is lost on the Conservatives, who will accuse the Liberals of failing to secure the border – which is, it must be said, one of the core responsibilities of any sovereign government.

Of course, the Tories have no good explanation for how they would handle things if they were in charge. But that may not matter. The opposition mantra will be: The Liberals can’t get a pipeline built. They can’t balance their budget. They can’t even secure the border.

Not a pleasant narrative for a governing party to confront in an election year.

Asylum seekers entering Canada outside legal border points cost an average of $14K each: PBO

Interesting to have the cost data. Doesn’t surprise me terribly given the nature of the determination processes and related costs:

The federal government spends an average of about $14,000 for each asylum seeker crossing into Canada outside of legal border points — a cost that’s expected to rise as the case backlog grows, says Canada’s budget watchdog.

In a report released Thursday — Costing Irregular Migration Across Canada’s Southern Border — Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said the total cost for the asylum claims process was about $340 million in 2017-2018 and is expected to rise to $396 million in 2019-2020.

He said some of the accounting is based on average costing for all refugee claimants, because the federal government does not track separate data for “irregular” asylum claimants. Aside from some added costs for RCMP interventions, the average costs for claimants crossing illegally would be same as those for all refugee claimants.

The federal government set aside an extra $173 million over two years in this year’s budget to cover the additional costs related to asylum seekers crossing into Canada outside of legal border points. Giroux said that sum “falls short significantly.”

“Our estimates suggest that they have not budgeted enough, which will result in increased backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board,” he said.

The $173 million was based on an annual influx of 5,000 to 8,000 individuals, rather than the actual number of 23,000 per year, Giroux said.

The costs tallied in the report are for federal organizations such as the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Board. They do not include expenses incurred by the provinces, territories or municipalities, which pick up costs related to social services.

Ontario, for example, has estimated its costs related to asylum seekers arriving outside official border points at about $200 million a year.

The report comes after the City of Toronto made a new request for an additional $64.5 million from the federal government to deal with the “unsustainable” operational and financial pressures associated with refugee and asylum claimants.

The city says that about 40 per cent of Toronto shelter users are refugees or asylum claimants — a jump from 11 per cent in early 2016 and 25 per cent in late 2017.

Toronto asks for $64.5M

Toronto is asking for $64.5 million to reimburse its costs and ongoing, stable funding of $43 million a year starting in 2019.

“The city can’t do this alone. The federal government has come forward with initial help but we need the continued assistance of our federal and provincial partners to ensure that Toronto remains a safe, welcoming and accessible place for all,” said Mayor John Tory in a statement.

In June, the federal government pledged $50 million for Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Ontario’s share of $11 million went directly to Toronto after the provincial government scoffed at the amount.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has asked Ottawa for $200 million to defray the costs of social assistance, housing and education associated with asylum seekers.

The cost per asylum seeker varies from about $10,000 for a simple case — where the claim is accepted — to about $34,000 for a more complex case ending in the claimant exhausting all appeals and being deported.

Giroux said that as the number of asylum seekers rises, the cost increases because of the backlog in cases. Costs are driven up, in part, because the refugee claimants are entitled to the interim federal health benefit, which covers certain health-care costs for refugee claimants until they’re eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance.

“Increasing the backlog means individuals have to stay in limbo for a number of years, and we estimate that could rise to five or six years in some cases,” he said.

Figures ‘absolutely shocking’

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said some of the figures in the report are “absolutely shocking,” given that the total costs for a single asylum seeker could be in the range of a gross salary of a minimum wage worker in Canada.

“It just blows my mind that between 2017 through the next fiscal year this prime minister is choosing to spend $1.1 billion on essentially what amounts to the abuse of our asylum system,” she said.

Rempel said the Conservatives will make a formal request to the federal auditor general for a comprehensive audit of the broader costs of illegal border-crossers to government.

She blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for driving the trend by refusing to close a “loophole” in the Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S., which requires that asylum seekers make their claim in the first ‘safe’ country they arrive in. The Conservatives have been urging the government to end an exception that allows people to sidestep that rule if they cross outside official border points.

Rempel also referenced Trudeau’s Jan. 28, 2017 tweet in which he welcomed to Canada those fleeing persecution, terror and war in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.

It was retweeted more than 400,000 times, and liked by more than 750,000 people.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair insisted the government is giving the refugee system the resources it needs while making improvements to reduce the number of people presenting outside official border points.

He said Canada is just one of many countries hit by the surge in global migration.

“Our obligation is to ensure that we manage that in a cost effective, efficient way according to Canadian law and our international obligations, and as well in accordance with Canadian values,” he said. “I think that’s what’s expected of us.”

Tens of thousands of people have crossed into Canada outside of official border points in the last year, mostly in Quebec and Manitoba.

The costs of housing them, and the question of who should pay, have become major political issues in cities such as Toronto and Montreal, which are under pressure to shelter and support the new arrivals.

The PBO agreed to a request from Conservative MP Larry Maguire last June for a global accounting exercise to add up the costs incurred to date from these migrants, and to indicate how much the stepped-up pace of irregular migration might cost Canada in the future.

Source: Asylum seekers entering Canada outside legal border points cost an average of $14K each: PBO