Le Bloc québécois dénonce un «manque d’humanisme» chez Immigration Canada

More criticism from a less frequent source:

« Manque d’empathie et d’humanisme », « structure dysfonctionnelle » : le porte-parole en matière d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté du Bloc québécois, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, ne mâche pas ses mots en parlant d’Immigration Canada, en entrevue avec Le Devoir.

Le Bloc québécois tient samedi un point de presse à l’aéroport Pierre-Elliot Trudeau afin de souligner l’arrivée au pays de Rose Eva, une Camerounaise expulsée du territoire en 2020. La jeune femme avait obtenu un permis d’étude pour compléter une technique en informatique à l’Institut Teccart.

Elle avait obtenu son diplôme précocement grâce à ses bons résultats, et avait ensuite continué à travailler dans une boutique de vêtements, où elle avait été embauchée pendant ses études.

Le visa que détenait Mme Eva lui interdisait cependant de travailler une fois son diplôme obtenu, ce qu’elle ignorait. Le ministère de l’Immigration, des Réfugiés et de la Citoyenneté du Canada l’avait donc renvoyée au Cameroun, en janvier 2020.

« Aujourd’hui, elle revient avec une résidence permanente et on en est bien heureux », se réjouit Rhéal Éloi Fortin, député bloquiste de Rivière-du-Nord, la circonscription dans laquelle résidait la jeune femme. « Mais c’est une situation que je déplore pour l’ensemble de la société québécoise et canadienne : on avait une immigrante qualifiée et intégrée, et on l’a retournée chez elle. »

Dans un communiqué, le Bloc indique que le bureau de circonscription de M. Fortin a aidé Mme Eva dans ses démarches administratives « depuis son exclusion en janvier 2020 jusqu’à son retour. »

Mme Eva devait initialement arriver à Montréal vers 11 heures du matin, mais elle aurait été « retenue à Toronto » et aurait manqué son vol, indique le Bloc québécois. Elle est finalement arrivée vers 15 heures à Dorval.

Un ministère « dysfonctionnel »

Pour le député de Lac-Saint-Jean, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, cette situation est symptomatique d’un « manque d’empathie et d’humanisme » chez Immigration Canada. « S’il y a bien un ministère qui se doit d’être humain et empathique, c’est celui-là, insiste-t-il. Les dossiers qu’on gère, c’est pas des statistiques, c’est des vraies personnes. »

Il invoque le cas de Rose Eva pour illustrer son propos. « Ils l’ont détenue, ont pris son téléphone, l’ont mise dans une pièce fermée. C’est bouleversant, […] c’est extrêmement humiliant. » Pour lui, le constat est clair : « Ce ministère est dysfonctionnel. »

Cet automne, le gouvernement a allégé certaines restrictions inhérentes au visa d’études. Certains étudiants peuvent désormais travailler plus de 20 heures par semaine, ce qui était auparavant interdit. Le Bloc québécois demande maintenant au gouvernement de lever le règlement qui a coûté son visa à Rose Eva, c’est-à-dire l’interdiction de travailler une fois le diplôme complété.

Le chemin Roxham, un sujet chaud

Questionné sur un sujet chaud de l’heure, le chemin Roxham, M. Brunelle-Duceppe n’a pas voulu se positionner en faveur ou non de sa fermeture. « Nous, on demande au gouvernement depuis 2019 de suspendre l’entente sur les tiers pays sûrs », a-t-il martelé.

Cette entente stipule qu’un migrant qui met d’abord le pied en territoire américain doit obligatoirement faire sa demande d’asile en sol américain, et vice-versa s’il est d’abord arrivé au Canada. Voilà pourquoi plusieurs migrants préfèrent arriver au Canada en empruntant le chemin Roxham, un passage non officiel où ils ne se feront pas contrôler par les agents frontaliers.

« Si on suspend cette entente, les migrants pourraient faire leur demande aux postes frontaliers de l’ensemble de la frontière canadienne, ce qui enlèverait la pression sur le Québec », croit M. Brunelle-Duceppe.

Il souligne que le gouvernement canadien aurait le pouvoir de suspendre l’entente sur les tiers pays sûrs pour une durée minimale de trois mois et ce, sans l’accord du gouvernement américain. « Un moment donné, il va falloir mettre ses culottes, assène-t-il. Mais le gouvernement canadien a peut-être peur de froisser les Américains. »

Rappelons que le 4 janvier dernier, le migrant haïtien Fritznel Richard avait été retrouvé mort à proximité du chemin Roxham, alors qu’il tentait de rejoindre les États-Unis.

Source: Le Bloc québécois dénonce un «manque d’humanisme» chez Immigration Canada

Lisée: Dire «basta!» à Roxham

More on Roxham. Current federal approach is looking rather lame:

Mettons les choses au clair. Si vous ou moi étions Haïtiens, Cubains, Guatémaltèques, entre plusieurs autres, nous remuerions ciel et terre, vendrions tous nos biens, nous endetterions jusqu’aux yeux pour arriver en territoire états-unien, prendre la route qui mène au chemin Roxham et tenter notre chance d’avoir, pour nous et nos enfants, une vie immensément meilleure au Canada.

Les informations circulent vite dans les milieux de l’immigration des pays du Sud. Il y a six ans ce mois-ci, Justin Trudeau a lancé son gazouillis annonçant « À ceux qui fuient la persécution, la terreur et la guerre, sachez que le Canada vous accueillera ». La version anglaise a récolté pas moins de 600 000 mentions « J’aime ».

Dans un premier temps, paniqué par l’afflux de demandes, Ottawa a annoncé que plus de 90 % de ces demandeurs finiraient par être renvoyés, car ne satisfaisant pas aux critères de l’asile. Plus récemment, un nouveau bilan faisait état de 50 % de refus. On sait cependant que des dizaines de milliers de personnes disparaissent dans la nature et préfèrent vivre sans papiers au Québec et au Canada plutôt que d’être reconduites dans leur pays d’origine. Vous et moi ferions pareil. D’autant qu’Ottawa prévoit régulariser sous peu la situation d’un demi-million d’entre elles.

Voyez, vos (nos) chances de succès sont passées de 10 % à 50 % à potentiellement 100 %. Venir au chemin Roxham, c’est le bon choix.

La société d’accueil doit poser ses conditions au point d’entrée. Elles doivent être précises, compréhensibles, prévisibles. Le contrat social entre nous et les futurs membres de notre société s’incarne là, dans la décision du migrant d’accepter ces conditions. Une fois ce pas franchi, notre attitude doit être d’une totale ouverture.

C’est pourquoi, ministre, j’ai appuyé les milliers de réfugiés du tremblement de terre haïtien qu’Ottawa menaçait d’expulser ; chef du PQ, j’ai dénoncé pendant la campagne de 2018 l’absurde projet de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) de faire reconduire à la frontière les immigrants qui, trois ans après leur arrivée, échoueraient à des tests de valeurs ou de français ; commentateur, j’ai réclamé que tous les réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile ayant soutenu la santé et l’économie québécoises pendant la pandémie, sans exception, se voient accorder un certificat de sélection du Québec, ce que la CAQ a honteusement refusé de faire.

J’ai aussi insisté pour qu’une connaissance du français au point d’entrée soit indispensable pour les immigrants en règle, mais que le niveau de français soit modulé en fonction de l’emploi visé. (Des exemples navrants de rigidité sont bien exposés dans le documentaire Essentiels, sur Télé-Québec.)

Le refus canadien d’agir

Que faire avec Roxham ? On sait exactement quoi, et depuis le début. Ottawa n’avait qu’à utiliser la clause qui suspend notre accord avec les États-Unis pour faire en sorte que tous les demandeurs d’asile se présentent à un poste-frontière régulier. S’il ne souhaitait pas froisser les Américains, il aurait suffi de modifier la loi fédérale sur l’immigration pour appliquer à Roxham les termes de l’entente. Par conséquent, immédiatement, les agents auraient pu y refuser sur-le-champ les demandes d’asile qu’ils jugeaient non fondées, donc la moitié.

On nous annonce que la renégociation de l’entente avec les États-Unis ne sera pas finalisée lors de la venue de Joe Biden en mars et qu’il faudra attendre que le Congrès américain adopte un changement législatif, ce qui est ces jours-ci aussi facile que d’apprendre la nage synchronisée à un essaim de mouches noires.

La nouvelle ministre de l’Immigration du Québec, Christine Fréchette, a dit « basta ! » (un vocable emprunté à l’italien qui veut dire « ça suffit ! »). Oui, mais comment cette injonction se traduira-t-elle dans les faits, lorsque le flot, passé de 16 000 en 2017 à 39 000 l’an dernier, atteindra 50 000 cette année, 60 000 l’an prochain ?

Les options

Je ne connais que deux options aptes à forcer la main d’Ottawa. Certains proposent d’envoyer la Sûreté du Québec. Elle ne pourrait pas bloquer la frontière, qui relève du fédéral, mais la route, de compétence québécoise, derrière les installations fédérales d’accueil. Ce qui signifierait que les agents fédéraux continueraient de recevoir les migrants, mais ne pourraient les faire sortir de leur enclave, forçant Ottawa à renvoyer les candidats vers Lacolle. Je suis opposé à cette hypothèse, angoissante pour les migrants et politiquement intenable, car — visualisez une barricade de policiers québécois bloquant l’accès à des fonctionnaires fédéraux — d’un coût réputationnel énorme.

L’autre solution est de réclamer d’Ottawa qu’il laisse au Québec sa juste part de ces réfugiés, soit 20 %, notre poids démocratique, et qu’il se charge de répartir les autres dans le reste du pays. Sinon, le Québec le fera pour lui. En fait, Ottawa a commencé à opérer ce déplacement l’an dernier, pour environ 10 % des demandeurs. Mais il le fait de façon aléatoire et franchement indélicate, débarquant chez des migrants sans prévenir pour les conduire en Ontario. Je propose que cette démarche soit transparente et prévisible.

Le Québec prendrait en charge dès leur arrivée les francophones et les personnes qui ont de la famille immédiate au Québec, donc ceux pour qui le succès d’intégration est le plus élevé, mais reconduirait quotidiennement les autres à Ottawa ou à un lieu qui nous serait indiqué. Le second contingent en importance est formé de Nigérians, des anglophones, qui trouveront dans le ROC de meilleures conditions d’intégration. S’il existe d’autres options réalistes, je suis tout ouïe.

Une exigence de lucidité

Cette solution ne tarirait pas le flot. Seules les mesures légales fédérales précitées permettraient de le réduire de moitié. Le Québec aurait à vue de nez recueilli l’an dernier 10 000 de ces demandeurs irréguliers, donc quatre fois moins. Ce nombre pourrait doubler en quelques années, mais, au moins, ce serait gérable.

Finalement, il y a la question de savoir si, en cas de suspension de l’entente canado-américaine par Ottawa, les candidats sachant que la moitié d’entre eux seront interdits d’entrée ne franchiront pas la frontière ailleurs. Un certain nombre, oui. Le mal est fait, les passeurs sont installés, ils ont intérêt à ce que ça dure. Cependant, le nombre serait considérablement réduit, car le risque serait beaucoup plus grand.

Je sais que des lecteurs estimeront qu’il ne faut pas évoquer ces hypothèses. Ils ont raison d’estimer que chacun de ces migrants a une histoire, un espoir, une valeur humaine irréductible. Mais puisque les frontières existent, il faut les gérer. Ce qui signifie dire parfois oui, parfois non. Et ces réponses ont, sur chaque migrant, des conséquences pour toute une vie.

La lucidité exige que ces questions soient posées, puisque Justin Trudeau refuse d’agir depuis six ans. J’estime que le Québec doit dire « basta ! » à l’intenable statu quo canadien à Roxham et prendre les moyens pour opérer un vrai changement. J’estime tout aussi essentiel qu’une fois parmi nous, chacune des personnes que nous accueillons obtienne immédiatement ce premier passeport pour la dignité qu’est le droit de travailler — et pour les travailleurs agricoles, qu’ils puissent changer d’employeur à leur gré. Qu’on leur offre ensuite une passerelle rapide vers un statut de résident permanent sans leur faire subir la tartufferie d’examiner leur demande d’asile, d’en refuser la moitié, de les pousser à la clandestinité, puis de les régulariser dans une amnistie.

Bref, soyons fermes et rigoureux au point d’entrée, et mettons tout en oeuvre, ensuite, pour que ceux qui nous choisissent et qu’on a choisis obtiennent le droit, et développent l’envie, de devenir pleinement Québécois.

Source: Dire «basta!» à Roxham

EU wants to send more migrants away as irregular arrivals grow

Of note:

European Union ministers on Thursday sought ways to curb irregular immigration and send more people away as arrivals rose from pandemic lows, reviving controversial ideas for border fences and asylum centres outside of Europe.

EU border agency Frontex reported some 330,000 unauthorised arrivals last year, the highest since 2016, with a sharp increase on the Western Balkans route.

“We have a huge increase of irregular arrivals of migrants,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told talks among the 27 EU migration ministers. “We have a very low return rate and I can see we can make significant progress here.”

Denmark, the Netherlands and Latvia were among those to call for more pressure through visas and development aid towards the roughly 20 countries – including Iraq and Senegal – that the EU deems fail to cooperate on taking back their nationals who have no right to stay in Europe.Only about a fifth of such people are sent back, with insufficient resources and coordination on the EU side being another hurdle, according to the bloc’s executive.

The ministerial talks come ahead of a Feb. 9-10 summit of EU leaders who will also seek more returns, according to their draft joint decision seen by Reuters.”The overall economic malaise makes countries like Tunisia change from a transit country to a country where locals also want to go,” said an EU official. “That changes things. But it’s still very manageable, especially if the EU acts together.”

‘WALLS AND FENCES’

That, however, is easier said than done in the bloc, where immigration is a highly sensitive political issue and member countries are bitterly divided over how to share the task of caring for those who arrive in Europe.The issue has become toxic since more than a million people crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 in chaotic and deadly scenes that caught the bloc off guard and fanned anti-immigration sentiment.The EU has since tightened its external borders and asylum laws. With people on the move again following the COVID pandemic, the debate is returning to the fore, as are some proposals previously dismissed as inadmissible.
Denmark has held talks with Rwanda on handling asylum applicants in East Africa, while others called for EU funds for a border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey – both ideas so far seen as taboo.”We are still working to make that happen, preferably with other European countries but, as a last resort, we’ll do it only in cooperation between Denmark and, for example Rwanda,” Immigration Minister Kaare Dybvad said on Thursday.
Dutch minister Eric van der Burg said he was open to EU financing for border barriers.
“EU member states continue making access to international protection as difficult as possible,” the Danish Refugee Council, an NGO, said in a report on Thursday about what it said were systemic pushbacks of people at the bloc’s external borders, a violation of their right to claim asylum.
While EU countries protest against irregular immigration, often comprising Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa, Germany is simultaneously seeking to open its job market to much-needed workers from outside the bloc.”We want to conclude migration agreements with countries, particularly with North African countries, that would allow a legal route to Germany but would also include functioning returns,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in Stockholm.

Source: EU wants to send more migrants away as irregular arrivals grow

No deal expected on ‘irregular’ border crossings when Justin Trudeau hosts Joe Biden

Of note:

The Liberal government does not expect to resolve concerns about the northward flow of refugees at unofficial Canada-U.S. border crossings when President Joe Biden visits Canada in March, says Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

Biden’s visit to Ottawa, his first official trip to Canada since becoming president, will likely be in the first half of March, although no date has been set for the bilateral meeting, sources say.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Biden met recently in Mexico and at several international summits, as well as virtually since the Democratic president’s 2021 inauguration, and the two leaders set out a so-called “road map” in 2021 to guide bilateral actions in areas of co-operation.

But that road map of priorities does not expressly include any revision of a 2004 agreement called the Safe Third Country Agreement, even though the agreement itself requires continual review.

The agreement applies to refugee claimants entering at official border crossings and requires them to make asylum claims in the first “safe country” they arrive in. However, it doesn’t apply to those who sneak across or arrive at unofficial or “irregular” crossings, such as Roxham Road, near Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle at the Quebec-New York border.

Those asylum-seekers are permitted to remain in Canada and file refugee claims. As a result, during the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigrants south of the border, a flood of refugee claimants poured into Canada via irregular crossings. Asylum-seekers also try to enter the U.S. irregularly from Canada.

Canada has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the U.S. to expand the agreement to all border crossings, which would close the loophole and end the incentive to use irregular crossings.

Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette told La Presse she hoped the issue would be resolved during the Biden visit, calling it is “essential” to “correct” the agreement to stem the flow of irregular migrants into Quebec.

Fraser downplayed any prospect of a resolution soon.

“There’s not necessarily a giant point of disagreement that we need to overcome” in talks with the U.S., Fraser said.

He said only that there is an “opportunity to potentially advance” the discussions, adding there are “regulatory” and “legislative” issues to resolve, which he declined to identify.

“There’s a mutual expectation that there can be open and frank and confidential conversations between parties, but there are regulatory processes as well that will have to take some time to play out before changes can be made official,” Fraser said.

Meanwhile, migrant and refugee advocates have challenged the constitutionality of the Safe Third Country Agreement at the Supreme Court of Canada, saying it violates the constitutional rights of those seeking asylum by turning them back to the U.S., where critics say they face detention if not outright deportation to unsafe countries of origin. The high court has reserved judgment.

Source: No deal expected on ‘irregular’ border crossings when Justin Trudeau hosts Joe Biden

Hotel rooms for asylum seekers cost Ottawa $94-million since last election

Of note:

The federal government has spent almost $94-million since the last election booking entire hotels for months to accommodate an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada, according to an access-to-information request.

Since September, 2021, the Immigration Department has paid $93,886,222 for “long leases” with hotels, mostly in Quebec, setting them aside for asylum seekers, including those entering the country through the irregular border crossing at Quebec’s Roxham Road.

The department booked 30 hotels between April and December last year – 10 in Montreal alone, according to a redacted response to the access-to-information request.

The Immigration Department said it wants to help take pressure off the provinces, even though the housing of asylum seekers is a provincial responsibility.

By block booking hotel rooms, it can ensure there are enough places to house the “the rising volume of asylum claimants crossing between the ports of entry, who have no housing options available to them,” said Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

She added that most come through the Roxham Road and Lacolle border crossings in Quebec from the United States.

The discovery of the body of Haitian migrant Fritznel Richard near Roxham Road this month reignited a debate in Quebec about the irregular border crossing, about an hour’s drive from Montreal.

A briefing document for the Immigration Department’s deputy minister on irregular migration from July last year said at that time the government had 1,721 rooms leased in 24 hotels in 12 locations across Canada.

It said a big rise in airport arrivals, mainly in Montreal, in June last year meant that the department had to transfer asylum claimants from Quebec to hotels in Ottawa and Niagara Falls. They hired 300 hotel rooms in Niagara Falls in July, to cope with an “accommodation crisis in Quebec.”

“While this option is not cost effective, it was the only immediate solution in this circumstance,” the briefing document said.

Quebec Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he and other MPs were concerned not just about the cost of block booking entire hotels, but the fact that many rooms are unoccupied a lot of the time. He said one such hotel, Hotel St-Bernard in Lacolle, seven minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, is often empty. The hotel declined to comment.

“What we want is to stop the illegal border crossing. If they don’t do anything to stop it, we will need more hotel rooms and the problems will get worse,” he said, adding that it was also having an impact on tourism.

The organizer of an annual kids’ hockey tournament in Montreal – which is holding its 30th anniversary event in May and June – told The Globe that families cannot find rooms in hotels the tournament has booked for decades because so many have been totally reserved.

Dave Harroch, who runs the Montreal Madness hockey tournament, said families may now have to stay far from where the games will be held, on the West Island of Montreal.

“One of the hotels told me they are only 20 per cent occupied,” he said.

Between last April and December, the Immigration Department booked one Montreal hotel with 175 rooms for $7.5-million and another 160-room hotel in the city for $9.7-million.

In Dorval, near Montreal’s international airport, it booked a 112-room hotel for $5.2-million in the same period. And between September and December, a 117-room hotel was leased for $1.3-million.

The Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, near the airport, is among those reserved for asylum seekers. The hotel declined to comment.

The Comfort Inn Aeroport in Dorval is another. Choice Hotels Canada, which has the Comfort Inn brand within its stable, said it was up to its franchisees to decide whether to lease their hotels to the government.

The access-to-information request shows the Immigration Department had a long-term lease on a 39-room hotel between April and December last year in Lacolle, just minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, at a cost of $1.7-million. It refused to name the hotel.

The information request shows that in Niagara Falls, the government booked a 150-room hotel between October and December last year and an 85-room hotel between April and December, each at a cost of about $1.6-million.

From July to December last year the Immigration Department spent just over $2-million on a 50-room Ottawa hotel. Between April to October it spent just over $1-million on a 30-room hotel in the capital.

The government has also spent millions reserving entire hotels for asylum seekers who move on to other parts of Canada, including in Winnipeg, Lethbridge, Alta. and Surrey, B.C.

Source: Hotel rooms for asylum seekers cost Ottawa $94-million since last election

A family’s death trying to cross the U.S. border hasn’t deterred others — and more are taking the risk

Interesting flow in the other direction, as well as the details revealed in court documents:

Almost a year after a family from India froze to death near the international border in southern Manitoba, similar cases of people walking over to the U.S. are on the rise — but they involve people from a different country.

Since the tragic deaths of the Patel family in January 2022, monthly incidents on the other side of Manitoba’s international border have risen from eight to 30 in November, the most recent month for which complete data is available from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That’s similar to the number seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deaths of three-year-old Dharmik Patel; his 11-year-old sister, Vihangi Patel; and their parents, 37-year-old Vaishali Patel and 39-year-old Jagdish Patel put a spotlight on human smuggling operations involving Indian migrants using Canada as a stopover before illegally crossing south. 

But a growing proportion of people caught walking over the border are now coming from Mexico. In November, Mexicans made up almost three-quarters of incidents in the Grand Forks sector.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IiFq5/4/

The number of Mexicans crossing into Canada to seek asylum has also spiked recently, as many flee their homes in search of jobs and safety. But statistics show most applicants from that country are rejected.

While flying to Canada just to walk back down into the U.S. is a long trip, some say it’s becoming more common for several reasons.

And in two recent cases involving Mexican migrants walking into North Dakota, authorities discovered the alleged smugglers before their trips were complete. Court documents revealed how those journeys mirrored the Patels’ — and the ways they turned out differently.

Fewer hurdles, more desperation

One advocate said the increase in Mexicans crossing the northern border of the U.S. may be partly due to increased security measures along the country’s southern boundary and a harsher detention system for those caught trying to cross in recent years.

“The Mexican border with the U.S. has been militarized for decades now…. I’m not surprised that people will try other ways to arrive [in] the U.S.,” said Maru Mora Villalpando, a community organizer and founder of La Resistencia, a grassroots organization that works with detained migrants in Washington state.

Those changes made it harder to cross certain parts of the southern border, she said, forcing people to instead travel through dangerous parts of the desert — or try their luck up north.

The increase in northern crossings may also be partly due to Canada lifting a visa requirementfor Mexican travellers in 2016, said Kathryn Siemer, acting patrol agent in charge of Pembina Border Patrol station in North Dakota.

“I think we’re still seeing some of the repercussions of that, where it’s easier to fly into Canada and then cross into the United States as opposed to trying to come north through the Mexico border,” Siemer said.

Matthew Dearth, a Grand Forks lawyer representing an alleged smuggler charged in connection with one of the most recent cases in North Dakota, said more people are getting desperate enough — as the U.S. government fails to act on immigration reform — to risk potentially severe criminal penalties for their vision of a better future.

“They’re going to do whatever they can do to try to get into the United States. Because they have family members here. They have opportunity here. It’s safe,” said Dearth, who’s originally from Winnipeg.

A call for help

Dearth’s client is charged in connection with a suspected smuggling trip that met its end after the man’s van got stuck in the snow in Cavalier, a North Dakota city just south of the international border, on the way to pick up a group of migrants, a U.S. court document filed in mid-November alleged.

Dearth’s client and the other man charged in the case then walked about a half hour in the early morning of Nov. 17, 2022, before they met up with the migrants, according to the affidavit filed on Nov. 18, 2022, in the United States District Court in North Dakota.

Much like when the Patel family tried to cross the border, freezing temperatures, snow and wind made it a difficult journey.

There were also two young children — in this case aged four and nine — among the group, according to the affidavit written by a Border Patrol officer involved in the case. But this time, someone decided to call for help.

In this remote part of the country, that’s not always possible, said Border Patrol agent Siemer. Cell phone towers are few and far between, and tall snow drifts can make it easy to get lost in the dark.

“If you’re out here for more than 20 minutes, and whoever you thought might be coming to pick you up isn’t there because they got stuck or didn’t show up, you are on your own and it’s very dangerous,” she said.

Following that call for help in November, a deputy arrived and found nine people dressed in heavy winter clothing. They asked officers to bring them to a hotel — which raised suspicions around smuggling. The group later admitted they were in the country illegally, the affidavit alleged.

None of the allegations against Dearth’s client, who is a U.S. citizen, or his co-accused have been proven in court. The Georgia man pleaded not guilty to conspiring to smuggle people across the border, which carries a maximum penalty of a decade in prison.

Financial woes

Dearth said there’s a general misconception that border smuggling is only carried out by organized crime groups looking to rake in cash.

Sometimes it’s done by people who made the crossing themselves and are trying to help friends or family make a better life. Other times, people are “down on their luck” and need the money, he said.

The affidavit claims Dearth’s client told authorities he worked in construction with his co-accused, and that’s how he first got the offer to make extra money smuggling people into the U.S. 

While he first turned it down, the affidavit alleged he changed his mind after a divorce and financial struggles.

The affidavit also claims the man said he and his co-accused smuggled four other groups over the same border in September and October and dropped them off at pre-arranged spots along the interstate highway. 

He said he typically made between $500 and $1,000 per person, and his co-accused was the one who made the arrangements, the affidavit alleged.

A cemetery meeting

In a case last month, two smugglers pleaded guilty after one of them hid in a ditch when Border Patrol agents pulled over their pickup truck full of migrants around a cemetery near Neche, another North Dakota community by the international border.

The Park Center Cemetery is surrounded by pine trees and visible for miles when the weather co-operates. It had recently been the site of other “illegal entry activity” when agents saw a truck approach the U.S. side of the border under cover of darkness early on Dec. 2, 2022, according to an affidavit filed Dec. 5, 2022, in the United States District Court in North Dakota.

The desolate site is miles away from any farms or houses on the U.S. side, and nearby creeks — some frozen, some still running — wind through farmers’ fields.

Agents said in the affidavit on that night, they watched another vehicle pull up on the Canadian side, and a group got out and walked toward the cemetery, then got into the truck.

When agents pulled the truck over, one of the people inside — Juan Pablo Huerta-Ramos, later charged as a smuggler — got out and ran. He was later found hiding in a nearby ditch filled with grass and snow, the affidavit said.

All nine people in the truck, including smugglers Huerta-Ramos and Martin Loyo-Estrada, later admitted to being Mexican citizens illegally in the U.S.

A broken leg, a family in Winnipeg

In an interview after his arrest, Loyo-Estrada said he’d lived in California for about nine years and had been a landscaper until a broken leg left him unable to work. A friend from Mexico then connected him with someone who offered him work smuggling people over the border.

Loyo-Estrada said that unknown person called him several times to give him directions during his trip from Los Angeles to Cavalier, which also included using Uber rides and hotels as he made stops in Minneapolis and Grand Forks. 

The few details investigators revealed about the Patels’ journey after arriving in Canada include similar elements — staying in several hotels and using a ride-sharing service to get around the Greater Toronto Area.

Loyo-Estrada said he was supposed to get paid $1,000 for each group of migrants he worked with and be reimbursed for his travel costs.

Huerta-Ramos told agents he was also living in California and had travelled from Los Angeles to North Dakota to smuggle over his wife and daughter, who were supposed to be in Winnipeg. He said his wife gave him a phone number for someone named Antonio, who he agreed to pay $2,000 to help get his family across.

He said he met two of Antonio’s associates in front of the Fargo airport and went with them to a Mexican restaurant, where he got a call from Antonio telling him his family was already in California — and asking if he’d help smuggle a different group across the border anyway. 

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport illegal aliens and re-entering the U.S. without permission after previously being deported.

A year later, questions remain

While a year has passed since the deaths of Dharmik, Vihangi, Vaishali and Jagdish Patel, many details about their journey are still unknown.

Investigators haven’t publicly released details about who they believe sheltered and shuttled the Patels around the Greater Toronto Area before they travelled to Manitoba to cross the border.

And it’s still unclear, even to police, what happened after Jan. 15, 2022, when the family left their Toronto-area hotel, up until their bodies were discovered four days later.

It is clear, however, that they were sent on a dangerous journey — and it’s the kind of story migrant advocate Mora Villalpando hears too often, as many who can’t wait for changes in the U.S. immigration system are forced to take risks to get there.

“What it tells us is that the U.S. is just increasing the danger for people that are trying to come,” she said.

“When you intentionally for decades created a funnel to a dangerous path through the desert, it means you don’t care about human beings.”

Source: A family’s death trying to cross the U.S. border hasn’t deterred others — and more are taking the risk

Safe Third Country Agreement is ‘working’ despite surge in irregular crossings: minister

Of note (not sure its perceived as working by the public):

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is “working,” despite the massive increase in migrants using unofficial border crossings last year compared to previous years.

Mendicino told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, Canadian officials and their American counterparts continue to work together to modernize the agreement. Still, he insists the system is functioning.

“To be clear, that agreement remains in place and it is working,” he said. “The RCMP are doing the job of intercepting those who are coming into the country, which obviously underscores the integrity of our borders and the investments, which are backstopped by the federal government.”

The STCA was first signed 20 years ago, and there have been talks of modernizing it since 2018, with some changes made in 2019. Under the STCA, people seeking refugee status in either Canada or the U.S. must make their claim in the first country they enter.

The loophole that the agreement applies only to official land border crossings means asylum seekers who manage to enter a country via an unofficial crossing — such as Roxham Road along the Quebec-New York border — are not returned.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the number of RCMP interceptions and asylum claims at unofficial border crossings between Canada and the U.S. hit a six-year high in 2022. There was a drastic drop in the numbers as of spring 2020 and throughout 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the border.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to land it,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to make historic investments and work with provincial and territorial partners, so that asylum seekers who have a basis on which to make those claims in Canada are able to do so, but do so in a safe and orderly way.”

“It’s important that we recognize that we have an immigration system that works, and that fosters safe and orderly flow both when it comes to asylum seekers, as well as economic immigrants,” he also said.

Conservative Leader Poilievre Poilievre said this week that the Liberal government should renegotiate the agreement “in order to close Roxham Road,” adding he understands why people try to use it, because the Canadian immigration system is “now so slow and so broken.” He blamed the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada application backlog, and said the prime minister should “renegotiate the deal with the Americans, and speed up the processing of immigration generally.”

Source: Safe Third Country Agreement is ‘working’ despite surge in irregular crossings: minister

Haitian migrant’s death reignites debate over Quebec’s Roxham Road border crossing

The death of a Haitian migrant near Quebec’s Roxham Road has reignited a debate in the province about how to respond to an increase in asylum seekers entering the country through the irregular border crossing.

The body of Fritznel Richard, 44, was found on Jan. 5 in a wooded area near the popular unofficial entry point, about an hour’s drive south of Montreal. Provincial police said he was trying to reach family in the United States, and that he likely died of hypothermia after becoming lost.

A migrant’s advocacy group that is helping the family said Mr. Richard was originally from Haiti, had entered Canada through Roxham Road at an unknown time, and had been struggling to obtain a work permit. “Unfortunately, he was in a precarious situation and was not able to make ends meet,” said Hady Anne, a spokesperson for Solidarity Across Borders.

Hélène Gravel, who lives next to the U.S. border on Roxham Road, said that in the past few months, she and her neighbours have seen more people crossing through the forest near her house to get to the U.S., including families.

“Even if there aren’t many of them, we’re not going to wait for them to die in the forest to do something,” she said.

Mr. Richard’s death has placed a renewed spotlight on Roxham Road’s unofficial border crossing, at which tens of thousands of migrants have entered Canada in recent years, largely because of the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. The long-standing pact means that border agents from each country must turn away asylum seekers from the other if they present themselves at official land border crossings.

The unassuming cul-de-sac near the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., customs has become an “official nonofficial point of entry” as a result, said Christina Clark-Kazak, associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s graduate school of public and international affairs.

Concrete blocks and rocks block roads on both sides of the border in the sparsely populated area. A narrow gravel path and signs with information about the asylum-seeking process lead migrants from the U.S. into RCMP installations.

The RCMP intercepted 34,478 asylum seekers who did not use official ports of entry to enter Quebec between January and November of 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, compared to just 316 in the rest of the country.

Federal opposition parties have repeatedly called for a review of the Safe Third Country Agreement, but anxiety about the situation has been sharpest in Quebec.

“The federal government must renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States as soon as possible,” said Ewan Sauves, spokesperson for Premier François Legault.

“There is an urgent need to act on Roxham Road,” said Mr. Sauves, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “must ensure that the other provinces take charge of the proportion of asylum seekers that is theirs. It is not fair that it is only Quebec that has to manage this.”

Quebec is “concerned” about the increase in asylum applications since 2017 and its “ability to welcome these people with dignity and provide them with adequate services,” said Quebec Ministry of Immigration spokesperson Arianne Méthot.

The Safe Third Country Agreement is “an important tool,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald, adding that modernizing the agreement “has been a priority for the government for several years.” He did not provide details “due to the sensitive nature of our bilateral discussions with the U.S.”

Mr. MacDonald also pointed out that, in 2021-22, Quebec received over $697-million in compensation from the federal government to “provide settlement and integration services in the province.”

Frédéric Bastien, a prominent nationalist author and former Parti Québécois leadership candidate, filed a private prosecution against the Prime Minister on Jan. 12 accusing Mr. Trudeau of violating Canadian law by encouraging “illegal” border crossings.

In his court filing, Mr. Bastien cites a tweet by Mr. Trudeau from 2017 welcoming refugees to Canada, which read, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” The Prime Minister issued the message shortly after then-U.S. president Donald Trump banned travel to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries.

In an interview, Mr. Bastien also noted that the Trudeau government has erected facilities at Roxham Road that include instructions on how to apply for asylum.

“If this is not encouraging migrants to enter through Roxham Road I don’t know what is,” he said.

Public opinion appears to be on his side. Justice for Quebec, an organization led by Mr. Bastien, commissioned a poll late last year showing that 68 per cent of Quebeckers wanted to “close” the border crossing. A survey last spring by the respected polling firm Leger – commissioned by the Legault government and obtained by the Journal de Montréal newspaper – put the figure at 60 per cent.

But “stricter border enforcement policies correlate with increases in riskier crossings to evade authorities, and increases in tragic deaths” along borders globally, said Alison Mountz, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration.

Ms. Gravel, who sees countless migrant buses and RCMP vehicles go by her property every day on Roxham Road, said that the flow is currently “very well-managed.” The RCMP “takes care of it,” she said.

And closing the passage “is not a solution,” said Mr. Anne, of Solidarity Across Borders. “Do you think that [the closing of] Roxham Road will stop migrants?” The group advocates for open borders and the termination of the Safe Third Country Agreement so that asylum seekers could go through regular customs to cross both ways.

He blames the agreement and the long wait for a work permit for Mr. Richard’s death, adding that he knows of several other people in the same situation. “Migrants are not looking for help, they want to work,” he said.

Source: Haitian migrant’s death reignites debate over Quebec’s Roxham Road border crossing

Dutch government backtracks on migrant family reunions

Of note:

The Dutch government on Wednesday backtracked on restrictions that it placed last year on family members joining asylum-seekers who are granted residency in the Netherlands, after courts ruled the move was unlawful.

State Secretary for Justice and Security Eric van der Burg said in a letter to parliament that he expects other courts to follow suit “as a result of which the useful effect of the measure is temporarily absent.”

Van der Burg said he is temporarily suspending the family reunion restrictions pending a definitive ruling by a Dutch administrative court.

The justice ministry introduced the restrictions last year as part of a raft of measures aimed at reining in the high numbers of migrants arriving in the Netherlands that led to a housing crisis and overcrowding at asylum-seeker centers.

The problems came to a head in the summer when hundreds of people were forced to sleep outdoors in unsanitary conditions outside the country’s main migrant reception center in the northern village of Ter Apel.

The conditions at the camp were so bad that the Dutch branch of humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders sent a team to tend to the migrants, the first time the agency had deployed in the Netherlands.

In an attempt to ease the overcrowding, the government in late August announced measures including a move to temporarily rein in family reunions until migrants are permanently housed, provide more housing for people whose asylum requests are honored and process and repatriate people quicker from countries that are considered safe.

But a number of courts have since ruled that such family reunions can go ahead.

The Dutch council for Refugees has been highly critical of the policy, calling for it to be scrapped and labeling it “politics at its most ugly.”

Source: Dutch government backtracks on migrant family reunions

Poilievre mum on Tory MP’s ‘illegal refugees’ comment, calls for Roxham Road closure

Of note. He should know better than making the statement “It is not legal to cross there. That is a reality. It is not legal to cross there.” given that it is legal, if not desirable :

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called for the closure of the Roxham Road irregular border crossing on Tuesday, but sidestepped questions about one of his MPs denying help to a family who used it to enter the country.

During a news conference on Parliament Hill,his first of 2023,he told reporters that he favours legal immigration but can understand the desperation that leads migrants to cross into Canada through the unofficial entry point south of Montreal.

“I understand why desperate people are trying to cross there,” he said. “Our system is now so slow and so broken.”

Poilievre pointed to the fact that the federal immigration department currently has a backlog of nearly 1.1 million applications to process, which was higher under periods of lockdown during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reported that as of the end of November, it had 1.09 million applications in the queue that exceed the department’s service standard, a problem that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has committed to tackle.

The Tory leader argued Tuesday that fixing the problem could lead to fewer people crossing through unofficial entry points such as Roxham Road.

“It is not legal to cross there. That is a reality. It is not legal to cross there.”

Thousands of asylum-seekers have entered the country between official ports of entry in recent years and then made refugee claims once in Canada.

Those who come from the United States via official crossings can be turned away under Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., on the basis that claimants have access to fair asylum processes south of the border.

Radio-Canada reported last month that Quebec Conservative MP Richard Martel recently refused to help a family that was facing deportation after having entered Canada through Roxham Road in 2018, calling them “illegal refugees.”

Poilievre did not directly answer when asked about Martel’s comments Tuesday, but said the Liberal government should renegotiate the Canada-U.S. agreement “in order to close Roxham Road.”

He said Trudeau must fix the system so that people enter through official entry points, instead: “Renegotiate the deal with the Americans, and speed up the processing of immigration generally.”

In December, in a French interview with The Canadian Press,José Nicola Lopez said that his sister-in-law Leticia Cruz and her son had crossed into Canada via Roxham Road to join their relatives in 2018.

He said she did so because she feared expulsion under former president Donald Trump’s policies, and was afraid that a possible return to her home country of El Salvador could make her a target for street gangs.

Lopez said at the time that he found Martel’s comments to be “offensive” and “ignorant.” After Cruz was unable to get help from Martel, whose Chicoutimi-area riding she and her son call home, Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard said he worked with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to help the family avoid deportation.

Fraser, the Bloc and the NDP criticized Martel’s comments as lacking compassion.

In a recent interview with Radio-Canada, Martel declined to offer specifics about the case.

Speaking in French, he said the case was complex and that he declined to help knowing that the Bloc were in a position to do so. He said he would likely make the same decision if a similar file came across his desk, adding it’s a matter of “values.”

Source: Poilievre mum on Tory MP’s ‘illegal refugees’ comment, calls for Roxham Road closure