Experts say Scheer’s plan to close border loophole ‘doomed to failure’

More political positioning than realistic options for many of the reasons listed:

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says that, if elected, he would close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) that allows people to make refugee claims in Canada even if they enter the country at an unofficial border crossing.

The Conservatives also aren’t ruling out creating detention camps at the border to house irregular migrants while their claims are being processed.

Asked directly if detention camps were something a Conservative government would create at the border, the Conservatives said the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides criteria for detaining asylum seekers. This leaves the option of creating detention camps at the border open.

Scheer’s pledge, made Wednesday at Roxham Road in Quebec, came with few details on exactly how he would close the loophole.

Scheer said his “preferred option” would be to renegotiate the STCA with the U.S., but when pressed on what he would do if U.S. President Donald Trump refused to make a deal, Scheer was light on details.

“There are other options. There are other tools available to the government that we will also be exploring,” Scheer said.

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

One of these options is to declare the entire Canada-U.S. border an official port of entry. This way, people entering the country would be covered by the STCA and — if they do not qualify for an exemption under the agreement — would be sent back to the U.S.

Scheer suggested this is one of the options he’s looking at when he said “we can apply the principles of the Safe Third Country Agreement at other points along the border.”

But migration experts, border security officials and the government have questioned whether this is possible.

Sharry Aiken, a Queen’s University law professor, says any plan to scrap the loophole in the STCA without agreement from the U.S. is “doomed to failure.”

Meanwhile, she says expanding the agreement to cover the entire border is nonsensical because Canada does not have the resources to enforce this type of mass “securitization” of the border, nor is this type of strategy effective.

Aiken points to the U.S.-Mexico border as an example of why increased security does not mean fewer irregular migrants.

“As we can see in relation to what’s going on with respect to America’s efforts in relation to Mexico, they’re an abysmal failure,” she said. “People are still crossing, just at higher costs and at peril to their lives. People are dying all the time.”

A Conservative spokesperson later clarified Scheer’s comments on this issue. The Conservatives said it’s not their policy to expand official port of entry status to the entire border. Instead, they would “pursue a regulatory approach to ensure that the principles of the Safe Third Country Agreement are applied and people are not able to jump the queue.”

Promise would require new legislation

Since spring 2017, there has been a significant influx of asylum seekers in Canada, many of whom entered the country irregularly at unofficial border crossings.

The total number of asylum claims made in Canada in 2018 was 55,000, of which about one-third crossed the border irregularly. This was up from 23,500 total claims two years earlier.

In addition to pledging to close the loophole in the STCA, Scheer said he would move existing judges from the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) closer to the border and widely used unofficial crossings to speed up the processing time for claims and make crossing “illegally” less attractive.

But Aiken and others say Scheer could not do this without first introducing new legislation to change the IRB’s mandate. That’s because the IRB operates independently of the government, and administrative decisions are strictly the authority of the IRB’s chairperson, she said.

Raoul Boulakia, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer, says moving refugee judges to the border would also make it a lot harder for asylum seekers to access a lawyer — a right they are guaranteed under Canada’s Constitution.

Meanwhile, Craig Damian Smith, director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said Scheer’s pledge lacks vital details.

For example, he wonders if Scheer would create detention camps at the border for asylum seekers who enter the country irregularly to be held while their claims are processed.

Scheer claims asylum seekers are ‘skipping the line’

Smith also questions the logistics of the move. The IRB isn’t just made up of judges, he said. There are translators, administrative staff, offices and other things needed in order for claims to be heard and judges to be able to do their jobs.

Smith says holding asylum seekers at the border while their claims are processed — no matter how quickly this is done — presents other problems, such as limiting their ability to work, pay taxes and receive health care.

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, says that if elected, it will amend existing immigration legislation and regulations to make sure IRB judges can be deployed to irregular crossing “hot spots.”

The money needed to relocate IRB judges will come from existing budgets, Conservatives say, adding that there are no plans to change current work-permit rules for people whose asylum claims are allowed to go forward.

Ex-minister under Hussein made refugee claim in Canada

Conservatives point out that immigration detention already takes place in Canada. However, there are currently no immigration detention centres at the border. Instead, would-be refugees who cannot prove their identity, are a flight risk or who could pose a security risk are detained at facilities in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Some asylum seekers are also held in long-term detention in provincial jails. According statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency, the average stay in immigration detention in 2017-18 was 14 days.

Under current rules, asylum seekers are allowed to move freely within Canada once their claims are made and so long as they are not detained. Unless laws are changed, Smith said, moving IRB judges to the border would not change this and likely will not speed up the hearing process.

Scheer has repeatedly said closing the STCA loophole would make Canada’s immigration system fairer, more orderly and more compassionate.

Source: Experts say Scheer’s plan to close border loophole ‘doomed to failure”

Experts surprised immigration didn’t play more prominent role in federal leaders’ debate

I was less surprised than those listed, as the parties have (correctly) calculated that making immigration a major issue has electoral risks in ridings with large numbers of immigrants and visible minorities (905, BC’s lower mainland, and elsewhere), as Kurland and Smith note.

The same could be said for the campaign in general, although immigration issues get more play in ethnic media as my weekly analyses for diversityvotes.ca shows.

Apart of course from the PPC:

Excluding an early question that provoked a barrage of attacks against People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, Monday night’s leaders debate featured few questions about immigration — and none about refugees, specifically.

This left some migration experts feeling surprised and disappointed that immigration issues — which have been the source of heated political exchanges in Canada over the past two years — didn’t play more prominently in the debate.

“There was no substance on immigration policy, on Canada’s refugee policy, on Canada’s role in the world on these issues,” said Queen’s University law professor Sharry Aiken.

“I was disappointed that there wasn’t much there.”

Aiken says that the section of the debate dedicated to “polarization, human rights and immigration” focused almost entirely on Quebec’s contentious Bill 21, the religious symbols ban that bars religious head coverings in some sections of the public service, and that immigration issues were overshadowed by the discussion about discrimination.

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

Aiken believes discussing Bill 21 is very important, but she thinks debate moderators could have been better at focusing their questions on specific issues, such as the recent challenges faced by Canada’s asylum system.

The standout moment for Aiken on immigration was Bernier’s claim that Canada takes in more immigrants than any other western nation.

Aikeen says this claim is untrue. Citing a recent report from the World Economic Forum, she says Australia has a higher ratio of immigrants — 28 per cent of its population compared to Canada at 21 per cent.

She also questions Bernier’s math about letting in more economic immigrants. Bernier has claimed Canada should reduce immigration levels to 150,000 a year, while at the same time taking in more economic immigrants.

But in 2017, Canada accepted roughly 159,000 economic immigrants, she said. If Bernier’s immigration policy was implemented, Canada would actually see an overall reduction in economic immigration.

Meanwhile, Sean Rehaag, director of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies, was also surprised by the fact that “a debate where immigration was expected to play a major role” had so few questions about immigration.

He noted that neither the influx of irregular border crossings that began in April 2017 nor the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States figured prominently in the debate.

This is also one of the issues where the parties have distinct policy options when it comes to how Canada should handle its asylum system.

No ‘political capital’ to be gained on immigration

Others were less surprised that immigration wasn’t a bigger topic for party leaders.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, thinks the lack of attention on immigration means political parties have decided that no “political capital” can be gained from this issue.

“It was a good move on the part of all the parties not to go there,” Kurland said.

Craig Damian Smith, director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto, agrees that it was wise for the leaders not to focus on immigration, particularly the divisive issues around refugee resettlement and how to handle irregular migration at unofficial ports of entry.

Scheer claims asylum seekers are ‘skipping the line’

Like Kurland, Smith thinks the party leaders have realized that immigration isn’t an issue where voters can be won or lost.

This doesn’t mean immigration isn’t important, Smith said. It just means that when it comes time to vote on Oct. 21, he believes most Canadians will be focused on issues like health care, education and the economy.

Smith also pointed out what he saw as a significant moment in the debate — that is, when Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer lashed out at Bernier for his past comments about immigrants, saying Bernier had changed from someone who used to believe in an immigration system that was fair, orderly and compassionate to someone who bases his policies on the number of likes and retweets he gets on social media from the “darkest parts of Twitter.”

According to Smith, this “well-rehearsed” line shows that the Conservatives now realize Canadians, on average, support the country’s current approach to immigration.

Smith still thinks that who wins the election could have big consequences on the future of immigration in Canada — especially for refugees — but in Monday’s debate, at least, it looked like everyone other than Bernier agreed immigration is important to Canada’s future.

“Even when they had the section on polarization, human rights and immigration, they all took that opportunity to steer it towards other issues, either to attack one another or to bolster their own position on other issues,” he said.

“It’s a good thing, or it’s at least a good sign, that they decided to steer the debate away from [immigration] because it means that that’s not going to be an issue that Canadians are going to vote on.”

Source: Experts surprised immigration didn’t play more prominent role in federal leaders’ debate

Canadian politicians are playing a dangerous game on migration: Craig Damian Smith

While I find Smith overly alarmist in his assessment (the dynamics if immigration debates in Canada are very different from those of Italy, reflecting the different geographies, histories and politics), his warnings about the need for care in political and public discourse are valid:

Canada has joined the club of states embroiled with irregular migration.But our challenges are not unique, and we have two decades of European misadventures with irregular migration to guide our response. Unfortunately, Canadian politicians are following a well-rehearsed script in which crisis responses to anti-refugee sentiment undermine liberal values, limit policy options and open us to blackmail by hostile neighbours.

I have spent several years studying Europe’s relationship with irregular migration, most recently on a six-week trip that included looking at the Italian government’s hardline policies.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini came to power on a promise to expel 500,000 migrants, and has spent his short tenure repealing services, criminalizing migrant rescue NGOs, fostering xenophobic nationalismand undermining European solidarity.

Salvini, also serving as deputy prime minister, blames migrants for longstanding Italian social problems like youth unemployment. In June, Tito Boeri, head of the Italian pension agency, clashed with Salvini on a very simple point that immigration was needed in light of an aging workforce. Salvini responded by stating that the tenured economist “lives on Mars” and that evidence-based arguments about demographics “ignored the will” of Italians.

This kind of populism has troubling parallels in Canada. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has blamed asylum-seekers for longstanding affordable housing challenges and ended cooperation with the federal governmenton the issue. His stonewalling and scapegoating to foster a crisis in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election are well-worn tactics.

Fears trump facts

Anti-immigrant populism trades on two interrelated trends. First, facts matter far less than voters’ feelings; second, as Daniel Stockemer from the University of Ottawa puts it, scapegoating migrants pays off at the ballot box. Ruling parties are caught in a bind since governments that want votes should be responsive to their citizens. But responding to anti-immigrant sentiments means policies with negative economic, social and security outcomes.

Ruling parties in Europe have tried to thread the needle by getting tough on irregular migration while maintaining open asylum systems. They must show voters that they’re doing something when their political challengers claim they have lost control of borders and undermined public safety. Statements by Michelle Rempel, the Conservative Party of Canada’s immigration critic, about irregular migration are thus wholly unoriginal.

Xenophobia fosters false opinions. Many Italians believe foreigners comprised 26 per cent of the population, when in reality it is only nine per cent. Similarly, a recent Angus Reid poll found Canadians overestimated the number of asylum-seekers by almost 60 per cent. The majority said Canada was too generous, and that the current situation represented a crisis despite the swath of Liberal ministers and range of credible experts saying the opposite.

Crises demand action

Crises demand extraordinary measures. Seventy-one per cent of respondents in the Angus Reid survey would devote resources to border security if they were in charge. Only 29 per cent said they would focus on assisting arrivals. Respondents were more aware of the asylum issue than any other in 2018. But as in Europe, Canadians’ strong opinions are based on feelings rather than facts.

The federal Liberals have reacted by shuffling the cabinet and appointing a tough-on-crime ex-police chief to oversee the issue. But Bill Blair has been named Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. While this might seem like a savvy move, bundling migration with security narrows the range of options to reactive and counter-productive policies that exclude economic and social interventions. When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Not to be outdone, the Conservatives would extend the Safe Third Country Agreement to the entirety of the border, meaning asylum-seekers could be turned back anywhere.

Securitizing borders is expensive, rarely works for long and undermines refugee protection. It also results in more criminality. Prohibition in the face of high demand fosters black market supply. Illicit economies and more dangerous routes also make migrants vulnerable to human trafficking.

What’s more, criminalizing migrants reduces policy options. Politicians in Europe are obsessed with “breaking” smuggling rings, with little interest in the supply/demand logics that drive them. Irregular migration becomes more spectacular, offering politicians fodder to escalate the response. This leads to right-wing parties framing migration as a civilizational threat, the starkest examples of which can be found in Austria, Hungary and Italy.

Maxime Bernier’s tweets about “extreme multiculturalism” and the “cult of diversity” were cribbed from European populists. His break from the Conservative Party in favour of forming an intellectually and morally authentic right-wing party was right on script.

Despite Conservative attempts to brush off Bernier’s defection at the party’s recent policy convention, a far-right fringe party could bleed voters. If Europe offers any lessons, the Conservatives will likely mimic Bernier’s arguments.

That both Andrew Scheer and Michelle Rempel supported far-right activists to score points against Justin Trudeau is telling. So is the fact that Conservative delegates voted for ending birthright citizenship based on apocryphal stories of citizenship tourists.

Canadians like to believe we are exceptionally tolerant. Environics pollster Michael Adams argues that Canada is particularly resistant to xenophobic populism, partly because of our immigration history. But the current situation reveals a different story: Canada’s openness is more about exceptional geography.

In a 2017 study, Michael Donnelly from the University of Toronto found that Canada is no more tolerant than similar countries, and argued our resistance to populism is because we’ve been spared migration crises. That’s no longer true.

Frays the social fabric

What can be done? The government inherited a broken refugee system from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, but the Liberals must address unsustainable backlogs in asylum processing, which cascade through the system and decrease people’s trust in its efficacy. Conservatives must ask whether scapegoating asylum-seekers for votes is worth the cost. It frays the social fabric, and will leave them holding the bag if they win the 2019 election.

Political discourse matters. The migrants and asylum-seekers I interviewed this summer told me time and again that Salvini ascension had changed the mood. People routinely approach them in the street to tell them that their time is up and they’ll be expelled to Africa. Italian nationalists have shot migrants in the street. Recall that the Québec City mosque shooter was motivated by xenophobic nationalism. It can, and has, happened here.

All of this might sound like the moralizing of a university researcher (from Toronto, no less), so I will conclude with a national security rationale. Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign will coincide with dates for ending Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of migrants in the United States. While some might choose to come here, the more troubling option is that Donald Trump could send them our way.

Beggar-thy-neighbour policies can be used to exacerbate migration crises, and Trump is nothing if not a zero-sum thinker. As Kelly Greenhill from Tufts University has shown, states routinely use “engineered migration” to coerce or deter their rivals. Turkey did it to Europe in 2016, securing an extra three billion Euros with a threat that it would allow hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers into Europe.

It would take a profound willed ignorance to assume Trump is beyond engineering a migration event to deflect public opinion at home, influence the Canadian elections or leverage trade concessions. Politicians from across the spectrum have a duty to ensure Canada is not exposed to that kind of blackmail, particularly not for gains at the ballot box. That means de-escalating the rhetoric and co-operating to ensure we have our house in order.