Channel crossings to the UK top 25,000 so far this year

By way of comparison, about 20,000 irregular arrivals at Roxham Road between January and July 2022 (virtually all), compared to close to 2 million at the US Southwest land border:

More than 25,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year, government figures show.

A total of 915 people were detected on Saturday in 19 small boats, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said, taking the provisional total for the year to 25,146.

There have been 8,747 crossings in August so far, including 3,733 in the past week, analysis shows.

The highest daily total on record came last Monday, 22 August, with 1,295 people crossing in 27 boats.

It has been more than four months since the home secretary, Priti Patel, unveiled plans to send refugees to Rwanda to try to deter people from crossing the Channel. Since then, 19,878 people have arrived in the UK after making the journey.

Source: Channel crossings to the UK top 25,000 so far this year

LILLEY: Feds allow illegal immigration to flourish while the legal system fails

Apples and oranges comparison between irregular arrivals and those who come through the regular immigration processes but does highlight the backlogs and the damage to trust in and credibility of government:

Canada has long had an immigration system that worked — one that we could be proud of — but right now, no one can say that. Like so many government services these days, the immigration system simply isn’t working like it should.

Now we face an incredible backlog for legal immigration while people stream across the border illegally at will, something that’s relatively new in this country.

Unlike in the United States, immigration has never been a political hot potato thrown around between the two main parties.

There have been differences throughout the years, with Liberals tending to favour increases in family reunification, while the Conservatives have placed an emphasis on economic migration. Both main parties have supported high levels of newcomers to this country.

I was born in this country, but only three years after my parents immigrated. That process, according to my mother, took only a few months.

But now, it’s too often taking years for people simply to have their application processed under what are called “express” conditions.

Right now, there is a backlog of more than 2.4 million applications, an increase of more than a 250,000 from just a couple of months ago. That’s an untenable position for our system to be in and a hopeless one for those waiting for word on whether they can come to Canada.

According to the federal government’s website, it takes 42 months to process the application of someone coming in under the federal skilled trade program. That works out to three years and six months just to have your application processed.

Who would want to wait that long?

The Quebec business class program takes 63 months to process applications, while the provincial nominee program “express” track takes 21 months. On what planet is 21 months processing time considered express?

It takes almost two years to sponsor a spouse and just shy of three years to sponsor your parents.

Meanwhile, anyone willing to take a flight to JFK in New York City and then make their way to Roxham Road in Quebec can simply walk across the border and be welcomed to Canada. The number of people crossing at Roxham Road has far surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

After dropping from 1,500 to 2,000 per month to just a few dozen a month during the pandemic, the numbers are now about double. For example, the 3,449 people who crossed illegally this past May is double the previous high for that month in 2018.

We are now seeing higher numbers than ever before enter Canada illegally, while our legal immigration system can’t process people.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has called for the Roxham Road crossing to be closed, saying his province’s social services are being strained by a lack of federal action. Legault has rightly pointed out that many of those crossing aren’t refugees, they are economic migrants.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in response that closing the crossing won’t stop people crossing illegally, and instead has now started to transfer people to Ottawa and Niagara Falls.

All of this undermines faith in and support for our immigration system as a whole. How can Canadians, or those hoping to become Canadians, have faith in a system that can’t process applicants following the rules but can constantly expand for those going around the rules?

Like passports, customs and airport screening, the immigration department is another example of the federal government not being able to get the basics right.

If the minister can’t fix this, maybe he should look for applicants in that backlog who can and step aside.

Source: LILLEY: Feds allow illegal immigration to flourish while the legal system fails

Barutciski: The Roxham Road legal confusion is back

A somewhat tortured series of arguments, coloured by a bit of Trudeau and Liberal derangement syndrome, that undermines the case to address Roxham Road irregular arrivals.

It also ignores that USA agreement would be required to amend the STCA and that unilateral actions would be subject to court challenges (as is the STCA itself).

However, fundamental he is right in that Roxham Road undermines Canadian confidence that immigration is being managed and reasonably controlled. Like other perceived “queue jumping” and loopholes such as birth tourism, the Roxham Road exemption from return to the USA raises questions about fairness between those who arrive at official border crossings and those who do not.

Roxham Road accounts for over 99 percent of all irregular arrivals (January-April 2022) given its ease and thus either making Roxham Road an official point of entry, pending fixing the SFCA loophole, would result is a large reduction in the number of irregular arrivals.

And of course, all political parties virtue signal to their supporters and potential supporters, as it is easier that addressing the substantive issues at stake (sigh…):

After a relatively quiet period, Roxham Road is back in the news. Refugee claimants have been entering Canada through this unofficial border crossing between rural Quebec and upstate New York at record rates since the Trudeau government lifted the pandemic-related entry ban. From his public statements, it appears Prime Minister Trudeau believes these migrants have rights in Canada if they try to enter irregularly at Roxham Road, but not if they follow the rules and present themselves at an official Port of Entry. He also has an imprecise understanding of the exact nature of Canada’s legal obligations.

It is no wonder part of the population is perplexed and losing confidence in the system. No protection principle could justify treating refugee claimants differently based on which part of the land border they use to enter. While it is unfortunate that an uncritical media and various attention-seeking politicians are unable to properly explain the Roxham problem, it is much more worrisome that the prime minister seemingly does not know the laws applicable in the country he governs.

Laws apply immediately at the border 

Given the apparent confusion, it is worth pointing out that a person who arrives at a land Port of Entry is already considered to be in Canada and the authorities are bound by both international and domestic legal obligations. The Canadian government does not apply a type of legal fiction that pretends there is a special “international zone” at the border in which people are not considered to be in Canada until they are officially authorized to enter.

As soon as migrants come into contact with the authorities, both the Geneva Refugee Convention and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can protect them. If entry is not authorized, then they are returned to the US. As the Canadian system is based on the rule of law, refugee claimants can contest the decision to return. Indeed, several claimants have partnered with advocacy groups to argue that the US is unsafe for them. Their case will soon be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The above legal situation is the same whether it occurs at an official Port of Entry or at an unofficial crossing staffed by the RCMP, such as the one at Roxham Road. The Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which entered into force in 2004, simply declares both countries to be safe for refugee claimants and introduces formal cooperation on responsibility-sharing between them. It does not change the application of either the Refugee Convention or the Charter, although the substantive rights are affected by the designation of the US as a “safe third country.”

Likewise, the fact that the signatories decided the STCA would apply only at official Ports of Entry (i.e., not at Roxham Road) does not change the legal regime. It does, however, provide migrants with a huge incentive to enter irregularly through Roxham Road rather than the nearby Port of Entry at St-Bernard-de-Lacolle. Indeed, it indicates Canada and the US do not have formalized return arrangements for refugee claimants trying to cross the border in between Ports of Entry.

This loophole is what distinguishes the STCA from a similar agreement between European Union (EU) member states, known as the Dublin Regulation, which also tries to tackle the “asylum shopping” problem. The Dublin Regulation does not contain a loophole based on a migrant’s mode of entry, so EU members are supposed to send refugee claimants who entered their territory irregularly back to the first EU country that they entered. These so-called “Dublin transfers” can be complicated if someone enters irregularly via the Mediterranean only to be processed by the authorities in a northern European member state.

The above summary contextualizes the Roxham controversy. Given that the situation involves sensitive issues related to territorial sovereignty and border control, any serious leader should be able to explain this context to the public. The prime minister’s statements, unfortunately, suggest he has a superficial understanding of the situation. Speaking about Roxham Road to a group at the University of Manitoba, Prime Minister Trudeau said “Canada has obligations under international treaties to give asylum seekers a hearing.” Yet he somehow also believes these supposed obligations do not apply at the nearby Port of Entry.

The only rational explanation for this position could be that he is under the mistaken impression that a person arriving at the Port of Entry is not actually in Canada and therefore not covered by international and domestic legal obligations. From an analytical perspective, the striking aspect of the Roxham controversy is that the prime minister does not seem to grasp the legal dimensions but he insists they are guiding his government’s policy, as he recently explained to the House of Commons.

In other words, Prime Minister Trudeau does not seem to understand that while the Refugee Convention and the Charter apply to everyone who arrives at Canada’s border, the legal protection they provide depends on each person’s circumstances. He does not grasp the basic consequences of Canada having declared the US to be safe for refugee claimants and how this creates specific circumstances influencing the extent of the protection granted by international and domestic law. However, the prime minister does have a keen sense of political symbolism and a desire to project a humanitarian image.

Is there a right to a hearing? 

Does the Refugee Convention oblige Canada to provide a refugee hearing to anyone who arrives at Roxham Road, as claimed by the Trudeau government? Nowhere in this 1951 treaty is anything mentioned about refugee status procedures. The word “asylum” is not even mentioned in any of its 46 articles. The most relevant obligation is found in article 33, which stipulates that refugees cannot be returned to a country where their “life or freedom would be threatened.”

This basic guarantee is not the same as a right of asylum in that it allows some flexibility as long as refugee claimants’ lives are not endangered. Unless the Supreme Court of Canada determines the US is not safe, there is no violation if refugee claimants arriving at the Quebec border are returned to upstate New York.

The harsh reality is that the Refugee Convention’s limited protection does not oblige Canada to provide a hearing to every refugee claimant who shows up at the border. It also allows claimants to be returned to safe countries, which is why the adoption of the STCA was possible in the first place.

Does the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms oblige the government to provide a hearing to anyone who arrives at Roxham Road? The landmark 1985 Singh case established that the Charter applies to anyone on Canadian soil, but that does not mean its protection necessarily guarantees refugee claimants an automatic right to a hearing. Nowhere in the judgment is it mentioned that there is a general right to a hearing. Rather, the specific circumstances of the case are underlined in order to establish a potential Charter violation because the Sikh claimants risked being returned directly to India where they feared persecution. The Charter’s protection of “life, liberty and security” (section 7) was at stake, so the old refugee status determination procedure was considered insufficient and the Supreme Court ruled they were entitled to a hearing.

Refugee claimants at Roxham Road are arriving from the US. Stopping and returning them at the border will not result in a potential Charter violation because the US is deemed safe, so the reasoning behind Singh does not apply. Journalists who accept uncritically the prime minister’s position misunderstand why the Court in Singh granted a hearing. There cannot be a Charter violation if someone is sent to a safe place.

The federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also provides that, when a refugee claimant arrives at the land border, there is an initial determination to establish whether the person can make a claim (section 100). The various grounds for ineligibility are outlined in the following section 101 of the Act. Unsurprisingly, these include diverse security-related reasons. They also include a conspicuous clause rendering claimants ineligible when they come “directly or indirectly to Canada from a country designated by the regulations, other than a country of their nationality or their former habitual residence.” This is the legislative provision that allows return to the US and enables the adoption of a responsibility-sharing agreement with the US. As outlined above, laws apply immediately at the border given that there is no fictitious “international zone” or no-man’s-land where the authorities can act in a legal vacuum.

Even a quick reading of Canada’s main legislation dealing specifically with refugee claims makes clear that an automatic right to a refugee hearing was never intended or established by Parliament.

The predominance of image politics 

The inclusion of a major loophole in the STCA so that it does not apply at unofficial crossings such as Roxham Road is the result of an administrative choice that is not required by the legal regime. Rather than explain to Canadians the reasons why such a loophole incentivizing irregular entry was included in the treaty with the US, the Trudeau government has focused on signalling a supposedly virtuous policy and promoting a humanitarian brand. Observers who sympathize with this apparent openness at Roxham Road are missing the underlying political cynicism.

While its legal reasoning is neither rigorous nor nuanced, the Trudeau government seems careful in relation to public messaging and branding. The immigration minister’s mandate letter includes a commitment “to modernize” the STCA and the prime minister recently repeated this goal in the House of Commons, yet nobody has ever explained what this actually means.

The policy options are essentially limited to either one of two approaches: a stricter border control approach that involves tightening entry at Roxham Road, or a soft open borders approach allowing refugee claimants to enter openly through the front door at St-Bernard-de-Lacolle. The latter option does not involve any negotiations with the US because the STCA can be unilaterally suspended or terminated. Therefore, “modernizing” the STCA must logically mean removing the loophole and clarifying that all refugee claimants will be returned to the US regardless of which part of the land border they use to enter Canada. However, clearly saying so goes against the Trudeau brand because it can be interpreted as anti-refugee.

Similarly, despite the prime minister’s confusion about legal rules, a closer look reveals that government lawyers have always argued before the courts that migrants can be returned to the US because it is a “safe third country” where rights are respected (under both the Trump and Biden administrations). So far, the government has not said this too loudly outside the courtroom because it clashes with its branding efforts and preferred pro-refugee image.

The problem is that political marketing has contributed to the polarization of views regarding Roxham Road. Moreover, the resulting ideological battle is misleading. It has become a false symbol dividing Canadians into supposedly pro-refugee or anti-refugee camps. It obscures that Canadian policy regarding uninvited refugee claimants (to be distinguished from resettled refugees) has always been anchored to the basic concept of interdiction with strict visa issuance policies and airline sanctions for undocumented travellers. Despite the rhetoric, governments of all stripes have done everything possible to prevent potential refugee claimants from reaching Canadian shores. It is not by chance that many migrants from poor countries obtained US visas to fly to New York City before taking a bus/taxi to Roxham Road. They would never have received Canadian visas.

Academics and advocates have opposed any idea of responsibility-sharing with the US since the late 1980s because they do not believe US standards are good enough. Prime Minister Trudeau sees these influential groups as part of his political constituency and is trying to be sensitive to their particular concerns. This is apparent in the careful use of progressive language and terminology that reflects the latest trends in refugee studies. The risk is that superficial image-based approaches to refugee policy take precedence over substantive or nuanced hard discussions about the dilemmas inherent in managing borders while respecting human rights.


To sum up, Prime Minister Trudeau’s explanation of his incoherent border policy concerning refugee claimants misunderstands how international and domestic law applies. It also promotes an unprincipled double standard that favours refugee claimants who enter irregularly over those who present themselves at a Port of Entry.

Prime Minister Trudeau also provides a practical argument to defend his incoherent border policy: he claims it is not actually possible to prevent entry in between land Ports of Entry. If Roxham Road is closed, the prime minister insists refugee claimants will simply enter elsewhere. This is the same disingenuous argument the prime minister used during the first three years of the Trump administration. If closing borders is ineffective, why did his government adopt in 2020 a special Order in Council that prevented entry at Roxham Road during the pandemic? Roxham is making headlines again because refugee claims immediately shot up as soon as the Order was lifted a few months ago.

This general futility-based argument on border control has widespread support in academia, even though it is based on an unproven hypothesis. It is presently being used by activists to denounce the British government’s new controversial approach to dissuade irregular migrants from crossing the English Channel, as well as to criticize the Biden administration’s intention of lifting its own pandemic-related entry ban at the Mexico border.

Just as no government claims that tax evasion can be completely stopped through tough law enforcement, no government is claiming that irregular migration will stop with the adoption of greater border control measures. The issue is rather about risk mitigation and not making illegal entry so easy that it becomes almost an invitation for potential migrants to travel to Canada’s borders in order to access the country’s lengthy and generous refugee status determination procedure.

However, an ideological dimension has dominated both sides of the debate. For the Trudeau government, it has become symbolically important to avoid the appearance of militarizing the border. The various US responses to the plight of desperate migrants on the Mexican border over recent years have understandably antagonized anyone with liberal views regarding migration. It is nevertheless dangerous to suggest to Canadians that their country’s land borders cannot be controlled: while the entry of desperate irregular migrants involves a morally complicated problem, public anxiety about gun and drug smuggling is clear.

Despite Prime Minister Trudeau’s unhelpful attempts at explaining government policy and available options at Roxham Road, Canadians have an interest in rejecting superficial image-based approaches to refugee policy in a post-pandemic context that will see increased international mobility. The government could improve public trust by eliminating the incoherence in the way refugee claims are handled at Roxham Road, while also being more precise and upfront about its actual position. It is time our leaders’ role in elevating the public discourse overrides the fondness for political marketing.

Source: The Roxham Road legal confusion is back

Barutciski: Roxham Road — Canadians deserve honest talk about this country’s asylum policy

Needed on both sides of the spectrum:

Despite international travel restrictions, the number of asylum seekers entering Canada through the unofficial Roxham Road border crossing between Quebec and upstate New York has reached winter-month record levels. Recent statistics indicate 2,367 migrants entered during a month of January that was particularly cold. Almost 3,000 entered in December. At this rate, the RCMP will intercept a record number of asylum seekers on the land border this year.

We have not heard about these irregular migrants in recent years for a simple reason: after insisting during the first three years of the Trump administration that it was impossible to block the border, the Trudeau government simply invoked public health safety and prevented them from entering at the start of the pandemic. The special Order in Council preventing entry at Roxham Road was lifted last November and, unsurprisingly, the number of asylum claims immediately shot up.

We are back to the controversial double standard that created controversy and contributed to record levels of asylum claims from 2017 to 2019. If migrants arrive at the Lacolle port of entry, border officials invoke the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States to prevent them from entering to claim asylum. However, if the migrants go a couple of kilometres to the west at Roxham Road, the RCMP allows them to enter because of a loophole in the agreement. There is, however, no protection principle that could justify treating asylum seekers differently based on which part of the land border they use to enter.

Instead of explaining the problem in a transparent way so that pro-immigration Canadians could grasp the dilemma, the Trudeau government focused on signalling a supposedly virtuous policy and promoting a humanitarian brand. Observers who sympathized with this apparent openness are missing the underlying political cynicism. Canadian asylum policy has always been anchored to the basic concept of interdiction with strict visa issuance policies and airline sanctions for undocumented travellers. Despite the rhetoric, governments of all stripes have done everything possible to prevent asylum seekers from reaching our shores. It is not by chance that many migrants from poor countries obtained U.S. visas to fly to New York City before taking the bus/taxi to Roxham Road. They would never have received Canadian visas. Seen in this light, the recent decision to grant visas quickly to Ukrainians will eventually be seen as another double standard.

The ideological battle regarding Roxham Road is therefore misleading to the extent it has become a symbol dividing Canadians into supposedly pro-refugee or anti-refugee camps. Part of this context is that activists have opposed any idea of an agreement with the U.S. since the late 1980s (when enabling legislation was initially proposed) because they do not believe U.S. standards are good enough.

Despite its branding efforts, a closer look reveals the Trudeau government has always argued before the courts that migrants can be returned to the U.S. because it is a “safe third country” where rights are respected (under both the Trump and Biden administrations). So far it has not said this too loudly outside the courtroom because it clashes with a pro-refugee image.

Similarly, the Trudeau government does not explain what is meant by the commitment “to modernize” the agreement with the U.S. that is included in the immigration minister’s mandate letter. This would logically mean removing the loophole, but clearly saying so goes against brand.

Although unfashionable on campuses, there is nothing wrong with communicating to the public that border control is a legitimate state function. It explains why the federal government has always preferred to select and resettle refugees from overseas rather than deal with asylum claimants who arrive irregularly and undocumented. An honest discussion acknowledges potential problems with such uninvited asylum claims. The challenge is reconciling the need to control borders with a humane and fair approach to asylum.

Canada is not the only country facing asylum dilemmas. Even prior to the Ukrainian outflow, the number of asylum seekers increased over the last few months in the European Union. Likewise, the problem at the Mexican border is getting worse despite a new administration in Washington that does not want to appear anti-refugee. In a post-pandemic context that will see increased international mobility, Canadians have an interest in rejecting superficial image-based approaches to asylum policy. The government could improve public trust by eliminating the incoherence in the way asylum claims are handled at Roxham Road and being more upfront about our actual position. It is time our leaders’ role in elevating the public discourse overrides the fondness for political marketing.

Michael Barutciski is a faculty member of York University’s Glendon College and associate editor of Global Brief magazine. He has taught refugee law and directed public policy programs in several countries.

Source: Barutciski: Roxham Road — Canadians deserve honest talk about this country’s asylum policy

More migrants seek asylum through reopened Canadian border

Highest level ever since 2017. Will likely become political issue again:

Whenever a bus arrives at the Greyhound station in Plattsburgh, New York, a small band of taxi drivers waits to drive passengers on a half-hour trip to a snowy, dead-end dirt road.

There, at the border with Canada, refugees pile out of taxis or vans several times a day, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers warn that they will be arrested for illegal entry if they cross, which they do. Most are soon released to pursue asylum, living and working freely while awaiting a decision.

“We have the hopes of everyone — be successful and have a change of life,” Alejandro Cortez, a 25-year-old Colombian man, said as he exited a taxi last week at the end of Roxham Road in Champlain, New York. The town of about 6,000 is directly across the border from Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec.

Cortez joins a renewed stream of migrants seeking refuge in Canada after a 20-month ban on asylum requests designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Families are once again lugging suitcases and carrying children across a remote, snow-covered ditch to the border.

Canada’s decision to lift the ban on Nov. 21 stands in marked contrast to the approach in the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended indefinitely a similar restriction on the border with Mexico that will enter its third year in March.

On Wednesday, a Justice Department attorney vigorously defended the ban against sharp questioning from federal appeals court judges about the scientific basis for such a far-reaching move against asylum.

The U.S. expelled migrants nearly 1.5 million times from March 2020 through November under what is known as Title 42 authority, named for a 1944 public health law that the Trump and Biden administrations have used to deny migrants a chance to seek asylum on grounds that it will curb the spread of the coronavirus. That accounts for about two of three arrests or expulsions at the border, most involving single adults and some families. Unaccompanied children have been exempt under President Joe Biden.

Fully vaccinated travelers have been able to enter the U.S. and Canada since November, but Canada went a step farther by reinstating a path to asylum.

Cortez arrived in the United States on a tourist visa five months ago. He said he couldn’t go back to Colombia because of violence and the disappearance of thousands of young men.

“All of that hurts a lot,” he said. “We have to run from our country.”

Asylum-seekers on the Canadian border began appearing at Roxham Road around the time Trump became president. How it became the favored place to cross into Canada isn’t clear, but the migrants are taking advantage of a quirk in a 2002 agreement between the U.S. and Canada that says people seeking asylum must apply in the first country they arrive in.

Migrants who go to an official crossing — like the one where Interstate 87 ends just east of Roxham Road — are returned to the United States and told to apply there. But those who arrive in Canada at a location other than a port of entry, like Roxham Road, are allowed to stay and request protection.

Nearly 60,000 people sought asylum after illegally crossing the border into Canada from February 2017 through September, many at Roxham Road, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Montreal, Canadian government statistics show.

Of those, more than 45,000 claims have been finalized, with almost 24,300 approved, or almost 54%. Another 17,000 claims were rejected while over 14,000 are still pending. Other claims were abandoned or withdrawn.

In December, the number of asylum-seekers at the border in Quebec jumped to nearly 2,800. That’s up from 832 in November and 96 in October, according to the statistics.

Canada lifted the asylum ban with little fanfare or public backlash, perhaps because the numbers are small compared with people crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.

Biden’s decision to keep the Trump-era ban in place has come under scathing criticism from the United Nations refugee agency, legal scholars and advocates.

Under the ban, people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, are bounced back to Mexico before being afforded rights under U.S. and international law to seek asylum. People from other countries are flown home without a chance at asylum.

Scientific arguments for Title 42 have met with skepticism from the start.

The Associated Press reported in 2020 that Vice President Mike Pence called CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield in March of that year and told him to use the agency’s special legal authority to slash the number of asylum-seekers allowed into the country.

Pence made the request after a top agency doctor who oversees such orders refused to comply with the directive, saying there was no valid public health reason to issue it.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, the second-highest CDC official when she departed in May, told a congressional panel last year that “the bulk of the evidence at that time did not support this policy proposal.”

On Wednesday, Justice Department attorney Sharon Swingle insisted the ban is based on scientific expertise and prevents disease at crowded Border Patrol holding facilities. Facing persistent questioning from judges on a three-member panel in Washington, she acknowledged there were no affidavits in court records to explain the order’s scientific foundation.

Within hours of the November change by the Canadian government, immigrants started arriving in large numbers at Roxham Road, said Janet McFetridge, of Plattsburg Cares, a group that provides hats, mittens and scarves to people crossing the border in the dead of winter. She said people are eager to cross while they can.

“There definitely is a fear that it’s going to close suddenly,” she said while waiting on Roxham Road for the next group of migrants.

A Canadian officer said in French to a woman and her traveling companion, who was carrying a baby, that it was illegal to enter Canada there.

“If you cross here, you will be arrested,” he said.

“Yes, it’s not a problem. It’s not a problem,” the woman said as her companion started to pull a suitcase across the border.

Source: More migrants seek asylum through reopened Canadian border

Quebec relies on hundreds of asylum seekers in long-term care battle against COVID-19

The irony given all the Quebec (and elsewhere) rhetoric regarding irregular asylum seekers:

Sarah watches her four-year-old daughter jump around a play structure she’s not allowed on because of the pandemic.

They’re just happy to be outside.

For eight days, Sarah — an asylum seeker from Haiti who crossed the U.S. border into Quebec at Roxham Road three years ago — was bedridden in their small Montréal-Nord apartment, her body feverish and aching.

It had started with some coughing and a slight fever she had tried to brush off at first. Her manager at the private long-term care residence in Ahuntsic where she works as an orderly wasn’t happy when she’d asked to stop working, for fear of bringing the infection home to her asthmatic daughter.

Then more symptoms appeared. She was nauseous, and the cough and fever got worse. A test a couple days later confirmed she had COVID-19.

Now on the mend, three weeks after testing positive, Sarah says: “I’m proud. I was on the battlefield.”

Sarah’s refugee claim was rejected after her first hearing, then again on appeal. Her only hope at staying in the country now is to be granted residency on humanitarian grounds, a process for which she began the application before the pandemic.

Given her precarious immigration status, CBC has agreed not to identify her by her real name.

Sarah is far from the only asylum seeker working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many ‘guardian angels’ are asylum seekers

Marjorie Villefranche, executive director of Maison d’Haiti in Montreal’s Saint-Michel district, estimates that about 1,200 of the 5,000 Haitian asylum seekers the organization has helped since 2017 have become orderlies.

Frantz André, who helped found the Action Committee for People without Status, an advocacy group that helps asylum seekers settle in Montreal, says there are many more who’ve flown under the radar.

Asylum seekers make up a large portion of the “guardian angels” Quebec Premier François Legault has praised in his daily briefings — the orderlies, or préposées aux bénéficiaires (PABs), working in long-term care homes — who have no guarantee they’ll be allowed to stay in Canada.

“As quickly as they can, they want to find a job — and they’re being directed to jobs that no one else wants to do: the caregivers, PABs, security agents,” André said.

Without status, on the front lines

He and other refugee advocates have been calling on the Canadian government to allow asylum seekers already in the country to stay.

Many of them are hired by temp agencies, which offer people eager to work easy access to the labour market. For seniors’ homes desperately short of staff, the agencies are a source of cheap labour, but they operate with little government oversight.

The workers are often shuffled from facility to facility — a practice Quebec’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, has acknowledged is contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care centres, known in the province as CHSLDs.

André says the long hours they put in make the workers more prone to catching the virus and spreading it to their families.

He says it explains why Montréal-Nord, a low-income neighbourhood filled with newcomers, has the highest number of cases in the city.

“When you’re tired, you don’t eat well. You will go back home, and there’s four, five, six and sometimes seven people living in a [one-bedroom]. The chances of the people catching it, the family catching COVID-19, is greater than anywhere else,” André said.

It is also difficult for orderlies working for agencies to adhere to the province’s request that they work in only one long-term care residence, because accepting shifts wherever they’re asked to go is the only way to cobble together full-time work.

Another woman CBC spoke with works part time for a private residence and part time for an agency providing home care. Bouncing between visits to patients’ homes and shifts at the long-term care residence increases the risk of spread, but the woman said she feels she has no choice.

Problematic use of agencies predates pandemic

Long-term care homes have long been reliant on temp agencies to fill staffing holes — and the people the agencies sign on are most often women and newcomers to Quebec.

“Even before the pandemic, they had a lot of trouble finding people to do the orderly work,” said Prof. Nicolas Fernandez, a specialist in the relationship between health-care workers and patients who teaches family and emergency medicine at Université de Montréal.

“The short-term solution is to go to agencies.”

The reliance on temp agencies puts additional stress on CHSLDs struggling to contain outbreaks, said Fernandez, who has also served as a translator for asylum seekers.

CBC reached out to both federal and provincial departments requesting statistics on PABs, including how many are asylum seekers. Quebec’s Labour and Immigration ministries said they did not collect that information.

The Health Ministry didn’t provide a breakdown either, but offered up figures showing the vast majority of PABs are women — 34,821 of 42,340 in both private and public facilities. The average salary in 2019 was $40,551.

Fernandez says the job of a PAB is gruelling and crucial: they are the backbone of CHSLDs.

From the moment they wake up, most residents require extensive care — at least three hours a day — to have qualified for a bed.

“In order for the person to feel cared for, and not just a number, you need someone who is going to be there every day,” he said.

‘There’s no stability’

Sarah worked for two agencies to gain work experience after she finished her PAB course last year. She hated it — travelling as far away from Montreal as Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, in the Montérégie, a 50-minute commute made longer by the stops the agency’s van made to pick up other workers.

“There’s no stability. Every time, you’re sent to a different place. It gets really stressful,” she said.

For the past couple of months, Sarah has worked in the same private long-term care facility in Ahuntsic.

She loves her work. She likes helping and caring for people. It’s a far cry from the job she had in Haiti, working with a sports organization, but she hopes to be able to stay in Canada and work her way up in the health-care field, possibly becoming a nurse.

In the midst of this crisis, Sarah hopes the federal government recognizes how much asylum seekers have contributed to Canadian society and finds a way for them to stay.

“I hope the government will hear our calls, hear our voices.”

Group wants special immigration program

Those calls grew louder on Thursday, with a community group devoted to the rights of Haitians who crossed into Canada in 2017 asking the provincial and federal governments to implement a special immigration program for those working in CHSLDs.

“We find it hard to believe that these guardian angels may be expelled from the country once the battle is won,” the Concertation haïtienne pour les said in an open letter.

“We are counting on your leadership to make a humanitarian gesture to these citizens who are fighting alongside us every day.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada responded to a CBC inquiry about whether the federal government was considering giving asylum seekers already in Quebec special status.

A spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the government would stick with the current process.

“Our immigration system continues to be based on compassion, efficiency and economic opportunity for all, while protecting the health, safety and security of Canadians,” spokesperson Shannon Ker wrote.

Source: Quebec relies on hundreds of asylum seekers in long-term care battle against COVID-19

Four Reasons to Keep Allowing Refugees into Canada

I don’t find these arguments terribly convincing.

Travel restrictions by themselves only slow down the spread of viruses like COVID-19. But at a time where “planking the curve” is a priority to assist our healthcare system handle current and anticipated increased demand, it is one tool that government’s have. Implementing widespread screening at airports was not terribly effective during SARS (“health theatre” just like “security theatre.”)

While some migrants will, of course, find a way, the numbers will likely decrease, reducing the potential additional burden on healthcare (and the IRB).

And and the recent MPI study, Coronavirus Is Spreading across Borders, But It Is Not a Migration Problem, shows, while travel restrictions have limited effectiveness in the containment phase, they are more effective in the mitigation phase in which we find ourselves.

Is the policy immoral? Or does it strike a reasonably balance between protecting Canadian residents and asylum seekers who arrive at official border crossings? Is Canada a “classist society, partially determined by citizenship status.” Of course it is, citizenship does have meaning. But Canada’s implementation of all travel restrictions is inclusive: citizens, Permanent Residents, and immediate family members who fall into neither category.

One can, as many have, that the measures are illegal, as is the STCA with the US. In the current context, not sure such arguments would prevail, in particular given the large number, and ever increasing number, of COVID-19 cases in the USA and the lack of effective US policies to contain the pandemic.

We are all in this together, but there are better and more comprehensive ways to support international cooperation than simply focusing on irregular arrivals:

On Friday morning, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the government would restrict the movement of people across our borders as an unprecedented measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. Starting this Wednesday, asylum seekers who cross the border at unofficial ports of entry — known as irregular migrants — will be arrested and handed over to American authorities.

This is a marked departure from the government’s previous position. Just a day earlier, the government promised that it would continue to allow people to cross into Canada, ensuring they screen and isolate anyone who crossed the border for two weeks in federal facilities.

While it’s important to acknowledge that we are facing a pandemic, and every decision is difficult and crucial, closing the border to irregular migrants is not the answer. This policy is ineffective, immoral and likely illegal.

1. The new policy is ineffective

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that while asylum seekers do not represent a higher public health risk, the efforts required to monitor and isolate them would be difficult during these trying times.

Indeed, welcoming and monitoring migrants while in quarantine requires resources, but it will also require many resources to monitor the closed border and co-ordinate the return of these migrants with the U.S. How many resources will we actually free up by this policy?

Most importantly, this won’t stop the spread of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization hasn’t recommended closing borders to curb COVID-19. Instead, it has instructed countries to ensure appropriate screening measures are in place at ports of entry and to promote thorough hygiene practices and social distancing.

If Canada was to follow the advice of WHO we would conduct an individualized assessment of every person entering the country, move them to a temporary shelter facility, and be asked to self-isolate. This process would be just as, or more, stringent than those in place right now for Canadian and American citizens. And it’s what Trudeau had previously announced Canada would do.

Furthermore, this policy won’t stop migrants from making their way into Canada. As we’ve seen time and time again in Europe, closing the border doesn’t stop migration, it just makes it more dangerous. Migrants won’t abandon their hopes of reaching safety simply because a government tells them to. Rather, they will be pushed to take clandestine routes into Canada.

In this new policy, migrants who make it into Canada will not be quarantined for 14 days, increasing the risk of spreading the virus. Once they are in Canada, they’ll be forced to live underground and will be too afraid to seek medical attention if sick, further exacerbating the spread.

If anything, closing known border crossing points like Roxham Road will put the health of Canadians at greater risk.

We also can’t forget, COVID-19 isn’t happening in a vacuum. This is a global pandemic, and pushing migrants out of Canada won’t stop COVID-19, it will just move it somewhere else. Migrants will be left to wander through the U.S., trying to find safety, and potentially spreading the virus throughout communities.

European Union sources have said that refusing entry to anyone is not considered an appropriate preventive measure, because “the virus would spread further since those potential patients would keep moving in the region without being treated.” European Union experts are instead urging countries to have systematic checks for all arrivals.

Back in January, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, WHO warned that closing the borders could actually spread the virus more quickly. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that by closing official border crossings, countries can “lose track of people and cannot monitor (their movement) anymore.”

2. The new policy is immoral

The government of Canada is capitalizing on the chaos of COVID-19 to push through a policy that oppresses the most vulnerable. It is taking advantage of a global pandemic to pander to xenophobic and racist fears.

Sealing the border to irregular migrants reaffirms that ours is a classist society, partially determined by citizenship status. This policy implicitly states that citizens deserve the safety and comfort of Canada, but migrants do not.

Minister Blair characterized turning away migrants as a step toward closing the border for all but “essential” travel. What travel is more “essential” than seeking refuge?

It’s worth noting that the border closure exempts international students and temporary foreign workers and Canada is still allowing American citizens into Canada. These many exceptions illustrate that the border closure isn’t about blocking non-Canadian citizens, but seizing this moment of panic to turn our backs on irregular migrants, a plan the government has long been musing.

3. The new policy is likely illegal

Aside from this policy being immoral, there’s a good chance that the new policy is illegal, and human rights and refugee groups in Canada have been quick to condemn it.

In its press release, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers said, the new policy “is unnecessary and unjustified, and it puts refugees at risk.”

Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, condemns closing the border, noting that “refugees and migrants face considerable risks in the face of the pandemic and are frequently demonized and ostracized as public health threats.” Neve said that “turning refugee claimants over to U.S. border control officials at a time like this violates international law and is just plain cruel.”

Under international law and the 1951 Refugee Convention, Canada has an obligation to allow asylum seekers to launch a refugee claim and have their case heard. By automatically returning all irregular migrants to the U.S., we are ignoring international law and shirking our obligations.

In addition, human rights organizations have fervently opposed the Safe Third Country Agreement for decades now, arguing that the U.S. is not a safe place for refugees.

In the U.S., asylum seekers are prevented from making a refugee claim if they wait more than one year, are often denied access to counsel, and are detained while their claims are assessed. In recent years, the situation has only worsened. Trump has held migrant children in cages, implemented the Muslim ban, housed migrants in tent cities, barred asylum claims based on domestic violence and gang violence, and ripped babies from mothers’ arms.

Canada may also be violating its obligations of non-refoulement — which stipulates that countries cannot return asylum seekers to a country where they would risk persecution — by sending migrants back to the U.S.

There is a very real possibility that the U.S. will send migrants back to countries where they could face persecution. The Trump administration has brokered agreements with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — countries from which countless refugees flee — mandating migrants to apply for refugee protection in those countries on their journey to the U.S. The U.S. already has an established practice of sending migrants back to Guatemala, where Indigenous people and women, in particular, face extreme rates of violence. All of this violates the international obligations to not return asylum seekers to persecution, and Canada will now be complicit in these “chain pushbacks.”

Given these bilateral agreements, and the fact that the U.S. government is still conducting raids and deporting people during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada cannot argue that sending migrants back to the U.S. is in line with our legal obligations.

The government has emphasized that this measure will only remain in place during the COVID-19 crisis, but we should take this with a very large grain of salt. The Safe Third Country Agreement was created during the aftermath of 9/11, when it may have seemed reasonable. But the panic of 9/11 is long gone, and the agreement still remains. It’s very likely that this policy will also stay in place permanently. As Justin Mohammed from Amnesty International Canada said, “History demonstrates that when we see the rollback of certain human rights, the unwinding of that action has been very difficult.”

4. We’re all in this together

As Canada and other countries around the world close their borders in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, IOM reminds us that, “it is critical that such measures be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, in line with international law, and prioritizing the protection of the most vulnerable.”

We are in unchartered territory. It’s understandable that Canada wants to do everything it can to protect its country from a deadly virus, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other: we can protect Canadian health while at the same time upholding human rights and protecting asylum seekers.

As always with human rights, it’s a balancing act. As we make difficult decisions to combat this pandemic, we cannot lightly compromise human rights and must account for every competing factor. Just as we balance the freedoms of assembly, association and religion of Canadian citizens against their right to life and health, we must also balance the right to life, liberty, and security of the person of irregular migrants.

As Eric Paulsen has written, we must implement public health measures “in a way that is justifiable in line with international standards. Any limitations on our rights must be necessary, proportionate and in the pursuit of a legitimate aim.”

Canadian citizens are scared, but so are migrants. Migrants face the same health threats from COVID-19 as citizens.

The world is at war, but for the first time in history, the entire world is fighting a common enemy. Let’s use this moment to embrace unity and care for one another.  [Tyee]


The End of the (Roxham) Road: Leuprecht on “Seeking coherence on Canada’s border migration compact” and some fundamental flaws

Reading Christian Leuprecht’s recent above study for MLI one statement caught my eye in particular, his assertion that:

“…. the timing and implementation of actual changes in regulations initiated by President Trump, which have expanded the remit of migrants who are now at risk of deportation, appear to have had little effect on the flow of irregular migrants crossing into Canada.

This study is skeptical of Trump as the arsonist: his policies are merely an accelerant on a slow-burning fire. A series of factors had affected migration from the United States to Canada prior to the 2016 US presidential election. However politically expedient, misidentifying Trump as a causal rather than an intervening variable is problematic insofar as it leads to a misinformed prescription, such as simply waiting out the current US presidential administration in the mis- guided belief that Trump and his policies are merely an aberration.”

As evidence, he cites the study by Craig Damian Smith, Changing U.S. Policy and Safe-Third Country “Loophole” Drive Irregular Migration to Canada, which states the contrary:

“The Trump administration’s decision not to extend a long-standing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for some 46,000 Haitians was the catalyst for the drastic increase in asylum claims in Canada in 2017. In April 2017, just 140 Haitians crossed into Canada at Roxham Road. The following month, the number increased to 1,355, and to 3,505 that June. Roughly half of the 6,500 Haitians who arrived during the April 2017 – June 2019 period examined, were U.S. residents, with the rest arriving from Haiti and third countries, particularly Brazil. Thus an announced U.S. policy change resulted in roughly 7.5 percent of all Haitians in the United States with TPS choosing Canada rather than risking deportation, moving to a third country, or remaining unauthorized in the United States.”

The various other measures, that Leuprecht cites as pre-Trump reasons for the spike (“electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) for visa-exempt nationals, cracked down on human traffickers, used enhanced technology to reduce fake passports, and improved intelligence sharing on at-risk travellers”) are more germane to the overall influx of irregular arrivals rather than the almost quadrupling that occurred between June and July 2017 (RCMP interceptions) and which have since stabilized as per the chart below (“the new normal”):

The following chart looks at overall inland claims (regular and irregular), again highlighting the post-Trump impact:

A marked increase in irregular border crossers, especially outside of official ports of entry, has put Canada’s immigration and refugee system under scrutiny and fuelled an emotionally charged debate with important policy implications for Ottawa, the provinces, and Canada-US relations: Who should qualify for asylum, or refugee protection, under domestic and international law? Proponents defend migrants’ unequivocal legal entitlement to lodge a claim as a refugee in Canada; critics deem these irregular crossings to be an end-run around Canada’s refugee system by breaking – or at least abusing – the law.

In an immigrant country with a checkered history of immigration policy, to champion the underdog migrant who actually makes it to Canada is par for the course. However, this lenient attitude has effectively turned irregular migration into a back door to Canada: A disproportion- ate number of refugee claims by irregular migrants turn out to be unfounded yet few rejected claimants ever end up being deported.

A disproportionate number of refugee claims by irregular migrants turns out to be unfounded.

On one hand, irregular migration is a function of a complex interplay of domestic, bilateral, and international factors. On the other hand, the Canadian dislike for US President Donald Trump has given rise to a narrative that attributes the surge in irregular migration to the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. However convenient and appealing, simplistic explanations also tend to be wrong or, as this study explains, at least inchoate. This study lays out the myriad aggravating political factors in the US that predate the Trump administration.

At the same time, Canada has implemented the electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) for visa-exempt nationals, cracked down on human traffickers, used enhanced technology to reduce fake passports, and improved intelligence sharing on at-risk travellers. While these measures have reduced the number of irregular migrants arriving by air and sea, they have made crossing by land from the US much more attractive for those who prefer Canada as a destination. Contrary to claims that most of those who are crossing are taking flight from the Trump regime, about two-thirds of asylum seekers crossing irregularly into Canada by land actually enter the United States legally on a visa for the sole purpose of making their way to Canada. By way of example, Saudi nationals have obtained American visas at the embassy in Riyadh under false pretense, intent on entering Canada to claim asylum.

Between 2016 and 2017 irregular migration into Quebec, primarily from New York state across the now infamous Roxham Road, surged by 230 percent. Although not wholly without precedent, these numbers are nonetheless high by historical standards. Through September 2019, 12,080 irregular migrants had been apprehended by the RCMP out of 46,165 total claims, or 26.2 percent of claims, in 2019. The 2019 numbers are a decline from the RCMP apprehension of roughly 20,000 irregular migrants in each of the two previous years, although at a rate of 1,200 a month in the fourth quarter, the final tally for 2019 will probably range around 15,700. It appears to be a case of squeezing the snake: total claims from all sources are running close to 6,500 a month in the third quarter of 2019 compared to 4,900 a month during the same quarter in 2018.

Canada’s migratory regime is based on a social contract. Recent trends challenge the integrity, sustainability, and legitimacy of that social contract because they undermine the cornerstones of Canada’s migratory regime writ large, and especially its approach to refugees:

  • the legitimacy of a well-administered migration policy that is grounded in the rule of law and preserves the integrity of Canada’s borders;
  • the successful political and economic socialization and integration of migrants; and migration’s collective benefit in fostering Canadian prosperity.

How, then, is Canada to confront the phenomenon of global migration in a way that respects the rule of law while preserving the legitimacy of domestic migration regimes?

As challenges to the integrity of border management and policy have compounded over the past 25 years or so, binational and bilateral cooperation between Canada and the United States has expanded incrementally. After all, open borders depend on extensive cross-border cooperation for their effectiveness and legitimacy. This is the premise that informs a sustainable approach to irregular migration across Canada’s land border between ports of entry.

The government is currently exploring extending the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) beyond ports of entry to cover the entire land border. This is a better option than unilaterally suspending the STCA, as some commentators have prescribed. Yet, given the disproportionate number of refugee claims at inland offices, extending the STCA to cover the land border is un- likely to solve the migration problem facing Canada.

This study lays out a cooperative strategy with the aim of sustaining a coherent border-migration compact that includes:

  • weighing the costs and benefits of changing Canada’s STCA with the United States;
  • obviating the need to cross between ports of entry by reinstating the “Direct Back” provision under Section 41 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, which would allow claimants to lodge their claims for refugee status from the United States;
  • enhancing current bilateral and binational administrative, intelligence and enforcement cooperation; and
  • acquiring better data to drive (more) informed and timely decision-making.

The cumulative effect of both regular and back-door immigration risks undermining popular support for migration altogether. Polling data suggest that trend is well underway. These targeted measures are designed to reinforce confidence in Canada’s commitment to managing its borders, the integrity of the refugee migration system, the prospects of the political and economic integration of migrants, and consequences for the country’s prosperity as a whole.


Changing U.S. Policy and Safe-Third Country “Loophole” Drive Irregular Migration to Canada

Good in-depth study:

Nearly 50,000 asylum seekers entered Canada irregularly via land crossing from the United States over a two-year period beginning in spring 2017—contributing to a doubling in the overall number of asylum requests seen in 2016. Most make their way into Canada via Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing at an otherwise unremarkable country road along the New York-Quebec border.

The surge in asylum filings is the result of a few factors, perhaps most notably U.S. policy changes that have made the United States less hospitable and growing recognition of a “loophole” in the 2004 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). While the treaty was designed to manage asylum-seeker processing by requiring individuals to apply for protection in the first of the two countries entered, it allows those who reside in or transit through the United States to claim asylum in Canada if they enter between official ports of entry.

Box 1. Methodology

This article presents findings from semi-structured interviews with 290 asylum seekers from more than 50 countries, with a representative sample by country of origin. They had been in Canada from a period of only a few days up to two years. Interviews were conducted from December 2018 to October 2019. They took roughly one hour, and were conducted in the respondent’s language of choice at shelters and community organizations in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Montreal.

Recruitment took place using posters and communication through social workers and volunteers. Respondents were identified by their first name only, and offered the choice to use a pseudonym. No identifying or contact information was collected.

Interviews were also conducted with two dozen lawyers, social workers, civil servants, and personnel from government and law enforcement in Canada and the United States.

The majority doing so, according to research undertaken by the author and his research team, only briefly transited the United States before crossing into Canada. Around 60 percent of the 290 asylum claimants interviewed—from a diverse mix of countries including Haiti, Nigeria, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—had spent an average of five days before moving on to Canada. The remainder had lived in the United States for an average of six years.

The increase in asylum seekers has proven a politically and morally fraught issue for the Trudeau government in the lead-up to the October 21 federal election, offering opposition parties and civil-society groups on the right and left alike reason to criticize the centrist Liberals in power. It also has placed new scrutiny in Canada on the Safe Third County Agreement, criticized by conservatives for its role in fostering more asylum claims and on the other side of the spectrum by lawyers and refugee-rights advocates who question whether the United States remains a “safe” country.

This article, which draws from the first year of the “Understanding Emergent Irregular Migration Systems to Canada” research project, presents findings from interviews to explore asylum claimants’ motivations for claiming asylum, information sources, and experiences along their journey and after arrival. It also analyzes the effects of the recent arrivals on Canada, especially regarding the political implications. The goal is to fill a research gap by providing empirical evidence for the drivers of irregular migration to Canada.

U.S. Policy Change as a Driver of Migration to Canada

Increasing irregular arrivals to Canada may be attributed to many factors, including (mis)information spread about the STCA “loophole” through social networks and international media. Insights from interviews with asylum claimants suggest that U.S. policies are a major driver of irregular migration to Canada—though the relationship is not always linear. An increase in arrivals after change in U.S. policy is not unprecedented: discrepancies between U.S. and Canadian refugee determinations in the 1980s led to a “border rush” of predominantly Central and South American asylum seekers. The ensuing backlog in Canada’s asylum system led to the creation of the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and motivated Canada to seek an STCA in the first place.

Causes of the Recent Uptick in Asylum Seekers

The Trump administration’s decision not to extend a long-standing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for some 46,000 Haitians was the catalyst for the drastic increase in asylum claims in Canada in 2017. In April 2017, just 140 Haitians crossed into Canada at Roxham Road. The following month, the number increased to 1,355, and to 3,505 that June. Roughly half of the 6,500 Haitians who arrived during the April 2017 – June 2019 period examined, were U.S. residents, with the rest arriving from Haiti and third countries, particularly Brazil. Thus an announced U.S. policy change resulted in roughly 7.5 percent of all Haitians in the United States with TPS choosing Canada rather than risking deportation, moving to a third country, or remaining unauthorized in the United States.

Figure 1. Number of Asylum Seeker Claims on Roxham Road, April 2017-June 2019

Source: Data provided to the author by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) under a memorandum of understanding.

A commensurate number of TPS recipients from countries other than Haiti have not sought asylum in Canada, even as the Trump administration has also moved to end designations for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and others. The lack of similar movement may owe to a number of factors, including the fact that U.S. courts have at least temporarily blocked the upcoming terminations. Obama-era Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, advocates, and asylum seekers interviewed also noted that Latino immigrants are more politically organized and committed to resisting Trump administration policies.

Still, more than 300,000 people risk losing TPS in early 2020, and in an environment of hostility toward asylum seekers and unauthorized immigrants, more may aim to cross irregularly into Canada, particularly if it appears the courts will not continue being a brake on Trump administration immigration actions.

Table 1. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Populations in the United States and Expiry Dates

Note: A grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) provides recipients protection from removal from the United States, as well as work authorization.
Source: D’Vera Cohn, Jeffrey S. Passel, and Kristen Bialik, “Many Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status Face Uncertain Future in U.S.” Pew Research Center FactTank blog, March 8, 2019, available online.

Beyond the initial rush of Haitians in mid-2017, many others have made the journey after being in the United States for only a short period of time. Roughly 60 percent of respondents used the United States only as a transit state, spending an average of five days. They learned of the crossing from a range of sources, often through social media, YouTube, or word of mouth. Some early respondents, mostly from Nigeria, were reticent to admit that they had planned to come to Canada, and said they had no knowledge of Roxham Road before arriving in the United States. These respondents also offered similar, almost verbatim reasons for asylum. The researchers thus revised their interview structure to focus on the source of information for the Roxham Road route. Several described purchasing asylum narratives from “story sellers” or “travel agents,” typically based on persecution for gender and sexual orientation. While these types of claims are long-standing, narratives also included Donald Trump’s anti-migrant pronouncements and the specter of family separation as the reason for spontaneous transit to Canada. Thus, decisionmakers in Canada must now contend with U.S. policy in assessing claims.

However, most respondents planned to use Roxham Road from the outset. “My husband had Canada in mind for years. He wanted to do it legally, like fill out the forms online. But once he heard about Roxham Road he decided to send us,” said Hadiza, a 39-year-old woman from Niger. “It was a difficult decision. It was me and three kids. My husband had to stay behind. He sent us first and maybe he can come later.”

For these migrants, the unlikelihood of protection contributed to their choice not to remain in the United States. Roughly 20 percent had been denied visitor or skilled immigrant visas to Canada but were able to obtain or already had U.S. visitor visas. Several, predominantly from the DRC, Angola, and Pakistan, said they obtained visas by bribing U.S. consular officials. Restrictive U.S. asylum procedures, more open visa regimes, and corruption thus impact asylum claims in Canada.

Roughly 40 percent of respondents had resided in the United States for a period of years, mostly unauthorized residents who had overstayed a visa or received a negative asylum decision. Unlike many who transited through the United States in days, this group explicitly stated that their reasons were directly tied to U.S. policies.

“This word ‘illegal’ is weird to me, even if I use it about myself,” said Derrick, a 22-year-old from Gabon. “Every day people tell you to go back to your country, that if you’re struggling you should just go. That’s not a life. I’m not a criminal, I don’t hurt people. I just want to work and study.”

Among respondents’ fears were the threat of workplace immigration enforcement operations or law enforcement status checks. The most common catalysts for the decision to use Roxham Road were that a relative or community member had been incarcerated or deported, or that they were running out of funds or appeals in lengthy U.S. asylum procedures. Several said they abandoned claims because of a 2018 policy to schedule new cases in immigration court before older ones, a “last in, first out” policy DHS implemented to deal with the rapidly rising Central American caseload. Regardless, most reported a growing fear from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant discourse, more frequent discrimination, and anxiety about the fate of their children should they be apprehended. Finally, around 3,500 U.S. citizens had crossed the border during the April 2017-June 2019 period, according to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), signaling the displacement of mixed-status households with unauthorized immigrant parents and U.S.-citizen children.

Many who arrived in late 2018 or in 2019 had actively researched Roxham Road, which had garnered significant media attention in 2017, often through online searches and conversations with community members, but considered it a last resort. Interview questions asked respondents who resided long term in the United States where Canada ranked among options including return to their country of origin, relocation to a third country, or move elsewhere in the United States, particularly a sanctuary jurisdiction. Most were incredulous about the notion of returning to their country of origin, but would have preferred to remain in the United States were it not for the Trump administration. Canada offered the simplest and safest option.

Transnational Border Crossers

Irregular migration to Canada rapidly became more transnational after receiving attention from mainstream and social media. By late 2017, Nigeria overtook Haiti as the top country of origin, and the number of nationalities diversified significantly.

Table 2. Top 20 Countries of Origin of Roxham Road Asylum Claimants, April 2017- June 2019

Source: IRCC data provided to the author under a memorandum of understanding.

For most who transited the United States over a short period of days, the decision to seek asylum in Canada has less to do with U.S. policy and more to do with finding a solution for a precarious situation. To take one example, many claimants who are considered Yemeni, Palestinian, or Sudanese in official data were born and lived in Saudi Arabia. “Saudi-ization” policies—aimed at increasing the share of native-born Saudis in the workforce—resulted in the termination of these workers’ residence permits. For Yemenis, this means risk of deportation to a country with which they have no connection and one experiencing a humanitarian emergency. Many Palestinians would be rendered stateless. Respondents coming from these types of situations relayed how their social networks were abuzz about the U.S. route to Canada as early as May 2017, offering a new means to fulfill pre-existing desires for mobility.

While those with financial means often fly to the United States, an increasing number, predominantly from Africa, undertook multimonth and even multiyear overland journeys from Brazil, through Central America, to the United States. This comports with global findings that the first people in irregular migration systems are often those with the capital to move quickly, while those with fewer resources take more precarious routes.

The less well-heeled or those unable to secure U.S. visitor visas recounted harrowing danger, including violence and extortion by state security services, criminals, and smugglers; capsized boats on the coast of Colombia; horrific experiences in the Darien Gap jungle in Panama; predation from gangs in Mexico; and waiting in dangerous conditions at the U.S. border. “The jungle in Panama was very, very hard. You’re walking past dead bodies. You spend ten days or two weeks. You have to walk through rivers, over mountains. There are snakes and bandits… You walk for days, from the time the sun comes up until it goes down, and you sleep wherever you lay,” said Naomi, a 22-year-old from Angola. “If a child dies, the parent leaves it behind. If your husband dies, you leave them behind. Because if not, it’s you who will be left behind. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

(Mis)Information and Social Networks 

Social networks play a strong role in would-be migrants’ decision-making. In the case of Nigerian claimants, for example, Pentecostal churches play a key role planning travel and social connections once in Canada. Refugee claimants from Yemen, Colombia, and a range of African states receive detailed instructions from community members who have already arrived. Some respondents said U.S. aid organizations encourage people to move on to Canada after release from detention.

As in other irregular migration corridors, misinformation and rumors seem to have a strong influence. Whispers of impending enforcement actions in the United States served as a catalyst for several respondents. More often, rumors are spurred by minority-language media and are amplified and distorted through social media. These often have some basis in fact. Recent arrivals reported rumors that the Canadian border will be closed if the Conservatives win the October election, spurring people to hurry on their journeys.

When Trump announced a ban on refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries within days of taking office Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” A number of respondents cited this juxtaposition as a prominent example that Canada was “saving” refugees from the United States. “I was hearing a lot of things about the Prime Minister of Canada. My friend told me they’re welcoming people there. And I thought ‘this is the place I’m supposed to go’,” said Bilal, 25, from Yemen.

It would be disingenuous, however, to claim a tweet was the direct catalyst for migration. The irregular movements to Canada instead owed in a broader sense to the erosion of protection and retreat from norms of asylum in the United States, against which people measured their chances in Canada.

Interviews illustrate that claimants had accurate information about the route, yet little knowledge of the asylum process in Canada. Respondents were surprised by the scale of the flow, wait times for hearings, not immediately receiving housing, and the difficulties in finding child care and work. And while only a few respondents said they would have made a different decision, interviews and DHS data suggest that over the past two years dozens or hundreds of asylum seekers had either returned to their country of origin or used smugglers to re-enter the United States.

A Surprising Lack of Criminality at the Border

In comparison to other irregular migration corridors—and indeed on other legs of the journey—there is remarkably little criminality at the U.S.-Canada border. The route existed long before Roxham Road made headlines. It generally consists of transit by bus or private car to Plattsburgh, New York, and taxi companies transporting people to the border. Individuals with large families or health issues, or those who fear interactions with U.S. immigration enforcement, use a network of private drivers. None of this activity amounts to smuggling under U.S. or Canadian law, and there is very little evidence of abuse while people move within the United States.

A small number reported intimidation by taxi drivers in Plattsburgh. In the early days, taxi companies overcharged for the 25-mile drive to Roxham Road. In May 2019, the New York attorney general convicted the owner of one company of systematically overcharging. This trend has abated, and most respondents relayed either no meaningful interactions or acts of kindness from drivers, who calm agitated people and explain the process at the border.

The most significant exploitation is in Canada, particularly by immigration consultants and lawyers. In several cases—in collaboration with agents in the United States—consultants from migrants’ national or linguistic community convinced individuals to come to Canada. Such consultants offer a “full-service” fee, including transportation to the border, access to a safe house in Canada (which is unnecessary), and promises to circumvent Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) wait times (which is not possible). They then extract as much money as possible before abandoning claimants. Other respondents, primarily from Latin America, have reported lawyers charging exorbitant rates for paperwork that could be covered by legal aid organizations. As Nadya, a 35-year-old woman from Colombia, explained: “The agent charged us $1,500, and put us in touch with a lawyer in Canada, [who] said it was $6,000, then $1,500 each to get a work permit. He said could get us work and we could pay him back. Once we got to Montreal there was a group of Latino lawyers, [who] explained we would get free legal aid. We asked, ‘How much do we have to pay [for] a work permit?’ It’s then we realized he was trying to take advantage of us.” Finally, there is some evidence that Mexican and Nigerian claimants arrive owing debts for passage and are immediately recruited to work under the table for temporary labor agencies.

These types of exploitation pale in comparison to the abuse and danger reported along irregular migration routes elsewhere around the globe. Most interviewees reported positive experiences with Canadian officials and consider the system fair despite long wait times. Understood in a global context, claiming asylum in Canada remains a safe process.

Impacts on Canada

The backlog at Canada’s IRB, a tribunal that hears refugee claims, had grown to more than 79,000 cases as of August 2019, with average wait time of two years for first hearings. A 2019 auditor general’s report found that wait times could increase to five years by 2024 if the number of claims remains constant. The increase has strained shelter capacity in major cities, particularly Montreal and Toronto. Polling by the Angus Reid Institute suggests that while most Canadians remain in favor of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, they overestimate the number of refugees present, see irregular migration as a crisis, and those entering at Roxham Road as “queue jumpers” or “bogus refugees.” Attacks on shelters and demonstrations against housing asylum seekers in Toronto, and far-right protests at shelters in Montreal and on the border in Lacolle, Quebec have occurred.

The opposition Conservative Party of Canada has accused the government of losing control of the border. In late 2018, the party took a page from the playbook of Europe’s far-right populists, claiming the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration would mean ceding sovereignty to the United Nations. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party refused to cooperate with the federal government over shelters and housing for asylum seekers, and made the unprecedented move of canceling legal aid for refugee claimants, which is a crucial part of the asylum process. The goal was to foster chaos in the lead-up to the election and shift the burden to Quebec, a crucial electoral battleground.

It has also been expensive. After lobbying from the legal and advocacy community, the federal government announced CAD $26.8 million in funding to address the legal aid shortfall. The 2018 budget allocated $72 million for capacity-building at IRB, and the 2019 budget an additional $1.2 billion over five years. Providing shelter space for asylum seekers has cost cities somewhere in the range of $150 million. The political challenge is that effective policy requires administrative solutions, while critics can mobilize narratives of economic migrants gaming the asylum system as a result of uncontrolled borders.

The government has sought to balance capacity building with restrictive policies. In 2018 it created a new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, appointing a tough-on-crime ex-police chief from Toronto. It also changed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to prevent asylum shopping by denying access for people who previously sought protection in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom. The change was roundly criticized by refugee-rights advocates and has caused significant uncertainty for both asylum seekers and the legal community. Officials interviewed on the condition of anonymity confirmed it is a pre-emptive measure in case of U.S. policies that might spur more migration, particularly in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Loophole or Safety Valve?

Much of the asylum debate in Canada has been about closing the STCA “loophole.” The left-leaning New Democratic Party and many academics, lawyers, and refugee advocates have called for Canada to suspend the accord, on grounds the United States is no longer a safe country for asylum seekers. Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees are challenging its constitutionality. The Conservative Party has taken the opposite position, promising to extend the agreement to what has been long heralded as the “world’s longest undefended border.”

Applying the agreement between ports of entry would require vast new funding for federal police, who would be tasked with apprehending and detaining thousands of people. The result would create more criminalized smuggling markets, make migrants vulnerable to trafficking, create precarious undocumented populations, and push people to more dangerous routes. It would also fundamentally damage Canada’s global identity.

On the other hand, suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement would likely result in more asylum claimants, given peoples’ decisions have been significantly affected by ever-more hardline U.S. policies and rumors of more open Canadian ones.  Those arriving at regular ports of entry would still increase IRB backlogs. And the move would likely backfire politically, with voters potentially rewarding anti-refugee political platforms, as in Europe and the United States.

Restrictive policies are unlikely to stem the flow of people, and Canada has no leverage in negotiations with the White House over the STCA. Likewise, unilaterally suspending participation in the accord risks riling the U.S. government at a time when the Trump administration is limiting access to asylum and attempting to compel other states to take on the responsibility for hosting refugees.

While perhaps counterintuitive, the status quo with regards to the Safe Third County Agreement is a viable option. Roxham Road is well managed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) conduct routinized security screening and first-line admissibility checks. The majority of interviewees took pains to mention they were treated humanely, in sharp contrast to experiences at other borders. Volunteers who monitor the crossing relayed that while there were instances of intimidating behavior by the RCMP in 2017, they are now rare because of the standardization of procedures, permanent infrastructure, and observation by volunteers. People arrive safely, and without criminal networks.

While politically fraught in the current context, Canada receives a small number of asylum seekers in comparison to other refugee-receiving countries. It has an established and well-funded settlement sector, and refugee-status determination procedures are largely fair. Staying the course until the 2020 U.S. elections would allow for capacity-building and long-term planning that bucks the global trend of reactionary policies in liberal democracies.


This article is part of a research project, “Understanding Emergent Irregular Migration Systems to Canada,” funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University and the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.

Irregular asylum claims in Canada drop nearly 50% from last year

Ironic, given the government’s plan to close the STCA loophole for those entering Canada outside regular border posts. And of course, still too early to see if this trend continues for the balance of the year:

The number of asylum-seekers crossing the border “irregularly” into Canada has slowed compared to early last year.

Statistics published by the federal government show the RCMP apprehended 3,944 irregular migrants between official border crossings in the first third of this year.

That’s a 48-per-cent decline compared to the more than 7,600 irregular border crossers intercepted between January and April 2018.

Despite this, Darrell Bricker of the polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs says data shows Canadians are increasingly concerned over immigration levels in Canada, due in large part to the influx of irregular migrants.

He and other experts who took part in an immigration summit in Ottawa last week are warning against rising populist sentiments that could harden Canadian attitudes against newcomers.

Fen Hampson, executive director of the World Refugee Council, says a key concern is that the public doesn’t differentiate between refugees and economic immigrants — and that Canadians may not realize Canada’s refugee influx is nothing compared to the migrant crises facing other countries.

Source: Irregular asylum claims in Canada drop nearly 50% from last year