Cabinet to map out scenarios for dealing with border-crossers

As expected, work taking place behind the scenes:

Federal cabinet ministers are set for an in-depth discussion of the practical and political pressures being placed on the Liberal government by a rising number of asylum seekers in Canada.

Border security, RCMP and immigration officials have been running scenarios to prepare for the possibility that a relative winter trickle of crossings into Canada could turn into a spring flood.

The results of their table-top exercises will help form options being put before cabinet Tuesday, The Canadian Press has learned.

Officials are also studying links between distinct groups of border-crossers that might belie the common notion they’re all being pushed into Canada by the volatile U.S. political climate.

Two government officials confirmed to The Canadian Press that many of the people coming into Quebec hold American visas issued at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Interviews revealed the visas were obtained to use the U.S. as a transit point to get to Canada and claim asylum — plans set in motion long before the U.S. election in November, the officials said, neither of whom were authorized to publicly discuss the issue.


An RCMP officer carries a child from a family that said they were from Yemen after they crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Hemmingford, Que., on Sunday. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

But it is the pictures of RCMP officers hoisting small children above snow-covered fields along the Canada-U.S. frontier that have drawn global attention and placed political pressure on the Trudeau government from all sides.

The Opposition Conservatives are demanding a crackdown, and want those crossing illegally charged with crimes, something the government notes cannot happen until asylum claims are heard.

‘We are the endpoint’

The fact those claims are being fed into a clogged system has others urging the Liberals to put more resources into the refugee-determination process and the agencies that support newcomers.

“We are the endpoint,” said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia.

The Immigration and Refugee Board reported in its last quarterly financial document that in the first nine months of 2016-17, there was a 40-per-cent increase in new claims compared to the same period the previous year.

Statistics provided to The Canadian Press show claim levels generally began rising in Canada before U.S. President Donald Trump took office.

Refugees crossing into Quebec

A family claiming to be from Turkey are met by a RCMP officer after they cross the U.S.-Canada border into Hemmingford, Que. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

In fact, the increase seems to have begun just as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took power.

In October 2015, the month of the last federal election, 1,519 claims were lodged in Canada. The next month, when the Trudeau Liberals took office, there were 1,647 and — with the exception of two months in 2016 — they have been rising since.

Trump is pushing people into Canada, but the Trudeau government’s repeated messaging on welcoming diversity and immigration is a pretty strong pull factor, Friesen said. “We are now the beacon of hope for desperate refugees.”

In B.C., there has been a 60-per-cent increase in the number of refugee claimants in the last 12 months compared to the previous one-year period. Most are Iraqi Kurds and Afghans, and there were also 18 undocumented Latin Americans from Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela who recently crossed the Canada-U.S. border, immigration agencies said.

The number of Mexican claimants is also starting to rise in B.C., following the end of a requirement for Mexican citizens to have a visa to enter Canada. During the last three months, there were 29 refugee claimants from Mexico, the agencies reported, compared to 30 who arrived between December 2015 and November 2016.

The Immigration and Refugee board is already adjusting to deal with the bigger numbers, but cabinet will consider giving it more resources.

Spotlight on Safe Third Country Agreement

Ministers will also consider whether there is room to alter the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. The agreement says a refugee claimant must apply for asylum in whichever of the two countries they arrive first — unless they qualify for an exception.

It is being singled out as the reason people are avoiding official border stations and crossing into Canada illegally, and there are calls for Ottawa to suspend the agreement.

Source: Cabinet to map out scenarios for dealing with border-crossers – Canada – CBC News

A tougher refugee border pact? America said no. Former Minister Kenney

Useful to hear former immigration minister Kenney’s comments and history of earlier discussions, although his reassurances of the safeguards in the US system, while generally correct, understate some of the significant differences between the Canadian and American approaches (even pre-Trump):

The sometimes tragic phenomenon of asylum-seekers crossing fields in Manitoba and ditches in Quebec has prompted many immigration experts and some politicians to call for changes to the Canada-U.S. pact that makes border hopping the only choice for people urgently seeking refuge. That is: stop shuttering our front doors, our border entry posts, to those desperate for safety and legal protection they want in Canada.

There are those on the other side of the status quo who wish for a way not only to keep the door shut, but to press down on the windows people are finding their way through. One of them is Jason Kenney, Canada’s former immigration minister.

In the face of pressure on the Liberal government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, Kenney has called on Ottawa to instead demand renegotiation with the U.S. to eliminate the de facto exemption which lets people making so-called “irregular” border crossings into Canada’s refugee determination system. Irregular crossing, in this case, means getting one’s feet on Canadian soil somewhere other than an established port of entry.

If it granted such a request, the Trump administration would take pressure off Canada’s asylum program in a way the Obama White House refused to do. Kenney told Maclean’s he made this pitch when he was minister; his counterpart in Washington said no.

“I approached then secretary of homeland security (Janet) Napolitano with a request to reopen the STCA for renegotiation to remove this and other exemptions,” he said in an interview Friday on the sidelines of the Manning Centre Conference. “They basically refused to do so, because I quite frankly think they cynically saw these exemptions as operating in favour of the United States. To put it bluntly, if people whom they regard as illegal aliens go to Canada, they don’t have to worry about them any more, or remove them.”

If the Obama administration was unwilling to change rules to keep asylum seekers on his side of the border, what chance is there the new U.S. government would? Among the administration’s policies is a recent order from John Kelly, the new Homeland Security secretary, which would deport undocumented immigrants to Mexico even if they hailed from other Central American countries—a signal this White House is unconcerned about immigration conventions or norms, as long as foreigners perceived as problematic are out of the country.

…His meeting with Napolitano came about while he was crafting new policies to overhaul refugee laws to deter questionable claimants. While he failed to enact a border crackdown, he did speed up the hearing process, create new options to detain asylum seekers and, controversially, limit their health benefits.

Still, refugee advocates in Canada continued their long-standing criticism of the safe third-country agreement, and have amped up their calls in the wake of Trump’s wide-ranging crackdowns on the immigration system, which included a suspension of refugee resettlement and beefed-up deportation and detention systems. These moves have prompted a spike in migrants crossing over to Canada, in hopes of a fair shake at becoming refugees here. Advocates argue that American bellicosity toward newcomers and refuge seekers puts lie to assertions the U.S. is a safe third country (though many of these critics opposed the border deal even before Trump entered politics).

Ministers in the Trudeau government have said they see no reason to abandon the agreement. Their position has gotten new support from the UN High Commission for Refugees. Jean-Nicolas Beuze, its new representative in Canada, told Maclean’s that the asylum conditions in the U.S. and Canada today are not sufficiently different from 2004, when the safe country pact was established, to warrant a change to the agreement. Having spoken recently to dozens of refugee claimants who entered Canada near the border post at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., Beuze said their “perception” of the Trump actions and rhetoric are prompting their escape north. But the agency, he said, will continue monitoring the situation.

Kenney said there’s no reason refuge-seekers currently in the U.S. should not seek asylum in that country, arguing that “hysteria” has driven the recent trend. “The United States has one of the world’s strongest, fairest asylum systems. It’s not administered by Donald Trump. It’s administered by the independent American judiciary and tribunals,” he said.

There are, in fact, substantial differences between how U.S. and Canada treat refugee claimants, some of them predating Trump. In the U.S., detention is vastly more common; in Canada, claimants have easier access to legal aid for refugee status hearings. Canada has an interim health-care program and gives readier access to work permits, among other benefits. The sharpest emerging contrast, however, is that of image: Trump has boasted of walls and ejections, and has particularly stigmatized Muslims (especially from certain countries) as potential terrorists. Trudeau has highlighted Canada’s openness, both through the Syrian refugee resettlement program and a globally rebroadcast tweet declaring welcome to those fleeing persecution, “regardless of your faith.”

The vast majority of border-hopping refugee claimants have been Muslims from Somalia, Syria, Yemen (all countries targeted by Trump’s now-suspended travel ban), as well as Turkey, Ghana, Djibouti and other countries.

Kenney said the Liberal government should bid to renegotiate the agreement as he previously tried to, as its current limitation “almost incentivizes these irregular crossings.” A sharp increase in the flow would massively burden our system “and blow a hole in the integrity of our immigration system,” he says—particularly if illegal immigrants fearing Trump-ordered deportations start joining the overseas migrants. “I think we need to be soft-hearted but hard-headed about this,” Kenney said.

“This is why I think it’s unhelpful for leaders like Prime Minister Trudeau to muddy the waters with what sounds like an open invitation for foreign nationals of the United States to come north,” Kenney went on. “We have immigration laws for a reason, so we can have an ordered, fair, compassionate, law-based system.  It really doesn’t help if you create the implication that Canada has open borders. We don’t, in our law.”

Source: A tougher refugee border pact? America said no. –