Will Haitians force Trudeau into being hard-hearted? Andrew MacDougall

I always find MacDougalls’ (former Harper PMO Director of Communications) commentary valuable and thoughtful given his conservative perspective is expressed and argued in a largely non-partisan manner (in contrast to some former CPC staffers such as Candice Malcolm and Mark Bonokoski in Sun media).

This piece is no exception:

It’s summertime, and the border crossing is easy.

What was once a slow trickle of bodies from the United States to Canada threatens to become a steady flow. And instead of Muslims fleeing the imprecise scope of Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” across the Manitoba border, it’s now worried Haitians who form the majority of those seeking sanctuary this summer in Quebec.

Why Haitians? Why now?

Essentially, those who fled Haiti in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake have been spooked by a change to their status in the United States under the Trump administration. And so they’re fleeing again. But it’s to a place where a similar change has already been made; Canada sends its failed Haitian claimants back to Haiti.

The particulars don’t matter; the Haitians are here, and more are coming because they think Canada is a soft mark. The Big O(we) in downtown Montreal is even being converted to a shelter for their arrival. And if they come in stadium-sized numbers it means a hard choice is coming for Justin Trudeau.

And it’s a choice (somewhat) of the prime minister’s own making.

When President Donald Trump unveiled his inaugural “Muslim ban” Trudeau responded with a tweet declaring: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcometoCanada.”

It got great headlines at the time, and isn’t strictly applicable to the Haitians now coming, but what Trudeau is now finding out is that tacking on a sieve or a barrier to the sentiment expressed in that tweet is hard to do, especially when your political brand is basically that of the world’s saviour.

The Haitians in question aren’t fleeing persecution, terror, or war; they’d mostly rather not go back to Haiti. And every place they occupy in our asylum system is one less for those who are genuinely suffering.

Trudeau, for now, is holding firm. “Canada is a country that understands that immigration, welcoming refugees, is a source of strength for our communities,” Trudeau repeated last week. He also added, “protecting Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of our system allows us to continue to be open.”

The second half of the prime minister’s statement was, in Liberal eyes, butt-covering. But for a lot of Canadians, including the opposition Conservatives, it’s the operative half of the equation.

And right now that half is showing signs of severe strain.

A recent memo on the state of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) released under access-to-information highlights a massive backlog of claims and a system starved of needed resource.

The Trudeau government will either need to increase funding massively, turn down more people at the border, or — more likely — some combination of both to maintain “confidence in the integrity of our system.”

Doing so will be a tricky proposition for a government that has carefully cultivated its tolerant political brand. Any tightening of Canada’s policy under Trudeau could be seen as betrayal, no matter how justified it might be.

Fortunately, for Trudeau’s image anyway, there are no good policy options to stem the flow, at least not with a recalcitrant President Trump in the White House. Canada cannot do a rewrite of the laws on its own, and closing the loophole that allows the current arrivals would only force more people to official border posts, where dealing with migrants is even more difficult politically.

This situation would then seem to favour more cash to the refugee system, but no such funding was included in the most recent federal budget. The Trudeau government has instead opted for a “wide-ranging” review of the system, with a report due in the summer of 2018.

It appears, then, the Trudeau government is hoping to ride out the current situation, hoping the word eventually gets back to the tens of thousands of Haitians in the United States that things really are no better in Canada and that they should stay where they are. Then again, a years-long backlog for processing might still be the better alternative.

For their part, the Conservatives would do well to suggest a fix in addition to keeping up pressure on the government to act.

Who knows? Coming up with a helpful solution could help redeem Tories in the eyes of voters who might not trust them on these and other matters.

Source: Will Haitians force Trudeau into being hard-hearted? | Toronto Star

ICYMI: Canada has a border problem. Here’s how to fix it: Doug Saunders

Published in February but remains relevant given ongoing border crossings. Not convinced, however, re full suspension of safe-third country agreement with USA given signals it would send to future border crossers:

Stop illegal entries by creating a legal path. People aren’t making these crossings because they’re an easy way into Canada. In fact, illegal foot crossings are an exceptionally difficult and expensive way into Canada: Some migrants have paid drivers enough to buy business-class airfare.

People make them because they’re the only way into Canada. Under the 2004 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada does not allow foreign refugee claimants who landed in the United States through its official border crossings: You’re required to apply for asylum in the first country in which you arrive. But if they can get themselves physically onto Canadian soil, they will be arrested, detained, released and given an assessment, a hearing and a right to appeal.

This is not, as some have said, a flaw in the act; rather, it is a feature of the Canadian Constitution: Once in Canada, you are entitled to the full suite of rights – including due process and a fair hearing.

We can deal with this in two ways. One, as suggested by some MPs, would be to secure the border more, by adding hundreds or thousands more police and border agents. They would probably spend their days and nights processing a rising tide of border-crossers, at great expense.

The other would be to stop the illegal flow completely by creating a legal entry method, with processing centres at border crossings. The numbers would increase somewhat, but it would be far less expensive and much less dangerous – and it would look secure, fair and rational to Canadians.

Consider suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement. The treaty made sense when it was signed, because the United States and Canada both treated refugee claims similarly, and offered similar treatment to people pursuing those claims. (The worry then was that claimants would try to sneak from Canada into the United States.) That has changed under the Trump administration. Refugee claimants fear, first, that their claims will get a less generous hearing under the refugee crackdown, and second, that they might be held in awful detention centres while awaiting a decision.

Since the agreement no longer serves its intended purpose, it mainly creates perverse incentives. Illegal foot crossings are one. Another is an exemption provided in the treaty to “unaccompanied minors” – which might tempt someone to send a child alone across the border. Suspending the treaty wouldn’t overwhelm us with migrants: There’s a very limited supply of asylum seekers who’ve made it into the United States. And under current conditions, it is easier for them to fly directly to Canada.

Get people processed fast. Many of those border-crossers – perhaps most – won’t qualify as refugees. They’ll wait months for a hearing, then years for an appeal, before they go home or are deported (by which time they’ll have roots in Canada, creating a second set of crises). Those who are legitimate refugees will also wait, in ambiguous status, in border towns for long periods and possibly in large numbers.

To avoid this becoming an enduring, high-visibility crisis with grave political implications, Ottawa should bring on board extra Immigration and Refugee Board staff and judges to work the border stations, so hearings can be made in weeks rather than months and appeals in months rather than years. This would cost, but not as much as supporting thousands of ambiguous people for years, or rebuilding the reputation of our immigration system. By making it legal, rational and quick, we can make the border act like a border again.

Source: Canada has a border problem. Here’s how to fix it – The Globe and Mail

Canada welcomes refugees, but shuts the door on asylum seekers: Vic Satzewich

A reminder to those critical from the right of the Liberal government’s approach of the alternative critique from the left, suggesting that the Liberals remain in the centre:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen sound a lot like former Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney these days when it comes to immigration. Last Friday the Prime Minister said, “Protecting Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of our system allows us to continue to be open, and that’s exactly what I plan to continue to do.” Over the weekend, both the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister counselled Haitians thinking about crossing the U.S. border into Canada to stay where they are and make their refugee claim in the United States. Many of Mr. Kenney’s public comments about changes to the immigration system introduced under his watch were also peppered with references to the need to maintain the integrity of, and public confidence in, the immigration system.

Maintaining the “integrity of the immigration system” is in part the shared code language for how our governments (Conservative or Liberal) think about asylum seekers. Canada may love refugees like Syrians who are selected and screened abroad before they set foot in the country, but the same cannot be said about asylum seekers who wash up on our shores in boats, or who walk across our border with the U.S.

Canada’s approach to asylum seekers pokes holes in the image of the country as inherently welcoming to immigrants and refugees. The fear and panic Canadians expressed about the arrival of 174 Sikhs off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1987, the arrival of “ghost ships” from Fujian, China in 1999, and 492 Tamils aboard the MV Sun Sea in 2010, bear little resemblance to Mr. Trudeau’s tweet in January where he told the world that, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you.” Indeed, a 2015 Environics poll found that nearly half of Canadians believe that refugees coming to Canada do not have a legitimate claim.

Though the policy climate in the United States toward immigrants and refugees is changing for the worse, I am not optimistic that the Liberals will do much to make it easier for Haitians and others to make a refugee claim in Canada.

The immigration department is obsessed – and this is not too strong a word – with preventing the arrival in Canada of “jumpers” (their shorthand for “queue jumpers.”) One of the responsibilities of a visa officer is to try to predict whether a person who applies for a visitor visa will make an asylum claim after they arrive. If they think a person might “jump,” they can refuse to issue a visa. Even though making an asylum claim in Canada is not illegal, Canadian authorities dislike it when individuals use the visitor visa system to get to Canada to make a refugee claim.

Nor am I optimistic that the Liberals will rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement. Doing so would be a slap in the face to American authorities because it would send a very clear message that Canada does not have confidence that U.S. authorities can deal fairly with asylum claims. Some might say that with the current chaos in the White House, the U.S. will not notice, but at a time when there are heightened tensions about immigration in that country, you bet they will. I also doubt whether the Liberals are going to want to muddy the waters as we renegotiate NAFTA.

Nor is the government likely to close the “loophole” in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows individuals to make an asylum claim if they cross into Canada outside of an official port of entry. To do so would involve an unprecedented militarization of the Canadian border and most Canadians are not ready to see the spectacle of the RCMP or CBSA officials physically preventing asylum seekers from crossing into Canada. We would look a lot like Hungary and its approach to preventing the arrival of asylum seekers.

The government of Canada has benefited more from the Safe Third Country Agreement than the United States. The two countries entered into the agreement for different reasons. For the U.S., it was part of a post-9/11 effort to enhance security. For Canada, it was an effort to stop asylum seekers from entering from the United States. One study found that before the Safe Third Country Agreement was put into effect, between 8,000 and 13,000 refugee claimants entered Canada annually from the United States. During the same period (1995-2001), only about 200 refugee claimants entered the United States from Canada.

The sad reality is that Canada’s welcoming approach to immigrants and refugees comes at the expense of asylum seekers.

Source: Canada welcomes refugees, but shuts the door on asylum seekers – The Globe and Mail

There’s no easy solution to Canada’s border problem: Campbell Clark

Sensible and realistic commentary:

The latest spate of asylum seekers crossing the border over dirt paths in Quebec has once again sparked some, including Conservative politicians, to ask why Ottawa doesn’t press Washington to allow those people to be turned back to the United States.

There is, after all, a deal in place with the Americans that allows Canadian border guards to turn back asylum seekers who arrive at official border crossings from the United States – but not in between them. Many have called for the Canadian government to close that “loophole.”

But the Americans don’t want to close it. They don’t want to go through a lot of trouble to stop migrants from leaving the United States. It’s time to stop thinking there are easy, wave-of-the-pen solutions for Canada’s border problem.

…So those demanding that Canada strike a new deal with Washington to close the border “loophole” – as Conservatives did throughout the leadership race that ended in May – can save their breath.

Jason Kenney, who is running for the leadership of Alberta’s new United Conservative Party, told The Globe and Mail’s Laura Stone last week that the Liberal government should renegotiate the safe-third-country deal. But he also admitted that when he was the federal immigration minister, Obama administration officials refused.

Before 2003, asylum seekers often came through the United States to Canada. But after 9/11, the two countries signed several border-management agreements, including a “safe-third-country” agreement that stipulates if someone arrives at an official Canadian border post and claims refugee status, they can be turned back to make their claim in the United States. But the Americans didn’t want to agree to take back anyone who managed to sneak into Canada elsewhere.

That means anyone who crosses the border through a field or a across a dirt path can claim refugee status, and have their claim heard. That loophole has always been there. It’s just that more people are using it lately.

Mr. Trump’s immigration crackdown is one reason. That sparked a number of Somalis living in Minnesota to cross into Manitoba last winter. Now many Haitians who fear they will be sent home when a U.S. moratorium on deportations ends in January are coming to Quebec’s border, reportedly encouraged by false info on social media that suggests they will automatically be allowed to stay.

What to do? Conservative MP Michelle Rempel issued a press release calling for Mr. Trudeau to “take action” – but tellingly, she didn’t specify what kind.

Some suggest suspending the safe-third-country agreement, because people will at least cross the border at official entry points if they can make a refugee claim there. But history suggests that will lead to a major increase in people travelling through the United States to seek refugee status in Canada – especially with Mr. Trump cracking down on migrants from Mexico.

There’s really two ways to discourage the flow. You can make the lives of border crossers rougher, by locking them up. But that means locking up desperate families.

Or you can speed the processing of refugee claims, either through reform or extra funding, so that people without valid claims are returned home quickly – in theory, that might discourage those who aren’t bona fide refugees. Right now, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals are hoping this latest flow of asylum seekers will subside. After Mr. Trudeau’s words about refugees being welcome, they don’t want to act tough. And there just aren’t simple solutions: Certainly, Canada can’t expect Mr. Trump’s help.

Source: There’s no easy solution to Canada’s border problem – The Globe and Mail

False information sends asylum-seeking Haitians to Canada

Suggests that more targeted communications, using diaspora networks, are needed to help reduce expectations and false information (beyond the recent PM and IRCC Minister comments in that regard):

An exodus of Haitian migrants seeking asylum at the Canadian border is being fuelled by incomplete and false information spreading like wildfire throughout the community.

Refugee advocates say many of the 58,000 Haitians living in the United States under temporary protection – which was granted after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and exempted them from deportation to the devastated country – began to look at options in May when the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump announced the status would end in January. Attention turned to Canada in June when false rumours spread that the country was automatically welcoming people with temporary protected status (TPS) in the United States.

The effect was quickly felt in Quebec, where the daily arrival of about 50 asylum seekers a month tripled in July. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is now being used as a temporary shelter for up to 1,050 people. Hundreds of Quebeckers rallied at the stadium Sunday to show support for the migrants. An anticipated anti-immigration protest did not happen.

Farrah Larrieux, a Haitian TPS holder and advocate who lives in Florida, said when the Trump administration announced the status would end Haitians were faced with a choice: spend nearly $500 (U.S.) in fees to extend their stay for six months or put the money toward an attempt to get into Canada.

Opportunists quickly popped up advertising Canada was offering a free ride. “There are posts on social media, ads on messaging apps, even Haitian radio hosts telling people they were willing to organize a bus to get them to Canada where they would be welcomed with open arms,” said Ms. Larrieux, who was facing deportation in 2010 for overstaying a tourist visa when an earthquake struck Haiti and she received TPS protection. “When you have this kind of chaos, you have people willing to take advantage.”

Sophia Cineas, a 31-year-old Haitian woman, was one of hundreds of people who arrived at an unofficial border crossing between upstate New York and Quebec last week. She described how much more welcoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to immigrants than Mr. Trump and how she believed Canada would welcome her. “I cannot stay in the United States and there’s no better place than Canada,” she said. “I’m doing what I’ve got to do.”

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the representative in Canada for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), interviewed 30 newly arrived asylum seekers last week, about two-thirds of whom were Haitian. He said many of them appeared to have bad information about how easily they could get established in Canada. “There is an impression that Canada is a more generous country when it comes to refugees, but when you look at the statistics, it’s very similar.”

In Canada, 52 per cent of Haitian refugee claims were accepted in 2016, compared with 48 per cent in the United States, Mr. Beuze noted, but refugee claims will be tough to make for Haitians who have been living in the United States with protected status. “They have a different profile from the Haitians who normally come to Canada,” he said.

Many of the Haitians under TPS permits have been in the United States for years and often arrived with legitimate visitor visas or by clandestine methods. People who want to make asylum claims from within the United States are generally required to make the claim within their first year in the country. Many of the new arrivals in Quebec say they’ve been living in the United States for five to 10 years.

Most people who have legitimate refugee claims would have likely made them upon arrival in the United States, Mr. Beuze said.

In the first six months of the year, Canada processed 18,306 asylum claims. Official numbers for July are not available, but estimates indicate a big spike, ranging from about 1,100 to 2,500 for the month in Quebec alone. If the pattern continues, the numbers might approach the recent high of 44,640 in 2001, when the rules were more relaxed.

Canada can handle the load, Mr. Beuze said. The UN representative also cautioned against relying too much on projections. He noted Canada expected an influx of Mexican asylum seekers when Ottawa lifted a visa requirement for visits. It didn’t happen. This winter, as the number of border-hopping asylum claimants increased exponentially from January to March, many predicted the numbers would explode when the snow melted. Instead, the numbers from April to June stabilized before the July spike.

“You do not always understand the triggers, the push and the pull factors,” Mr. Beuze said. “People have different profiles and weigh different factors while making very personal decisions.”

The difficulty of claiming refugee status in Canada may become clearer to potential migrants and people may pursue other options to stay in the United States or return home to Haiti, he added.

Source: False information sends asylum-seeking Haitians to Canada – The Globe and Mail

Years after two ships brought 568 migrants to Canada, seven acquittals and one conviction

After all the public outcry – understandable given public concerns about queue jumping but pumped up by then CIC Minister Kenney – only one conviction, although the prosecuting the case may have acted as a deterrent for other ships:

The first vessel — undersized and not built for ocean voyages — laboured toward the B.C. coast in October 2009 with 76 Tamil asylum-seekers onboard.

Then in August 2010, a larger ship — but with the same questionable seaworthiness — was intercepted off the coast with 492 Tamil migrants.

The Ocean Lady and Sun Sea passengers all claimed they were fleeing the ravages of civil war in Sri Lanka. But the Conservative government at the time took an aggressive stance — detaining and building cases against many of the asylum-seekers — as part of a campaign to deter future “irregular arrivals.” A handful of passengers from each ship were also charged with being part of criminal human-smuggling operations.

However, on Thursday, four accused from the Ocean Lady were found not guilty, bringing to seven the total number of acquittals. There has been only one conviction.

“The government has spent years and huge amounts of money to fight the passengers of the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea — in the courts, in the refugee hearing processes, detaining them as long as they could. All for what?” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“The charges of criminality and security risks have been shown to be without foundation. … At least we can take pride in the fact that Canadian institutions and courts continue to treat people fairly.”

In the Ocean Lady case, the Crown had tried to argue that Francis Anthonimuthu Appulonappa, Hamalraj Handasamy, Jeyachandran Kanagarajah and Vignarajah Thevarajah played significant roles during the voyage — captain, engine room worker, chief engineer and transportation provider — and thus helped to organize, aid or abet a smuggling enterprise.

But in a decision released Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Arne Silverman said while there was evidence of organized criminal activity, the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the activities of the four men were connected to it or helped to further it.

“There is circumstantial evidence from which it can be argued that common sense dictates that this vessel and voyage could not have been mounted without the assistance of persons involved in organized crime,” Silverman said. “However, there is little evidence of a connection or a furthering ‘through acts’ of the four accused.”

The Supreme Court of Canada helped pave the way for Thursday’s outcome when it found in 2015 that Canada’s human-smuggling laws should not extend to people who are simply assisting family members or providing humanitarian or mutual aid to refugees.

In Thursday’s ruling, Silverman said: “I am satisfied that all of the conduct performed by the four accused was performed in pursuit of that mutual goal and amounts solely to mutual aid.”

All four men smiled, laughed and shook hands in court after the decision came down, The Canadian Press reported.

Mark Jette, a lawyer for one of the accused, said the courts have sent an important message.

“If you’re an internationally active people smuggler or trafficker who’s engaged in this for profit, you’re going to be prosecuted. If you get on a boat and assist yourself and others to get across safely, you’re not a criminal.”

While Thursday’s ruling does not mean the four accused’s refugee claims will automatically be accepted, it does give them a “fighting chance,” he added.

Speaking outside court, Kanagarajah described how he and the other migrants were convinced partway through the ocean journey that they would not survive.

“Most of the refugees believed that we were going to die, because there were so many storms, and the sea was very rough,” he said. “Fortunately we are here today.”

Kanagarajah said he still wants to become a Canadian citizen and plans to go to college to study business.

Earlier this year, three of four men accused of human smuggling in the Sun Sea case — Lesly Emmanuel, Nadarajah Mahendran and Thampeernayagam Rajaratnam — were similarly acquitted by a jury. The jury, however, could not reach a decision regarding a fourth man, Kunarobinson Christhurajah.

Following a retrial, Christhurajah was found guilty in May.

According to the most recent figures available from the Immigration and Refugee Board, eight men from the Ocean Lady were deemed inadmissible and received deportation orders, 36 refugees claims were accepted, and 21 claims were rejected.

In the Sun Sea cases, 22 were ordered deported after being found inadmissible, 230 refugee claims were accepted and 107 claims were rejected.

Source: Years after two ships brought 568 migrants to Canada, seven acquittals and one conviction | National Post

Turkish asylum claims up 5-fold in Canada amid Erdogan’s ‘witch hunt’

Expected:

One year after a dramatic military coup unfolded and ultimately failed live on Turkish state television — with defiant soldiers commandeering warplanes and facing off against government supporters on a bridge over the Bosphorous Sea — the government crackdowns that ensued continue to be felt as far away as Canada.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada says asylum claims from Turkey shot up to more than 1,300 during 2016 — close to five times as many as the year before — with about 398 claims accepted, about four times as many in 2015. This year, the agency says, there have already been 590 claims, 248 of which have been accepted so far.

Toronto-based lawyer Britt Gunn says many of those claims are from those afraid of being classified as terrorists under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdowns. So far, tens of thousands of people with real or perceived links to polarizing cleric Fethullah Gulen — once a close ally of Erdogan’s and now the leader of the Gulen movement living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999 — have been arrested, detained or expelled.

“People are afraid they’re going to go back, be arrested, languish in prison for who knows how long, not have access to a lawyer, not really know what the charges are against them and essentially become the victim of this witch hunt that’s being carried out,” said Gunn, who says she has about 25 clients from Turkey at the moment.

Source: Turkish asylum claims up 5-fold in Canada amid Erdogan’s ‘witch hunt’ – Toronto – CBC News

Thousands of refugee cases suspended due to border agency delays

More on ongoing refugee determination delays, beyond IRB unfilled positions:

Despite law that requires all refugee hearings to be heard within 60 days once a claim is initially deemed eligible by an immigration officer, more and more asylum hearings like Ahmad’s have been suspended indefinitely because of delays at the Canada Border Services Agency in issuing clearances of what is known as front-end security screening.

According to the refugee board, only 46 per cent of asylum claims were heard within the statutory timeline in April, far below the 84 per cent mark two years ago.

Failures to observe the scheduling timelines are caused by delays in security clearances, operational limitations or unavailability of interpreters or counsel.

However, the proportion of hearing cancellations due to delays in obtaining a security clearance has ballooned from just 6 per cent two years ago to a peak of 55 per cent in December, meaning more than half of cancelled hearings were due to border officials’ inability to meet timelines for assessing if a claimant poses threats to Canada due to criminal or security concerns.

Although cancellations due to a pending security clearance were down to just 13 per cent in April, cases cancelled due to so-called operational limitations such as unavailability of refugee judges was up to 32 per cent from 8 per cent in 2015 and 13 per cent in 2016.

In the first four months of this year, 1,769 refugee hearings were cancelled because claimants’ security clearances were not ready. The border agency performed 12,997 security checks for refugees in 2015 and 19,449 last year.

“The (former) Conservative government has put in place a system with strict timelines without the resources to meet the timelines,” said Ahmad’s lawyer, Max Berger.

“Lots of claimants are devastated. They are psyched to tell their stories and have their date in (refugee) courts. The hidden cost is the delays in their family reunification.”

The refugee board said the border agency is responsible for informing it that security screening has been completed. The board doesn’t receive the actual security screening report but only a confirmation if a hearing can go ahead.

“Security screening is done to ensure that individuals who might pose a risk to Canada would not be granted protection and could not use the refugee determination process to gain admittance to Canada,” said Line-Alice Guibert-Wolff, a spokesperson for the board.

“In those cases where confirmation of security screening has not been received in time for the initially scheduled hearing, the (refugee board) will remove the hearing from the schedule and set a new date and time for the hearing as soon as feasible upon confirmation of the security screening.”

It is not known how long it takes to schedule a new hearing but claimants often are given a “target” date six months later.

“Front-end securing screening for an individual refugee claimant may take time depending on complexity or requirements for additional research,” said border agency spokesperson Patrizia Giolti.

“While there is no one specific factor that may impact the (security clearance) processing workload and timelines, 2016 has seen a significant increase over the previous year, in the number of asylum claims.”

The agency has started to give the refugee board two weeks’ notice if a screening is expected to be completed in time for a hearing and has brought in additional staff to work over the summer to perform security screening to address the backlog, said Giolti.

Calling the situation a “nightmare,” lawyer Raoul Boulakia said he has had a case where a refugee judge felt there was compelling reasons to grant asylum to a persecuted Afghan journalist and was ready to proceed with a hearing. However, the case was held up without a completed security clearance.

Recently, the refugee board has introduced a “50/50” policy by postponing 50 per cent of all new asylum cases to deal what’s known as legacy cases, which were put on the back-burner after December 2012, when the then Tory government overhauled the system to impose the statutory timeline to expedite the processing of refugee claims.

By delaying the hearings without injecting more resources, Boulakia said the problem is simply snowballing and gets worse down the road.

Source: Thousands of refugee cases suspended due to border agency delays | Toronto Star

U.S. Refugee Admissions Pass Trump Administration Cap Of 50,000 : The Two-Way : NPR

By way of comparison, the Canadian 2017 levels plans has a target of 40,000 (about 0.1 percent of the population), the US cap of 50,000 is about 0.02 percent of their population). However, the US has a much higher number of undocumented immigrants/refugees, estimated at 11 million or  about three percent of the population:

The U.S. refugee program surpassed the Trump Administration’s 50,000-person cap on Wednesday, meaning that many refugees will now be denied entry into the country.

The cap is expected to affect thousands of refugees. Last fiscal year, the U.S. admitted just under 85,000 refugees, and former President Barack Obama had aimed to resettle 110,000 refugees this fiscal year. But President Trump lowered the cap dramatically in his “travel ban” executive orders, and the cap went into effect on June 29.

“The State Department initially told resettlement agencies it expected to hit that threshold by July 6,” NPR’s Jackie Northam reports. “But that date came and went and the number of refugees entering the country wasn’t reached. So the date was extended to July 12.”

The total number of admitted refugees reached 50,086 by Wednesday afternoon. A State Department official tells NPR that the department decided to set the cutoff at the end of the day, instead of at the exact number 50,000, to keep the process “orderly.”

That number of admitted refugees could still rise by several thousand, as refugees with close family members already in the U.S. will continue to be allowed to enter the country, under the terms of a recent Supreme Court order.

You may recall that Trump established the 50,000-person cap in his initial and revised “travel ban” executive orders. For months, those orders were blocked from implementation. But in June, the Supreme Court announced it would consider the merits of the ban and that in the meantime, portions of the second executive order could go forward — as long as they didn’t block people who had a “bona fide relationship” with the U.S.

The administration later defined “bona fide” ties as including parents, children and siblings in the U.S., but not grandparents or more extended family members. Bona fide ties also include job offers in the U.S.

Refugees who do not have such ties will no longer be admitted this fiscal year, even if they have completed the two-year vetting process to enter the refugee program. The next fiscal year begins in October.

Last month, NPR’s Michele Kelemen explained what’s at stake:

“[R]efugees have arrived in the U.S. this fiscal year from all over the world — from Syria, of course, but also Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan. It’s really a global humanitarian program. …

“I’m told thousands could be affected by [the cap]. One refugee resettlement agency told me today that they usually book people about three weeks ahead of time. … It’s not just airline tickets. Refugees have to go through medical screenings. And those clearances don’t last forever. If they rebook for later, they might have to redo all of that medical screening and security checks.”

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which resettles refugees in the U.s., said in a statement that the cap “will mean that vulnerable refugees, including those with severe medical needs, torture survivors, unaccompanied refugee children, and persecuted religious minorities will continue to be in harm’s way.”

The pause on refugee admissions “will have an immediate effect on our ability to conduct the lifesaving work of providing safety and protection,” Kay Bellor, a vice president at LIRS, said in the statement.

Trump’s executive order proclaims that admitting more than 50,000 refugees “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” It allows for individual refugees to be admitted on a “case-by-case basis,” based on the joint judgment of the secretary of state and secretary of Homeland Security.

Source: U.S. Refugee Admissions Pass Trump Administration Cap Of 50,000 : The Two-Way : NPR

El Salvador woman at the heart of legal challenge to Safe Third Country Agreement

Interesting case to watch given that it centres around a person rather than the previous more general one:

When an El Salvador woman and her two children arrived from a Buffalo, N.Y., shelter to the Fort Erie border crossing Wednesday, seeking to make a refugee claim in Canada, a team of lawyers from Toronto’s Downtown Legal Services was on high alert. They had U of T law students waiting and watching to report back from the border.

As soon as the woman — identified only as “ABC” in court documents — was denied entry under the Safe Third Country Agreement, the legal team filed a Federal Court challenge to the agreement, which they had been working on for months.

The agreement requires refugees to request protection in the first safe country they arrive in. Refugees crossing from the U.S. at official border crossings are usually denied entry into Canada. That’s part of the reason why so many risk sometimes dangerous illegal border crossings to make a refugee claim once already in the country — a legal loophole that’s permitted.

This is the second legal challenge to the agreement but the first with a person at its core.

“I feel happy and nervous and I am very thankful the lawyers are helping,” said ABC through a translator, when CBC News met her in a Toronto home on Thursday. “Canada is more humane than the U.S. In the U.S. it’s not safe, and I was worried about being sent back to El Salvador.”

Fear of gangs in El Salvador

Justice Ann Marie McDonald granted the woman a stay to live in Canada while her case is being considered. McDonald said there was clear and non-speculative evidence that she would suffer irreparable harm if she were to return to the U.S. and could even be sent back to El Salvador.

ABC’s lawyer, Prasanna Balasundaram, said that some of the strongest legal arguments in this case are based on charter rights. She is facing removal procedures in the U.S., and gender-based asylum claims in the U.S. have inconsistent results. He said that ABC has lasting psychological effects from persecution in El Salvador.

“Her family is the subject of gang violence in El Salvador,” said Balasundaram.

“I dream that all my family is together after all these years and that we don’t have to go home because of the gangs,” said ABC.

….Ottawa says U.S. safe for refugees

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an email to CBC News this week that “Canada has carefully analyzed recent developments in the United States, including the executive orders related to immigration and refugee matters, and determined that the U.S. remains a safe country for asylum claimants to seek protection there.”

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has said there is no need to “tinker with” the Safe Third Country Agreement. This pending Federal Court challenge was brought to his attention before ABC even attempted to cross the border.

There may not be political will to challenge the U.S. over this right now, but the courts will have a say.

“I believe now it will be determined on a legal basis and not on the political climate,” said Balasundaram, who calls this a crucial first step — and only a first step — in what could take many months to a year to see through.

Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman represented Amnesty International in a 2005 court challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which won in Federal Court but lost on appeal.

“It is not going to be easy to challenge,” said Waldman. “I would bet the government would not want this case to go ahead.”

In the previous case the court did not consider it a charter challenge, and there was not an individual such as ABC with a strong argument to make.

“I think the case will be heard,” said Waldman. “Its likelihood of success will depend on the evidence.”

Source: El Salvador woman at the heart of legal challenge to Safe Third Country Agreement – Canada – CBC News