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

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

ICYMI: The real tragedy of Mavis Otuteye’s death: it didn’t have to happen

Jason Markusoff argues that the safe-third country agreement should not be blamed for Otuteye’s death along with the need for better and more consistent information:

It isn’t clear if Otuteye was actually seeking to make a refugee claim once she encountered authorities in Manitoba; nor are the grounds she might have cited in seeking protection from persecution back home in Ghana. Most migrants crossing into Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia on foot aren’t seeking temporary visits, nor would they normally be granted them–they bid for refugee status, and if they lose, they face deportation to their home countries.

As the initial reports rolled in about a Ghanaian dying during a foot journey to Canada, immigration experts quickly decried the safe country agreement as the culprit. It’s the same problem they’ve cited throughout this upswing in irregular border crossing. However, this case may not point so surely to the folly of the U.S.-Canada agreement, but rather the merits of its compassionate exemptions: if a migrant is looking to be reunited with family, he or she is granted safe passage into Canada.

It also highlights problems in how information flows to prospective refugees. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada website explains this exemption to the safe country agreement. According to the National Post, Otuteye kept her border plans largely a secret, meaning few people in the woman’s orbit had the chance to help her identify her options. Often, immigrant communities rely on word of mouth or message boards to figure out how to traverse boundaries and reach safety. Immigration lawyers in Canada often get called, but are barred from offering counsel to would-be border-hoppers. Sometimes there is paranoia that a phone call to the wrong person can lead to an immigration officer’s roundup in the U.S.; this has become a bigger fear in the Trump era than before.

Perhaps, had the safe third country agreement never been in place, nobody would have felt the need to make their way into Canada by crossing ditches and fields, and nobody would have created a familiar path that Otuteye apparently felt compelled to follow. Even without this tragic case, there are good reasons experts cite to scrap the deal–the very risk of further deaths still exists among legitimate asylum-seekers, who genuinely have no alternative way of reaching Canada. But this tragic story does not, on its own, represent the straw that finally fells this problematic agreement.

Source: The real tragedy of Mavis Otuteye’s death: it didn’t have to happen – Macleans.ca

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.

USA-IMMIGRATION/CANADA-BORDER

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