Lone kids seek entry at border
By TOM GODFREY
Mon, August 17, 2009
TORONTO — As many as four children a week are showing up without parents or loved ones at Niagara Falls border crossings to file refugee claims to stay in Canada, U.S. immigration workers say.
And some suspect unscrupulous consultants may be behind the scheme to send child refugees here for a hefty fee so that one day they can sponsor their parents. About 200 children are expected to seek asylum this year at Niagara crossings, officials said.
The under-18-year-old children are in the U.S. illegally or arrive there from other countries and head to the border, said Brian Brown-Cashdollar, executive director of Vive Inc., a Buffalo shelter that helped resettle almost 4,000 refugees in Canada last year.
There has been an increase in the number of minors showing up at his hostel.
Some of that increase stems from tougher measures taken last month by Ottawa to ban nationals from Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, Iraq and Zimbabwe from making claims at the border.
Child refugees, who are called “unaccompanied minors,” are dealt with quickly by a team of immigration officers in Fort Erie, he said.
“A lot of these people (children) have been through hell,” Brown-Cashdollar said. “Most of them are easily accepted in Canada.”
Some of the children have lost parents in violence and arrive at the border traumatized, workers said, many arriving from Afghanistan, Colombia, Sri Lanka or El Salvador.
Some are students from Afghanistan refused status in the U.S. who can't return home due to the fighting, Brown-Cashdollar said.
“Things have got from bad to worst in that country,” he said. “Many of the parents have used up everything they had to send their kids here.”
Under Canadian law, children who show up at the border have to be accepted since they're considered in need of protection.
The youngsters are looked after by the Children's Aid Society until age 16, when they're eligible for housing and other benefits.
NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said people will do anything to get to Canada.
“This is sad because these children must be desperate to leave their families behind,” Chow said yesterday. “I can't imagine how desperate their parents must be.”
She said claimants have to appear before an Immigration and Refugee Board that decides if they can stay.
They can sponsor their parents if they're older than age 18 and have become landed immigrants, according to department rules.
Chow wondered if unscrupulous agents weren't coaching the children to file claims.
Prominent Toronto immigration lawyer Mendel Green also suspects the children are being coached by consultants.
“This is really tragic situation,” he said. “One good thing is that the children will receive proper hearings.”
Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said four kids a week at a high-volume port-of-entry is not a lot.
“If we are spending billions of dollars to fight the Taliban, we can open our doors to a few kids seeking sanctuary in Canada,” Kurland said.
More than 1,000 children filed claims at Canadian borders from 2000 to 2004, according to a 2007 immigration study.