Canada needs plan to deal with undocumented migrants

Opinion: Canada needs plan to deal with undocumented migrants

Martin Collacott

Published by The Vancouver Sun on: March 11, 2017 | Last Updated: March 11, 2017 1:00 AM PST (The word “undocumented” in the title of this article was placed there by a Post Media Editor, not by Martin Collacott)

PHOTO : A refugee family, who claimed to be from Colombia, were arrested by a Quebec RCMP officer as they crossed the border from New York late last month. Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The readiness of many Canadians to accept a reasonable number of refugees for resettlement is likely to come under increasing strain as asylum seekers exploit our system to enter Canada illegally and make claims. While the government has mounted a campaign to try to convince us that we should take more refugees, public support for immigration and refugees is in fact “soft” and failure to deal effectively with the growing problems at the border could well lead to a major backlash.

The main channel being used (by) the illegal entrants is a provision of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). While the agreement requires they make their claim in whichever of the two countries they find themselves in, in the event they somehow manage to cross the border and enter Canada undetected, they can make what is called an “inland claim” in Canada (the fiction being that we don’t know if they entered from the U.S. even if they are only one foot inside our border).

Hundreds have used this provision so far this year and the numbers continue to grow. Very few, if any, probably qualify as conventional refugees, i.e. entitled to resettlement because they are fleeing persecution in their homelands. The vast majority are simply seeking a better life but lack the qualifications to come to Canada as immigrants.

The head of the union representing the nation’s border officers has described the situation as like “Swiss cheese” that is allowing in not only illegal migrants but also contraband and has called on Ottawa to create a special force to deal with the situation.

Nor is the price we pay for the illegal entries insignificant given that the cost to taxpayers of processing each rejected application is estimated at $26,000 — which does not include any costs for removing them from the country.

To control the border, we will not only need to add significant resources of our own, but will require the cooperation of the United States. Some might expect that the Americans might be more than pleased to see the departure of large numbers of undocumented migrants without having to take any action of their own to achieve this. It is more likely, however, that Washington would have little enthusiasm for the development of a situation along its Canadian border that involved widespread illegal activity and could result in some degree of destabilization of its northern neighbour.

The U.S., moreover, is currently facing the problem of returning non-Mexicans who have crossed into the U.S. across their southern border. This has long been a route for Central Americans, Indians, Sri Lankans and others to enter the U.S. and possibly continue on to Canada. At this point, however, the Mexicans are expressing a reluctance to take back these foreign nationals. Put simply, the U.S. is unlikely under the circumstances to challenge returns on their northern border.

One of the things we will need to do to stop the hemorrhaging into Canada of illegal entries is to change the STCA so that someone who makes a claim inside our border must provide reasonable proof they did not enter from the United States. If they cannot do this, they will not be allowed to file a refugee claim and will be summarily returned to the U.S.

We will probably not be able to apprehend all illegal border crossers in this way, but will make the prospects of a successful crossing sufficiently remote that the numbers prepared to try it will diminish significantly.

Such measures will be vehemently opposed by refugee advocates, lawyers and academics, etc. who believe we should have a system that lets as many asylum seekers into Canada as possible regardless of their merits, and have little concern about the negative impact this might have on Canadians.

While refugee activists try to argue that Canada is the only really “safe” country in the world for asylum seekers, Canadian courts have found that the STCA is constitutional, based on the fact that the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed that the U.S. is a safe country for the purposes of the agreement.

In 2015, Angela Merkel allowed large numbers of asylum seekers to enter Germany without exercising control over numbers or determining who was coming in. In the end, the situation got so badly out of hand she acknowledged that the unrestricted entry had to be stopped. Her political future remains in doubt, however, because of her failure to anticipate how many people would use the asylum system to gain entry and try to remain in Germany.

The same thing could easily happen here if the government fails to take measures to control the intake of undocumented migrants. Ottawa therefore needs to determine how it can best deal with this rapidly developing problem as a matter of urgency.

Martin Collacott lives in Surrey and is a former Canadian ambassador in Asia and the Middle East. He has frequently addressed parliamentary committees on immigration and asylum issues.