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article image'Irregular migrants' — A growing debate in Canadian politics

By Karen Graham     Jul 22, 2018 in World
Thousands of people are crossing into Canada from the United States to claim refugee status at a time when the U.S. president’s anti-immigrant policies clash with the #WelcomeToCanada posture of Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau.
Time and again, we hear that Canada is truly a nation made up of immigrants — welcoming people from all over the world. But the divisive rhetoric used by U.S. President Donald Trump has changed things in a bad way.
Trump's immigration policies now exclude just about everyone trying to enter the country legally, and his policy of deporting people who have lived and worked in America for years has created a climate of fear in the U.S. So much so that thousands of people who have originally sought asylum in America are now going north to Canada.
Since Trump took office in 2017, Canada has seen an influx of thousands of asylum seekers. Most of them are not coming into the country through the legal border stations; instead, these newcomers are entering the country "irregularly."
Customs and Border Protection Midnight Fast Boat patrol the waters in United States territorial wate...
Customs and Border Protection Midnight Fast Boat patrol the waters in United States territorial waters. Photo by Alex Zamora
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
These "irregular" immigrants walk across the border at some place other than an official crossing station and end up being apprehended by police. The Toronto Star notes that critics blame this influx of immigrants on a 2004 pact between the U.S. and Canada called the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The two countries signed the Agreement on December 5, 2002, and it came into effect on December 29, 2004. According to the agreement, people who have requested asylum in the U.S. first can claim asylum in Canada. “Irregular” migrants are allowed to seek refugee status when they enter Canada from the U.S. because they’ve crossed the border somewhere else.
Brewing debate over immigrants
So now the New Democrats are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to rescind the 13-year-old agreement that declares the U.S. a safe country. And last week, Progressive Conservatives at Queen’s Park, Ontario's provincial legislature, joined in the battle of words attacking Trudeau.
Syrian Mohamed Amin  43  had considered Egypt a gateway to Europe when he arrived five years ago but...
Syrian Mohamed Amin, 43, had considered Egypt a gateway to Europe when he arrived five years ago but has since changed his mind, put off by accounts from fellow refugees who made it to the Netherlands and Canada
MOHAMED EL-SHAHED, AFP
The Conservatives want Trudeau to change the agreement so it applies to the entire border. This would mean that irregular immigrants would not be allowed to apply for asylum in Canada. Ontario's Tories are also arguing that the huge influx in people crossing the border has also strained resources.
And this is true. Last summer, Montreal had to use its Olympic Stadium as a temporary shelter when people flooded the border between Vermont and Quebec. The federal government ended up setting up tents along the border to house refugees.
The Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent tribunal responsible for judging refugee claims is bogged down and cannot keep pace with the number of requests for asylum. It used to take about 16 months to process a claim, and now, according to a CBC Canada report, it now takes 20 months.
Canada has set up temporary shelters to house migrants
Canada has set up temporary shelters to house migrants
Geoff Robins, AFP
Aris Daghighian is a Toronto lawyer who sits on the executive board of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. He says Canadians have to step back a moment and look at the immigration issue with an open mind. He cites U.S. President Donald Trump, whose sharp anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies contrast with the Trudeau Liberals, who were elected promising to open Canada to more refugees.
The political confusion and growing unrest in the United States just happens to have coincided with a small increase in asylum seekers coming to Canada, even though it is leveling off now.
“Most people can understand why there would be apprehensive individuals in the U.S.,” said Daghighian. “Because the increase (here) has coincided with what’s happening under the Trump administration, it may seem direr than it is.”
Doug Ford feeds the fire
Premier Doug Ford has joined with Quebec and Manitoba in demanding Ottawa compensate the provinces for the cost created by irregular asylum seekers coming into Canada, calling the crossings "unofficial."
The federal government is working directly with the city of Toronto to house asylum-seekers after the province, under Premier Doug Ford, refused to help in coordinating a response. Right now, 800 refugees are living temporarily in college dormitories and they take precedence.
With school starting in a couple of weeks, Toronto Mayor John Tory said they need help finding housing locations, with the city unprepared to close community centers and other city-owned spaces. “I’m confident that the federal government will honor its commitment to helping Toronto and that more co-operation, including funding, will be forthcoming,” he said in an emailed statement to the Toronto Star.
More about Canada, Refugee camp, Political, Doug Ford, irregular migrants