May 4, 2018

Illegal border crossings hurt law-abiding would-be immigrants

With the arrival of spring there’s something besides the temperature that’s heating up.

I’m increasingly hearing from Edmonton Griesbach constituents and other Canadians who are upset about the issue of illegal border crossings.

Ever since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January 2017 sent out a decidedly reckless tweet on Twitter, the problem has worsened.

Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”

Well with a big welcome mat like that, it’s no surprise that scores of people have taken up the PM on his ill-conceived offer.

Indeed, in 2017 alone, RCMP officers nabbed about 20,000 asylum-seekers who crossed into Canada illegally.This year more than 6,000 have come into Canada illegally and officials expect things to get worse before they get better.

Quebec’s Immigration Minister David Heurtel has said he fears 400 people a day could be crossing into Quebec illegally by summer. That doesn’t even include the number of illegals who could be pouring in at the Manitoba border.

Official Opposition Conservatives have been pushing the Liberals to do something about the situation pointing out that the illegal onslaught essentially punishes all the people who are trying to come to Canada by going through proper channels and following our laws.

Critics say it essentially puts law-abiding claimants — who want to come to Canada — at the back of the line and extends the time it takes for officials to process their files. That’s not fair. Canadians (and those hoping to become Canadians) are getting increasingly upset about this crisis.

About 80 per cent of the work done by staff in my Edmonton constituency office consists of helping people on matters of immigration. The vast majority of people who reach out have come through regular channels and rightfully express frustration when they see reports about the flood of illegal border crossers.

Many of those who cross our border illegally in order to seek asylum here have obtained visas to visit the U.S. They fly there, then make the trek to Canada. Many are from African nations and Haiti.

It costs a small fortune to process illegal queue-jumpers. It has already cost Quebec $146 million last year alone. The province wants the feds to reimburse those costs. Quebec officials say it has reached capacity at four centres in Montreal for asylum-seekers and will urge the feds to redirect people to other parts of the country.

Clearly, people flooding over the border illegally realize Canada treats them pretty much with open arms. There are scenes of RCMP officers toting the bags of those who enter, like bellhops with badges.

Those who cross the border illegally are arrested and taken to a Canadian Border Security Agency office where they’re given a medical check and finger printed. In most cases they’re then free to go and the clock starts ticking on processing their refugee claim.

As a refugee claimant, they’re eligible for a work permit and health care paid for by the Interim Federal Health Program. They’re also eligible to apply for provincial social assistance, emergency housing, education and legal aid.

But that’s not all. Canada is super generous because if an illegal border crosser’s refugee claim is declined, they’re also entitled to an appeal.

The legal crux of the problem is the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. That pact makes it impossible for would-be refugees arriving from the United States to claim asylum at an official port of entry to Canada (such as at an international bridge).

They can only successfully make such claims from inside our country, so that’s prompted thousands to make the crossing on foot from the United States at “unofficial” entry points. Many take taxis to these unofficial entry points then walk across to Canadian soil.

Media reports quoting U.S. officials say our southern neighbour is reviewing a proposal from Canada to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement to have it apply across the entire length of the border. That would close a loophole that has allowed more than 26,000 illegal crossings since Trudeau’s irresponsible Twitter tweet.

The Liberals this week added confusion to the issue saying there are no “formal” talks on the subject. To add to the confusion, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale were both quoted in media as being opposed to closing the loophole by having the Safe Third Country Agreement apply across the entire length of the border.

That’s something Conservative immigration shadow cabinet minister Michelle Rempel has been urging the Liberal government to do for months.

The bottom line is that most observers agree the vast majority of people who are crossing illegally from the United States to Canada are not in mortal danger, unlike many people in the world who might be fleeing vicious civil wars, or murder and mayhem caused by terror groups such as ISIS.

A government analysis said our system is now so flooded it could take the Immigration and Refugee Board 11 years to process all the claims and cost Canadian taxpayers $2.9 billion.

Last year alone more than 50,000 asylum claims were processed in Canada.

Canadians expect and deserve an immigration system to work in an orderly, safe and predictable way. Currently, it’s anything but. The system is broken and needs fixing.