Hundreds of asylum seekers have begun to cross the Canada-US border in recent weeks seeking a more welcoming host country as the Trump administration begins to tighten its immigration policies. The migrants are traveling mostly by foot and crossing at unauthorized points in the vast border between the two countries. Many have made their way into Quebec from New York state prompting an emergency response from local and national governments.
As the Globe and Mail reported on Monday:
In Quebec alone, at least 150 people a day are crossing the border at irregular crossings in recent weeks – the bulk of them at one spot in northern New York State. Canada’s border guard union has suggested 300 people a day have crossed at times.
Nearly two thirds of those arriving in Canada are Haitian. The small Caribbean nation is still recovering from an earthquake in 2010 which forced thousands from their homes and onto the shores of neighbouring countries.
Many fled to the United States as asylum seekers, a category of migrants which have not yet received refugee status. Asylum seekers arrive in their host countries having fled natural disasters or conflict and undergo screening to determine whether they qualify as refugees, a status which the United Nations describes as someone who is fleeing persecution or whose life is in danger should they return to their country of origin.
The Untied States allows Temporary Permanent Status (TPS) for asylum seekers to obtain residency and work permits for a limited time until the conflict or natural disaster which forced them out of their home country is resolved.
In May, US Secretary of Homeanld Security John Kelly announced that nearly 60,000 Haitians currently in the US would have a six month extension of their TPS.
“This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”
As a result many have chosen to flee to Canada where the government’s rhetoric and policy on immigrants has been more welcoming. The majority have likely chosen Quebec because of their common language as Haiti is a former French colony.
Asylum seekers have been entering from unauthorized crossings of the Canada-US border –the largest unprotected border in the world with vast spans of forest and water – which is technically not illegal. Both national and international law states that no country can stop a visitor or resident from leaving any country and since the crossings have been made at unofficial entry points that legal loophole has allowed migrants to bypass agreements between the US and Canada which would authorize law enforcement to refuse entry.
It is also this loophole which has allowed migrants asylum seeker status, which would otherwise only apply to the first country in which they landed (in this case the US).
In reality, authorities believe that about half of them will be rejected as they will not qualify for refugee status.
Haiti has sent government representatives to Canada in order to address the issue. As the CBC reported on Wednesday:
The Haitian government sent two representatives to Montreal in light of the situation. Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue and Stéphanie Auguste, minister for nationals living abroad, arrived in Montreal Tuesday afternoon to meet with Mayor Denis Coderre.
In the meantime, Canada has deployed its armed forces to construct a 500 person camp on the border with New York. The location of the camp is near a popular crossing between Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec and Champlain, New York (not an official border crossing).
There have also been shelters opened in Montreal to temporarily house the migrants before they find more permanent housing. As The Guardian reported:
Authorities have responded by opening additional welcome centres. After hundreds of beds were set up last week in the city’s Olympic Stadium, officials opened similar sites in a former convent, as well as a decommissioned hospital.
Asylum seekers are provided with the basic standards of health care and, in cases in which children are involved, a small stipend – which in Quebec amounts to a last resort measure of $600 a month per person. In some cases they are also allowed work permits.
In a letter obtained by the CBC through the Access to Information Act, Canada’s Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, was reportedly warned earlier this year that there could be an increased number of asylum seekers crossing the border. But the minister suggested in comments to CBC’s The House that the number currently crossing are well within the country’s ability to manage the influx.
“They were talking generally there about a much, much higher mass arrival situation — not what we’re dealing with. What we’re dealing with is definitely a very high, steady increase of numbers and it is obviously taxing our agencies and our borders, but we are able to redeploy resources and personnel as needed and able to deal with the situation as it unfolds.”
If the government does in fact consider this a mass arrival it could enact certain meaures put in place by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2012 when the country experienced an influx of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.
Some have suggested that the current Liberal government should make use of these provisions which would allow them to detain unauthorized arrivals. But the pro-immigration Trudeau government is not likely to take this route.
As an assistant law professor at the University of Ottawa, Jamie Liew told the Canadian Press:
“They’re fleeing persecution in their country, they’re leaving the United States where they are not being treated fairly, and so to treat them as quasi-criminals through this legislation by detaining them immediately upon the border may be seen as problematic.”