Calgary

Mexicans trying to immigrate 'through the back door,' says Kenney

Most Mexicans claiming refugee status in Canada are queue jumpers trying to "immigrate to Canada through the back door," says Canada's immigration minister.

Most Mexicans claiming refugee status in Canada are queue jumpers trying to "immigrate to Canada through the back door," says Canada's immigration minister.

Jason Kenney, in Calgary Tuesday for a Chamber of Commerce speech, was commenting on a CBC News story about a growing number of Mexicans taking advantage of a new direct flight from Mexico City to Calgary to claim refugee status in the city.

Nearly 10,000 Mexican nationals applied for refugee status in Canada last year, but most of those claims were rejected, he said.

"That would indicate to me that the vast majority — something like 90 per cent of these claimants — are actually trying to immigrate to Canada through the back door of the refugee system and I think that's unacceptable. That's basically queue jumping."

Kenney, who is also the MP for Calgary Southeast, said he is reviewing the situation.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people who patiently wait to come to Canada through legal means, and it's just not fair. It's not right for people to jump on a plane, come here to make a refugee application, even if they don't meet the definition of refugee."

Growing number of claimants in Calgary

Last year, 339 Mexican refugee claims from Calgary were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, more than four times the number in 2006. Mexico is now the top country for refugee claims in Calgary.

In an interview last month, Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said a direct flight on Mexicana Airlines from Mexico City, which started in June 2008, is playing a role.

"In the past we've had also had claimants, but not in the numbers we're seeing today," Birjandian said. "Recently, because we have this direct flight from Mexico and many Mexicans, they don't need a visitor's visa to come to Canada, so it is an easy way [for them to flee their country] if they're harassed or chased by criminals and have their human rights violated."

Canada still welcoming immigrants: Kenney

During his speech, Kenney said he won't restrict immigration even though unemployment is going up during the recession — the federal government is still planning to welcome more than 250,000 immigrants this year.

Canada is facing a long-term labour shortage so the government is not going to turn off the immigration tap only to have to turn it back on later, he said. Alberta and British Columbia alone are going to need 600,000 more foreign workers and immigrants in five years to deal with their economic needs as aging workers retire, Kenney added.

"There continue to be acute labour market shortages in certain businesses, certain industries and certain regions. And our government believes that the worst thing we could do during this time of economic difficulty is to starve those employers, who are growing, of the labour that they need fuel their prosperity in these difficult times."

now