3 steps the government must take to regain control of immigration
Suspend the Safe 3rd Country Agreement, speed up process and enforce laws, immigration lawyer says
The daily influx of refugee claimants arriving from the United States over the past month has thrown our country's immigration policy into disarray.
In a country that carefully assigns target numbers for different types of immigrants, the constant influx of refugee claimants could throw our immigration objectives out of whack.
It is time for the Canadian government to take back control of our immigration policy in a manner that protects Canadians, ensures our immigration policy is effective and also protects individuals fleeing persecution.
Why do we need to do this?
Last year, when the government committed to accepting a record number of refugees, processing times for virtually every other immigrant stream slowed down.
Like every government department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has a finite number of employees. If these employees are engaged in refugee claims, Canadians waiting for family members, friends, employees and business associates to come to Canada may face longer wait times.
In my view, the government must do three things.
1. Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement
The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. requires most asylum seekers to request refugee protection in the first country they arrive in.
Under this agreement, individuals who arrive in the U.S. must claim refugee status there. If they do not, Canadian border officers can turn them back at the Canada-U.S border.
So why do refugee claimants risk life and limb to cross the border illegally?
Because the agreement only applies to individuals entering Canada at official border crossings.
If an individual enters Canada illegally, the agreement does not apply. Once in Canada, the asylum seeker is taken to a government office — often one at an official border crossing — to be processed.
This loophole makes the Safe Third Country Agreement useless. The only thing it succeeds in doing is forcing refugee claimants to risk their health by trying to cross the border illegally.
If the Safe Third Country Agreement is suspended, individuals who wish to claim refugee status in Canada can go directly to an official border crossing instead of risking their health by crossing illegally and then getting driven to that official border crossing by the RCMP.
From a security prospective, suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement will free up RCMP officers who are now busy working as chauffeurs for refugee claimants to patrol the border for criminals or potential terrorists.
2. Speed up the refugee claim process
Canada must do something about a refugee system that can take months, and sometimes years, to decide a claim.
Before this latest influx in refugee claimants, Canada was taking steps to streamline this process.
- 'A waiting game': Families wonder why immigration applications in limbo with influx of asylum seekers
However, Canada only projected a modest increase in claims. It appears these projections are now all out the window.
Refugees are people seeking protection from persecution. Speeding up the refugee claim process would allow these people to know much sooner that they will be protected from the threats they face abroad.
For individuals whose lives are truly at risk, getting a positive decision on their claim as soon as possible is essential.
For individuals who are not refugees, speeding up the refugee claim process will allow the government to remove them from Canada more quickly. Individuals who are not refugees should be quickly sent home.
Speeding up the refugee process does not mean the process should become less fair. Clearly, people should be given time to present their cases and appeal them.
It is important to get these cases right as refugee decisions are, in many instances, literally life and death decisions.
3. Enforce our laws and policies
Once a determination is made about whether an individual is a refugee, the government should move quickly to enforce our laws and policies.
Individuals granted refugee status need to be provided with the support necessary to integrate into Canadian society. While many supports will be provided while they await their claims, Canada must ensure that these people can succeed in our country.
On the other hand, people not found to be refugees should be removed from Canada as quickly as possible.
When deporting someone from Canada, it is important that the government follow due process. However, this does not mean that it should take years to remove an individual from Canada.
As long as the process is fair, the faster removal is carried out, the better.
Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with MLT Aikins in Winnipeg.