Fewer than 1% of more than 28,000 irregular asylum seekers have been removed from Canada so far

While just over 28,000 asylum seekers have crossed the border into Canada irregularly since the beginning of last year, fewer than one per cent of those have been removed from the country.

Process takes about 2½ years before a final decision is made on an asylum seeker's status

A young man from Yemen is handcuffed by an RCMP officer after crossing the U.S.-Canada border into Canada in February 2017. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

While just over 28,000 asylum seekers have crossed the border into Canada irregularly since the beginning of last year, fewer than one per cent of those have been removed from the country.

Those figures come as senior government ministers maintain they expect that close to 90 per cent of those who crossed the border at unofficial ports of entry will see their application to stay fail.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters Monday that it was too early in the process to expect large numbers of asylum seekers to become subject to removal orders.

"The numbers have to reflect the stage in the process that you are at, and you can't deal with a removal until you've got the decision taken that a person is inadmissible," Goodale said. "So it's a whole sequence of events that needs to be accelerated."

Since the beginning of January 2017 and up until the end of March 2018, the RCMP have intercepted 25,645 people crossing the border into Canada illegally. Public Safety Canada estimates another 2,500 came across in April for a total at just over 28,000.

Once an application for asylum has been received by the federal government, it takes about 19 months for the initial assessment and another 10 months for a final decision to be issued. A backlog of cases and a shortage of staff to process the applications have contributed to the wait times.

Making investments

On Monday in Montreal, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen explained that efforts were being made by the federal government to address the backlog.  

"To further strengthen our border security operations and our ability to process asylum cases, budget 2018 invested $173.2 million towards managing irregular migration," Hussen said.

"As part of this allocation, budget 2018 allocated $74 million towards the Immigration Refugee Board, and this will be used to hire 50 new decision makers in the refugee protection division of the Immigration Refugee Board, and 14 new staff in the refugee appeal division."

Hussen said the influx of cash will allow the refugee board to process an additional 17,000 cases every year.

Why applications fail early

A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada said the 243 removals that have taken place since April 2017 (the department did not separately track removals from irregular migrants from January to March 2017) may have been expedited for a number of reasons.

When someone crosses the border into Canada they are first subject to a security and identity check. People who have criminal convictions for serious crimes or who have applied for refugee status in the past and failed would not be eligible to apply again.

Those people are still able to appeal their removal through the courts, but they can also decide to withdraw their applications themselves and return to the United States.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale spoke to the CBC's Catherine Cullen on Monday 2:39

Should a migrant seeking asylum pass the initial security screen, they then have to submit a completed application for asylum before the 2½-year wait to process their application can begin.

"If they're not able to establish that they need the protection of Canada, if the answer is no, then the sooner that answer is given the better on the basis of due process so that the consequences from that decision can flow," Goodale said Monday.

But before any decisions are rendered, the federal government has to ensure that "all Canadian laws are enforced and all Canadian international obligations are respected," Goodale said. "That's the standard we have to meet. We've been meeting it, but we have to pick up the pace."