Don't blame Trump: New study explores Canada's surge in asylum-seekers

Canada can't blame Donald Trump and his immigration policies for the surge in asylum seekers entering the country outside of official border points, according to a new research report.

U.S. crackdown on immigration began under former president Barack Obama, report says

A new study says Canada can't blame U.S. President Donald Trump's policies for a surge in asylum-seekers entering Canada outside of official border points. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

Canada can't blame Donald Trump and his immigration policies for the surge in asylum seekers entering the country outside of official border points, according to a new study.

The study by Queen's University policy studies professor Christian Leuprecht says a Canadian "dislike" for the U.S. president has given rise to a convenient — but incorrect — narrative that attributes the spike in irregular border-crossers to the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election.

"Contrary to claims that most of those who are crossing are taking flight from the Trump regime, about two-thirds of asylum seekers crossing irregularly into Canada by land actually enter the United States legally on a visa for the sole purpose of making their way to Canada," Leuprecht said in his report, titled "The End of the (Roxham) Road: Seeking coherence on Canada's border-migration compact."

The vast majority of migrants who have entered Canada outside of formal crossing points in recent years have entered the country at Roxham Road in Quebec, north of Plattsburgh, New York.

Leuprecht said Trump may have had a "multiplier effect" on asylum-seekers entering Canada but he's not the prime cause of the spike in irregular border crossings. Many politicians and critics of Trump's policies have blamed the U.S. president for the increase in irregular crossings — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau included.

In a Dec. 21, 2018 interview with Global News, Trudeau rejected the claim his tweet welcoming migrants to Canada was driving the spike in the number of asylum-seekers entering Canada outside official border points.

"And certainly, if people are fleeing the United States right now and are choosing to leave the United States right now, it's not something I said," he told Global. "It is perhaps domestic realities within the political context in the United States that is driving people to move or to make those certain decisions."

Leuprecht said an immigration crackdown actually began in the U.S. during the first term of the presidency of Barack Obama — known to some refugee advocates as the "Deporter in Chief."

Trump moved to ban travel to the United States for people from certain countries, and to end Temporary Protected Status for others. Leuprecht said the people targeted by those policies are not, for the most part, the same ones who are coming to Canada outside of official border points.

Asylum seekers walk along Roxham Road near Champlain, New York on Aug. 6, 2017, making their way towards the Canada-U.S. border. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

Most are people who can't obtain a Canadian or U.S. visa, he said — or they've travelled to a Central or South American country where they are admissible without a visa before making their way to Canada via the U.S.

Leuprecht said those patterns suggest most of these migrants have the economic means to cover the cost of travelling long distances.

The report said migration is driven by a mix of domestic, bilateral and international factors, including political factors in the U.S. that predate the Trump administration.

Canada has introduced policy measures that have made it more difficult for people to arrive by air or sea, which may be driving up the number of people entering the country outside of official crossing points, Leuprecht said.

Barring some asylum-seekers

Last April, the Liberals introduced a new provision in an omnibus bill barring individuals from applying for asylum in Canada if they've already done so in one of the so-called Five Eyes countries with which Canada shares security intelligence: Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and the U.K.

Leuprecht said politicians need to better understand the complexities of continental migration in order to come up with policies that can address the problem going forward.

In 2018, the RCMP intercepted 19,419 people who crossed into Canada outside of legal crossing points, down from 20,593 the year earlier.

Between January and the end of October this year, 13,702 asylum seekers entered Canada outside of official border crossings.

Negative perception

Leuprecht said Canada's irregular migration numbers look modest compared to many other countries, but the increase in irregular border crossings undermines Canadians' faith in the immigration system because very few individuals are ultimately deported after an application for refugee status is denied.

"It means that if you make it into the country, there's a very high likelihood that you're going to get to stay, and it's become a back door ... into Canada," he told CBC.

"This is undermining the confidence that Canadians have in the integrity of our border management system and the integrity of the capacity to integrate people economically and socially and their ability to make a contribution to the prosperity of Canada."

Leuprecht offers several suggestions to stem the flow — among them, harmonizing visa programs with the U.S. and improving data collection to allow researchers and policy-makers to better identify and understand trends. He said that because the U.S. has different standards for granting visas, and far more visa offices around the world, many people acquire a U.S. visa with the intention of using it to reach their ultimate destination: Canada.

The Conservatives have called for the Safe Third Country Agreement to be applied across the entire border to close what they call a "loophole" in the pact: an exception for people who cross outside of official border points.

'Jumping the queue'

Conservative immigration critic Peter Kent said Trudeau's welcoming tweet created a "burden" on Canada's system.

"It's been exploited by undeserving refugee claimants who are jumping the queue ... and we're told a very large number of them — 90 per cent, some have said, 95 per cent others have said — will ultimately be found unworthy as claimants and will be ordered removed," he said.

"But we know that they also disappear into society and Canada doesn't seem to have the resources to locate and remove these people."

The NDP has argued the U.S. is no longer a safe country under the Trump administration, and that the Safe Third Country Agreement should be suspended.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said there's "no question" that Trump's policies have driven large numbers of people to seek asylum in Canada, but the global migration crisis is also inflating the numbers. She said Canada's refugee determination process is strong and well-regarded internationally, and Canadians can feel confident that people can't abuse the system.

"If people want to insinuate that somehow people are bypassing the system and that they are somehow cheating the system and so on, that is simply not the case," she said.

Sealing off the border to those who are entering Canada to reach safety would be a violation of Canada's own laws and international obligations, Kwan said.

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