The Current

Should Canada scrap immigration deal with the U.S. over safety concerns?

While centres for unaccompanied migrant minors are raising concerns about child welfare, some experts say it's reason enough to scrap Canada’s refugee agreement with the U.S.

Safe Third Country Agreement is based on the understanding that both countries are safe for refugees

A mural is displayed in the shelter run out of an old Walmart by a non-profit agency, which contains nearly 1,500 boys seeking entry into the U.S. (Department of Health and Human Services)

When Antar Davidson was working at Estrella del Norte — an Arizona shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors — he was called by a supervisor who needed an interpreter. 

The former youth worker arrived to find Brazilian siblings who had been separated from their mother the day before, and had not met anyone who spoke Portuguese in the next 24 hours.

"They were being told in Spanish and English that they now were gonna be each separated and put into a different room," Davidson told The Current's guest host Ioanna Roumeliotis.

"They were hugging each other and just weeping, and holding on desperately to each other, and the shift leader goes very aggressively to me: 'Tell them they can't hug, tell them they can't hug.'"

Davidson said the centre had a no-touching policy, just one aspect he found disturbing during the time he worked there. His concerns were so grave that he left his job.

NBC journalist allowed into U.S. immigration detention centre

5 years ago
Duration 5:21
Reporter talks with CBC's Natasha Fatah about situation of children living separated from their families

Children are being sent to centres like Estrella del Norte because of the American government's zero-tolerance policy towards migration, which includes treating children accompanied by adults as unaccompanied. The largest, a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, currently houses nearly 1,500 children.

The situation has raised concerns over child welfare, but also Canada's own refugee agreement with the U.S., which insists refugees make their asylum claim in the first country they enter. Under the deal, a migrant travelling through the U.S. to try to enter Canada would be sent back to the U.S. at the Canadian border.

The Safe Third Country Agreement is predicated on the understanding that both countries are safe for refugees. If Canada cannot remove migrants to the U.S. without safety concerns, some say, the deal should be scrapped.

To discuss the issue, Roumeliotis was joined by:

  • Molly Hennessy-Fiske, national reporter with the Los Angeles Times
  • Antar Davidson, former youth worker at Estrella del Norte
  • Sean Rehaag, associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin, Kristian Jebsen and John Chipman.

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