Immigration lawyers say that a flawed agreement between the United States and Canada is encouraging people to sneak across the international border.
Chantal Desloges told CTV’s Power Play Tuesday that those who sneak into Canada will have their refugee claims heard by Canada, even if they have been rejected or expect to be rejected by the United States.
The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is meant to make sure refugee claimants only have a hearing in the first country they land in but it “only applies if the person shows up at a regulated border crossing and reports to a Canada Border Services officer,” according to Desloges.
“So if you sneak across the border and make your claim inside Canada, the Safe Third Country Agreement doesn’t apply to you,” she said.
Desloges said she has worked on a few cases in which refugee claimants rejected in the United States have snuck across the border before being deported and granted refugee status by Canada.
In that sense, the agreement encourages dangerous human smuggling, according to Desloges. In one recent case, Seidu Mohammed of Ghana suffered frostbite so bad after crossing the border into Manitoba that he lost all of his fingers.
Desloges said U.S. President Donald Trump’s seven-country visa ban could force Canada may need to re-think the Safe Third Country Agreement. She points out that most of those crossing into Manitoba are from Somalia -- one of the seven countries on Trump’s list.
Harvard Law School Professor Deborah Anker told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday that she agrees the agreement needs a second look. “The United States is not a safe country of asylum, which is a fundamental premise of the agreement,” she said.
Bashir Khan, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer working with 17 of the asylum seekers, told CTV News Channel Thursday that there is a strong incentive for the people to come north.
“In my experience, 80 to 90 per cent of the people who are denied asylum in the United States do end up winning their refugee claim before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada,” Khan said.
Khan explained that everyone who enters Canada and makes a claim “is vetted for security” using American, European and Interpol databases.
They have two weeks after arriving to make a claim. They have access to legal aid and social assistance until they get a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Since the beginning of January, at least 61 asylum seekers have crossed the border into Manitoba from the U.S., often dropped by smugglers and told to walk long distances in the middle of the night. That’s compared to between 50 and 60 in a typical year.
In 2016 there were 7,022 land border crossings by asylum seekers, up from 4,407 in 2015, according to the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Tuesday that “people travelling unprepared in very severe winter weather conditions” is “of concern to us.”
“We are examining right now what are the appropriate steps to take to protect the integrity of the border, to make sure that public health and safety is properly protected and to make sure that the people involved here are treated in a fair and compassionate way,” Goodale added.