More staffing needed to address anticipated influx of asylum seekers: union
RCMP officers wait for the arrival of asylum seekers crossing the border into Canada from the United States at a police checkpoint close to the Canada-U.S. border near Hemmingford, Que., on Thursday, August 3, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, April 9, 2018 4:27PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 9, 2018 10:37PM EDT
OTTAWA -- As Canada braces for another influx of asylum seekers coming from the U.S., border workers are raising concerns about resources while officials are trying to stem the tide of illegal migrants.
Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of Canada's Customs and Immigration Union, says the government's preparations for another wave of irregular migrants this summer consist largely of reallocating of staff from other areas of the country.
He warned Monday that it could lead to overworked border security staff and longer wait times at ports of entry across the country as the busy summer travelling season sets in.
The union is "raising huge concerns," he said, questioning how officials will cope with a summer influx given the number of asylum seekers already pouring into the country this spring.
He pointed to a spike in illegal border crossings over the Easter weekend. Approximately 600 people entered Canada illegally through Quebec over the four-day weekend.
The union wants the government to commit to hiring more customs and immigration staff. But Fortin said the opposite is happening, with the government not replacing every staffer who moves on.
"When 500 leave, they're hiring 260. So it's pointing in the other direction right now. Not only that, they're not hiring more resources to deal with the situation that they have at hand, but we are decreasing."
The Immigration Department says it has a national operations plan to deal with spikes in illegal border crossings, including bringing in mobile crisis units to deal with any sudden influxes. New spending has also been allocated in this year's federal budget, including $72 million over two years for the Canada Border Services Agency, $10 million this year for the RCMP and $2 million this year to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau discussed the issue of asylum seekers with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen during a meeting Monday in Washington.
Some of the Nigerian migrants who entered Canada illegally from the United States over the Easter weekend had U.S. Visas. The U.S. is now looking into the process by which it approves travel visas.
"This is something that obviously is of mutual interest between Canada and the United States," Garneau said Monday.
"They have put a focus on looking at Nigerians in Nigeria applying for U.S. visas to come to the United States."
Meanwhile, Canada continues its outreach efforts through its embassy and consulates general in the U.S. in an effort to stop the flow of illegal migrants and get the message out that entering Canada illegally is "not a free ticket" into the country.
A "detect and correct" outreach program was launched last year to reach out to stakeholders and officials where there are large populations likely to be affected by the Trump administration's move to end protected status for immigrants from numerous countries.
Information obtained by The Canadian Press through access-to-information legislation shows this outreach program involves embassy and consular officials trying to meet with state and community officials to deliver the key message: immigrants must use the proper channels to come to Canada. This campaign is also focused on countering misinformation reported through local media outlets in the U.S.
Global Affairs Canada has been driving these efforts and keeping close tabs on immigrants looking for information about coming to Canada.
Particular focus has been placed on outreach to immigrants from El Salvador in the U.S., with media and social media pushes in Spanish in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Texas. Approximately 195,000 Salvadorans are living in the U.S., the largest group of protected status immigrants.
The Immigration Department says it believes the outreach efforts have been "fruitful and well-received."
"Stakeholders and community leaders have told us that they understand and appreciate the importance of countering misinformation and they are willing to work with us to disseminate the facts about Canada's asylum system in their communities," said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's press secretary, Mathieu Genest.
"These efforts are ongoing and will continue throughout the spring."