February 14, 2019 – More than 40,000 irregular border crossers have streamed into Canada from the U.S. at unrecognized locations in the last two years.
The latest RCMP figures show 19,419 asylum seekers were intercepted in 2018, compared to 20,593 in 2017.
Canada’s asylum system is now choked to the point where claimants are waiting two years to have their cases heard.
The Immigration and Refugee Board, which hears asylum cases, has 64,000 claims awaiting a decision. Nearly 35,000 of these claims are from irregular border crossers from the U.S.
In a federal election year, the opposition Conservatives are painting the situation as a crisis, while Liberal officials say they are confident the issue can be dealt with via increased resources for the IRB.
The influx of irregular border crossers began in summer 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump first threatened the Temporary Protected Status of thousands of Central and South Americans.
July and August 2017 saw the most irregular border crossers in the last two years, with 3,134 and 5,712 respectively crossing the border at unrecognized points.
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Trump has continually said he would end TPS status for specific nationality groups. TPS is given to people from countries affected by war or environmental disasters, as part of a program established in the 1990s.
The latest figures for December 2018 show 1,280 people crossed into Canada at unrecognized border points.
It means that more than 1,000 people made the trip in every month of 2018, peaking in April at 2,560 border crossers.
The overwhelming majority of those crossing the border have flooded into Quebec, where provincial officials have called on the federal government to pick up the bill for expenditure related to the issue.
The federal government is spreading those that arrive out across Canada to try and ease the burden on the French-speaking province.
However, out of the 19,419 who arrived in 2018, 18,518, or 95 per cent, came into Quebec, mainly via crossing point at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.
Government efforts to tackle the problem have centred around an information campaign.
The central message is that there is no guarantee of being allowed to stay in Canada for those crossing the border.
The border crossers choose to cross at unrecognized points due to the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The agreement says asylum seekers must apply for refugee status in the country where they land.
As a result, if the so-called irregular border crossers presented themselves at recognized border crossing points, they would be turned away.
Many are therefore blaming the agreement for forcing would-be asylum seekers to cross at unrecognized points.
Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires the countries considered ‘safe’ to be continually reviewed.
A recent independent review highlighted several problems with an asylum system that has historically failed to cope with claim spikes, causing a growing backlog.
An important recommendation of the review was to bring it under the authority of the immigration minister, although many are keen for it to remain independent.
Changes are yet to take place in response to the recommendations, with the IRB given time to tackle the problems on its own.
It recently announced a task force to focus on less complex cases, and established an asylum management board to speed up processing by improving co-ordination.
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