February 20, 2017 – Asylum seekers continue to trickle across unguarded sections of the border into Canada from the U.S.
The refugees fear what might happen to them under the Donald Trump administration.
The Manitoba community of Emerson has become a focal point for Somalians looking for a new beginning away from Trump’s immigration crackdown, set to be stepped up again with the signing of a new executive order.
Quebec’s border is also seeing an increase in newcomers sneaking across in often freezing weather, choosing to face arrest in Canada than whatever might come in the U.S.
The numbers may seem small – 22 reported arrivals in Emerson overnight on Saturday, February 18 to Sunday, February 19 – but the trickle is ongoing and when you consider the population of Emerson is under 700, the pressure is growing.
Trump’s message that immigrants are not welcome has left thousands fearing for their futures, regardless of whether they are from one of the seven countries specifically covered by the original executive order.
It is not so much the order itself – which is currently suspended following legal action – but the hostile attitude it fosters towards immigrants in America.
Immigrants no longer feel welcome and they are looking for an escape route with Canada the top choice as a destination.
The issue comes down to the Safe Third Country Agreement, signed by both Canada and the U.S.
It means asylum seekers who claim refugee status in one country cannot simply hop to the next if they are rejected.
This means they would be turned down immediately if they turned up at an official U.S.-Canada border crossing.
However, if they make it across the border, they are checked for medical conditions and then the majority make a request for refugee status, after which they are seen by a judge within two months. Around 60 per cent of those hearings result in the subject being given refugee status in Canada.
Manitoba is not the only border province to see an increase in numbers crossing into Canada illegally.
Five times the number of people entered Quebec from the U.S. illegally in 2016 compared to the previous year, again according to CBSA figures. More than 1,200 claimed refugee status in Canada in 2016.
The CBSA has faced criticism for using provincial jails to hold immigration detainees. Generally, only those who break the law, for example by bringing drugs or other contraband over the border, are put in prison.
If officials cannot establish identity, or the subject is deemed a flight risk or security concern, they may enter immigration detention.
As part of the immigration detention system, some are housed in provincial jails, although the CBSA is working towards minimizing the numbers of people treated in this way.
Canada has been criticized from within and from the outside over its policies on keeping immigration detainees indefinitely.
The campaign to make the CBSA more transparent gathered momentum in May 2016 as a 24-year-old man died in an Edmonton provincial jail, becoming the 15th to die in CBSA custody since 2000.
More than 100 senior Ontario lawyers signed an open letter to Yasir Naqvi, Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Manager, expressing concerns that detainees are having their basic human rights violated.
Under an October 2014 agreement, the CBSA can move detainees without explanation from immigration holding centres to provincial jails.
Transparency is also key, including open access for the United Nations, Canadian Red Cross, plus legal and spiritual advisers. Complaints must be dealt with quickly and efficiently.
Some 250,000 travellers cross the Canadian border each day. An average of 400 are detained for legal or identification reasons, or if they are deemed a flight or safety risk.
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