January 20, 2017 – Five times the number of people entered Quebec from the U.S. illegally in 2016 compared to the previous year, Canada Border Services Agency figures show.
The notable increase – to more than 1,200 claiming refugee status in 2016 – could be linked to Donald Trump’s election as president. Trump was elected on November 8, 2016 and more people crossed the border illegally that month than in the whole of 2015.
Those crossing the border into the French-speaking province are generally not American citizens.
Syrians, Sudanese and Yemenis are the main nationalities, creating the impression that U.S. immigrants are fleeing a potential Trump crackdown.
The CBSA says 90 per cent of those who cross illegally are caught via tip offs from residents and CCTV footage.
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.
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, according to Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, who says open access for the United Nations, Canadian Red Cross, plus legal and spiritual advisers must be maintained and any complaints responded to properly and with the utmost scrutiny.
Goodale says a quarter of a million travellers cross the Canadian border each day. An average of 400 are detained if they do not meet the legal requirements, cannot be identified, or are deemed a flight or safety risk.
Trump has promised to crack down on illegal migrants in the U.S., thought to number around 11 million. He has stated a plan to deport or jail ‘two or three million’ of them who have a criminal record, although he has not said how he will go about it.
That could explain why some of those immigrants are trying to get across the border before the inauguration on January 20.
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