The most recent estimates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other sources indicate that there are over 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Over 75 percent of the unlawful population has lived in the U.S. for more than ten years. Since President Trump is cracking down on immigration, these illegal immigrants, and even others who are losing their Temporary Protected Status (T.P.S.) because it is expiring, are looking for alternatives. A promising alternative appears to be Canada. In large measure that is because in January 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau responded to President Trump’s first travel ban by tweeting: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith…” As a result, Canada’s National Post newspaper recently reported that the country will soon have more American migrant border crossers than it has Syrian refugees – a significant burden on that country’s absorptive capacity.
Most of the migrants entering Canada from America are exploiting a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. The Safe Third Country Agreement spells out that asylum seekers must make their claim in the country in which they first arrived. But that only applies when claims are made at official border ports of entry. If, however, asylum seekers reach Canadian territory by avoiding ports of entry, they become entitled to stay while their claims are processed. That is because of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and because Canada is a signatory of the U.N. Refugee Convention. In this way, claimants knowingly avoid return to the U.S. and are placing a strain on Canadian federal, provincial and municipal resources.
On average, different levels of government spend between $ 15,000 and $ 20,000 on processing each asylum claimant according to Michael MacDonald, Director General of Operations of the Citizenship and Immigration department. Illegal border crossers are eligible to obtain work permits and also have access to Canadian healthcare, public schools and even social assistance. As for the length of time they need support, Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel, pointed out that the “Immigration and Refugee Board is already reporting 11-year wait times for refugee hearings and is experiencing an alarming shortage of immigration judges.” What is more, only a small percentage of unsuccessful refugee claimants are being returned to their countries of citizenship. If it is going to take more than 10 years to get a hearing and even then only some will be returned home, for all intents and purposes, these people are permanent residents being supported by the public purse. So Canadian taxpayers could end up paying heavily for illegal immigration over many years. Considering the potential scale of the influx, Canadians are increasingly critical of Trudeau’s position.
Many migrants from the U.S. have been arriving in Quebec. That province has appealed for help from other provinces. While the previous Ontario provincial government agreed to take some refugee claimants from Quebec, Premier Doug Ford, the new Conservative Premier, now says that his government is no longer going to co-operate with federal authorities on the resettlement of asylum-seekers. During a 40-minute meeting recently, Trudeau tried to persuade Ford to abide by the prior commitment of the province. Premier Ford refused. Instead he maintained that the federal government initiated the problem and should fix it. He said that provincial and municipal resources are already exhausted. Toronto Mayor John Tory added that largely due to the influx of these refugee claimants, the demand for city shelters has quadrupled compared to 2016, and the system has reached its capacity. In an alarming way, this intergovernmental conflict in Canada is a miniature re-enactment of what is happening in Europe between EU countries over the illegal migration of refugee claimants from Africa.
This crisis has revealed that it is quicker to cross the border illegally than to immigrate to Canada legally. For overseas immigrants immigrating to Canada, the wait time can be as long as five to seven years. Crossing the border on the other hand takes five minutes. Furthermore, the refugee system is meant to protect people from “danger of torture, risk to their life, or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” if they are returned home. Few U.S. migrant claimants will fit that description since they have not been home for several years.
In the absence of a mitigating policy, illegal migrants crossing the U.S.-Canada border will increasingly consume resources previously meant to help process overseas immigrants. Canadian citizens who seek to bring their family members into the country will be delayed. Employers who seek to bring over skilled workers will not be able to do so. Investors who want to come to Canada to start businesses and grow the Canadian economy will be pushed aside.
Canada does not have the absorptive capacity to accept all of America’s unwanted immigrants. It will therefore have to establish stronger border protection policies and work with America to solve U.S. internal immigration challenges. In the end, however, comprehensive immigration reform in America is the only real solution to this challenge. That doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon.