Wall Street Journal
By Paul Vieira
March 21, 2017
OTTAWA—Migrants illegally crossing the border overland from the U.S. into Canada made up about a fifth of Canada’s total refugee claims in the first two months of 2017, an increase that came as concerns grow about tougher U.S. immigration rules.
Canadian immigration officials said Tuesday that police captured 1,134 asylum seekers in January and February who tried to enter from the U.S. illegally. That’s one-fifth of the 5,520 asylum claims Canadian officials have started processing in the two-month period, The revised number points to an even sharper increase in efforts to get into Canada illegally, since for all of last year the number was 2,400 entrants.
Immigration lawyers have said that many of the illegal entrants are fleeing to Canada either because they have been denied refugee status in the U.S. or fear their claims will be denied during a clampdown on illegal immigration and efforts by President Donald Trump to block entry into the U.S. from certain countries because of terrorism fears.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signaled a greater openness to refugees since Mr. Trump’s election, but has not expanded plans to accept more refugees. Canada expects to accept 40,000 refugees in 2017, after taking in 55,800 in 2016. In 14 months through January, Canada took in 40,000 refugees from Syria.
The fresh figures for the two-month period should be a warning to Canadian officials, said Peter Showler, former chairman of Canada’s immigration and refugee board, which rules on asylum claims. Because of the warming weather and the Trump administration’s stance on immigrants, “then we are going to see much larger numbers in the spring and summer,” Mr. Showler said.
That, in turn, could put a strain on government officials and their ability to absorb and process increased claims, he said.
The stream of illegal migrants is due to a 12-year-old U.S.-Canada deal on asylum claims, the Safe Third Country Agreement, that requires claimants to seek asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive, but there is a loophole if that fails. In essence, a person can’t apply for refugee status in the U.S., then try again in Canada if the attempt fails. However, the agreement doesn’t apply to a person crossing illegally into the other country by avoiding the official border checkpoints.
That has led entire families to walk into Canada in broad daylight at different unmanned points across the 5,600-mile border, carrying suitcases and other belongings as Canadian police wait to take them into custody.
Entrants are detained at a local border-services center, usually for at least 48 hours, until their identity has been verified. They then are released with a date for the first hearing on their asylum claim, typically within 60 days.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have said they arrest individuals trying to trek into Canada only if they are in the U.S. illegally or are wanted by U.S. law enforcement. Otherwise, agents will notify their Canadian counterparts that people are about to cross illegally.
A spokesman for Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Tuesday the 2017 total so far marked a “significant increase over past years.”
Mr. Goodale and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met in Ottawa this month to discuss the influx of asylum seekers entering Canada from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.
In a joint statement, Messrs. Goodale and Kelly said the U.S. and Canada would share intelligence on the asylum influx.
“In the meantime, they are indeed coming,” Mr. Goodale said in a Facebook post. “That’s the physical reality we have to deal with—according to Canadian law and our international obligations.”
A representative from Canada’s immigration department was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
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