A primer on illegal bor­der cross­ings and Hamil­ton’s role

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - CARMELA FRAGOMENI

THE NEWS PHOTO OF A QUE­BEC RCMP OF­FI­CER lift­ing a child over a snow bank and into Canada near the U.S. bor­der last week has crys­tal­lized at­ten­tion on refugees flee­ing the United States. Na­tional and lo­cal agen­cies ex­pect illegal cross­ings at un­guarded bor­der points to in­crease as de­por­ta­tion fears rise in the U.S., and as warmer weather makes it eas­ier to walk through fields and wilder­ness to get here. Here are some answers about why this is hap­pen­ing, what hap­pens when peo­ple get here, refugee laws and the sit­u­a­tion in On­tario:

Why are peo­ple cross­ing il­le­gally?

Some peo­ple in the U.S. with­out per­ma­nent refugee or immigrant sta­tus now feel un­safe be­cause of the anti-refugee and anti-Mus­lim mea­sures adopted by the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. They walk through fields and wilder­ness, some­times in dark­ness, to get to the bor­der and cross into Canada in un­guarded ar­eas. They do this to avoid of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ings where they will be turned back. The RCMP say cross­ing the Cana­dian bor­der with­out re­port­ing to a port of en­try is illegal. At of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ings, many refugee claimants are de­nied en­try and turned back be­cause of the 2004 Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment be­tween Canada and the U.S. The Agree­ment closes the door to refugee claimants from the U.S. and vice-versa — with some ex­cep­tions — be­cause each coun­try con­sid­ers the other safe for refugees.

How many have crossed il­le­gally since Trump be­came pres­i­dent?

The RCMP and Cana­dian Bor­der Ser­vices Agency (CBSA) did not pro­vide num­bers.

Where are they cross­ing?

Mainly near bor­der towns in Que­bec, Man­i­toba and Bri­tish Columbia.

Are any in Hamil­ton?

Yes. A few have made their way to Hamil­ton since Trump’s elec­tion.

What hap­pens when they cross il­le­gally?

RCMP of­fi­cers meet refugees at the bor­der and to them it is an of­fence to cross, and if they do, they will be ar­rested — which is what the asylum seekers want, so they can then make a refugee claim. Refugee lawyers say in­ter­na­tional laws pro­tect refugees cross­ing in this man­ner — so if they claim refugee sta­tus, po­lice, af­ter com­plet­ing crim­i­nal back­ground checks, take them to the CBSA for pro­cess­ing. If the CBSA de­ter­mines they are el­i­gi­ble to make a claim, it is re­ferred to the Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Board of Canada for a hear­ing and they are re­leased on con­di­tions (un­less de­tained be­cause they can­not be iden­ti­fied, are a threat, or at risk of skip­ping their hear­ing).

Many then stay with friends or at a shel­ter.

Hamil­ton refugee lawyer Lily Tekle says a fed­eral Or­der in Coun­cil en­sures all claimants, once deemed el­i­gi­ble to make a claim, get a “refugee claimant iden­ti­fi­ca­tion,” which im­me­di­ately gives them in­terim fed­eral health care. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Canada says they may also be en­ti­tled to so­cial as­sis­tance, ed­u­ca­tion, emer­gency hous­ing and le­gal aid while await­ing a de­ci­sion on their claim. Most can also ap­ply for a work per­mit af­ter un­der­go­ing a med­i­cal exam.

Has there been an in­flux of peo­ple into Canada in re­cent weeks?

Yes, ac­cord­ing to the RCMP and CBSA, with the largest in­flux seen in Que­bec. At least 82 peo­ple have il­le­gally crossed into Man­i­toba since Jan. 1, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports. No num­bers were avail­able for Que­bec or B.C.

How many have il­le­gally crossed into On­tario?

The RCMP says it doesn’t know of any. It is dif­fi­cult to cross into On­tario with­out hit­ting an of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ing be­cause of the Great Lakes and rivers separat­ing the prov­ince from the U.S. How­ever, some claimants who crossed il­le­gally into Que­bec have made their way to On­tario where they have friends or to look for work. Matthew House Refugee Min­istry in Fort Erie has had claimants who crossed in Que­bec and two in late Oc­to­ber who said they came across the Ni­a­gara River with the help of smug­glers.

On what con­di­tions are claimants at le­gal bor­der cross­ings al­lowed in?

The fol­low­ing Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment ex­cep­tions must be met: You have close fam­ily in Canada; are a child un­der 18 trav­el­ling alone; have a valid Cana­dian visa, work or study per­mit; or you face the death penalty in your coun­try or the U.S. The Cana­dian Coun­cil for Refugees says the num­ber of le­gal claimants from the U.S. has been steadily in­creas­ing since 2014 be­cause of the high­est num­ber of world refugees since the Sec­ond World War.

How many refugees en­ter On­tario at le­gal bor­der cross­ings per year?

2014: 2,601 2015: 2,742 2016: 3,865 Jan­uary 2017: 433

Will there be more illegal cross­ings?

Au­thor­i­ties and refugee sup­port agen­cies ex­pect the num­bers com­ing across il­le­gally from the United States to in­crease, es­pe­cially in the spring and sum­mer when warmer weather makes it eas­ier to walk across the un­pro­tected parts of the bor­der.

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