Canada approved 78 asylum applications from 'illegal immigrants' since closing Roxham Road

Since Ottawa closed the unofficial border, border patrols have captured 264 people attempting to enter Canada between official ports of entry.

Canada approved 78 asylum applications from 'illegal immigrants' since closing Roxham Road
Facebook/ Justin Trudeau
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On March 24, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden announced the signing of an "additional protocol" on the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The U.S. will apply the agreement for the entire border length, not only official entry points. In exchange, Canada will welcome 15,000 migrants from across the Americas over the next year on a "humanitarian basis."

"It's an issue we take extraordinarily seriously," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on March 22. "We have worked closely with our American counterparts for many months…to ensure the integrity of our borders and protect vulnerable asylum seekers."

Ruben Zaiotti, an associate professor in political science at Dalhousie University, said the agreement shows discrepancies between how policymakers and politicians perceive problems.

"Internally, the bureaucracy, they're aware of the issues. It's just that…politically, you need to show that you're doing something that seems to solve the problem, even if it doesn't," Zaiotti told the CBC.

"These challenges have been reflected in negative media coverage," read the additional protocol. "The benefits of a reduction in asylum claimants are not quantified or monetized."

"There may be further pressure on RCMP resources. It will be challenging for the RCMP to consistently enforce the regulations given the size and terrain of Canada's landscape, challenges posed by Indigenous and private lands, [and] the limitations of existing border technology," continued the document. 

"If you think about it, you could deal with this issue, in terms of the framing, as a humanitarian issue. These are people who need help. That's what it is. So, you try to do everything you can to help them, but that's not how it's being framed," said Zaiotti. 

Roxham Road has caused significant tension between Ottawa, Quebec and the U.S. because of an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada since 2017. Last year, 39,171 illegal immigrants entered Quebec through Roxham Road.

Since Ottawa closed the unofficial border, border patrols have captured 264 people attempting to enter Canada between official ports of entry. Of that, they deported 185 individuals to the U.S., whereas they approved 78 others to seek asylum, and one person voluntarily withdrew their application.

"When people crossing between ports of entry are stopped by the RCMP or local police, they are brought to a designated port of entry," said CBSA spokesperson Guillaume Bérubé. That is, to the Lacolle facility, from where they will be sent back to the United States if they are not eligible.

Viviane Albuquerque, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer, referred to the additional protocol as a "virtual border wall," The federal government will employ increased surveillance and enforcement along the Canada-U.S. border. 

If illegal immigrants manage to wait 14 days before making a refugee claim, they escape the new provisions of the Safe Third Country Agreement, according to the federal document. "In my opinion, these 14 days are a message of false hope," Stéphane Handfield, an immigration lawyer, told La Presse.

"What this sends as a message to asylum seekers on the U.S. side is: now cross the border illegally, without being caught by the police," she said. "Stay hidden for 13 days, and on the 14th day, raise your hand and make your refugee claim, and the agreement will not apply to you. That is provided for in the protocol."

According to the additional protocol, the costs to the amended agreement will be $61.5 million over 10 years.

According to an Immigration Canada spokesperson, these potential refugees will be "displaced persons from the Americas, including Haitians, but provided no further details on how they would choose the 15,000 asylum seekers.

"This will promote safe and orderly migration as an alternative to often dangerous irregular pathways, including pressure points like the Darién Gap region between Colombia and Panama," said Jeremy Bellefeuille.

Statistics collected by Panama's Department of Migration show about 800 people a day crossing through the Darien Gap in January and February — usually the slowest period of the year. Human Rights Watch (HRW) expects summer 2023 will smash all previous records.

Among the migrants crossing the Darien gap are a growing number of Haitians, constituting 16,744 of the 49,291 migrants who crossed the Darien in January and February.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did not disclose on March 22 whether Biden would demand Trudeau take in more Haitians directly. However, he revealed that both leaders "share a concern about the dire situation down there from a security and humanitarian perspective."

Senior government officials in Ottawa said the discussion on Haiti would involve the two leaders rather than Haitians. 

Since 2021, the impoverished, quake-ravaged Caribbean nation has devolved into a failed state following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Roving gangs of marauders now control over half of the country's capital, Port-au-Prince, amid a near-total lack of public security and a powerless interim government.

During Biden's meeting with Trudeau last month, his administration clarified they want Canada to take in a large diaspora of French-speaking Haitians, especially Quebec. U.S. officials outsourced migration enforcement to Mexico and Central American countries, with their federal government worried about how more illegal crossings would affect the 2024 election.

In February, Quebec requested that it only take up to 23% of asylum seekers moving forward, as the province contends their "capacity is not unlimited." 

"We cannot give services to so many people...It takes time to build houses. We cannot tomorrow decide that we can add 36,000 places for them," they said.

On issues of migration, "We're well aware of Canadian concerns. We have concerns of our own," said Kirby. "It's a hemispheric, shared regional challenge.

According to the CBC, "Haitians are generally thought to be one of the nationalities most likely to continue their journeys as far as Canada for reasons of language and family connections."

The HRW said some of those headed north through the Darien did not depart directly from Haiti but are still responding to events on the island.

"One of the things that we found from speaking to Haitians in the Darien is that many of them have already tried to establish themselves in another country in the Americas, in Chile, in Brazil and Colombia," said a representative from HRW to the CBC.

"They often face many challenges that can include legal challenges. They can consist of racism against Haitians, a severe issue in South America," he continued.

"We spoke to people who said, 'I made enough in Brazil maybe to support myself, but I didn't make also enough to send money to my family in Haiti, and with the situation the way it is in Haiti, I need to be able to send money back to them.'"

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