City Councils in Niagara Falls and Windsor, Ontario, requested further resources from the federal government this week to cope with the growing number of migrants or "asylum seekers" needing accommodation with the tourism season fast approaching.
In February, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) transferred 2,841 migrants from Roxham Road to some 1,000 privately owned hotel rooms in Niagara Falls.
According to its mayor, Jim Diodati, the tourist destination has between 1,500 and 2,000 hotel rooms occupied by migrant families. He expected a drop but said that hadn't happened yet, as he awaits a call with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to alleviate local concerns.
According to the IRCC, provincial governments must care for asylum seekers while the federal government determines their eligibility as a refugee.
Provinces and municipalities have paid $551.6 million since 2017 through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, which covers "extraordinary costs of interim housing for asylum seekers."
The IRCC also spent $136 million between March 20, 2020, and January 31, 2023, on "temporary accommodations," meals, security and transport for illegal immigrants who entered Canada via Roxham Road.
Diodati said his community wants to see the federal government move the occupants elsewhere in a "Team Canada approach."
In 2022, 39,171 asylum seekers crossed Quebec through the unofficial border crossing. Roxham Road has caused significant tension between Ottawa, Quebec and the U.S. because of an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada since 2017.
Québec's provincial government recently asked Ottawa to offload most of the migrants to other jurisdictions after it fielded complaints that the migrant surge strained its social support and healthcare systems.
In June 2022, the feds began redistributing illegal immigrants from Québec to Ontario cities to reduce the "pressure on publicly funded services and accommodation in Quebec," including Niagara Falls and Windsor.
On Monday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens announced the federal government would cap the number of hotel rooms for asylum seekers at 500.
According to Dilkens, who recently conversed with Minister Sean Fraser, that number could increase.
"The federal government has indicated that our peak here in Windsor would be 500 hotel rooms. They don't anticipate it will go any higher than that," said Dilkens.
"We're expecting more, though hotels are almost at capacity," said Windsor's health and human services commissioner, Andrew Daher. "But as individuals leave, then, you know, it opens up a little bit more capacity. So it will probably be seen more in the next few months."
However, U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to close Roxham Road effective Friday at midnight in exchange for Canada taking in an additional 15,000 migrants from their southern neighbour, leaving the fate of several southern municipalities across Ontario and Quebec in the air.
Before Friday's announcement, Windsor city council voted unanimously to tell Ottawa the city is near capacity and needs more resources to accommodate additional migrants.
Since January, the city has welcomed over 1,100 migrants from Roxham.
The federal government leased hotel rooms and placed them in temporary lodging while they got work permits and processed refugee claims. There are currently 439 rooms leased at three Windsor hotels for these claimants.
According to city staff, about 250 of those 1,100 refugees have left Windsor, and about 850 remain at area hotels.
In 2020, the region estimated it would need 20,000 additional affordable housing units by 2041 to meet growing demands before the influx of ‘asylum seekers’ came to the region.
"We need to know the long-term plan for their accommodation because they're supposed to be temporarily in the hotels and then move on to some transitional housing rental, and we don't have much," Diodati said.
Nancy Caron, media relations for the IRCC, said the "IRCC is working collaboratively and proactively with local officials and provincial and local stakeholders to develop partnerships to support asylum seekers in new communities."
Using the empty hotel rooms to house asylum seekers made sense "in the shoulder season [the time between off and peak seasons] because a lot of the rooms were empty. But that's changing fast, and the tourists are on their way," said Diodati.
He expects 14 million tourists this season after "three years of devastation" from COVID, hoping "this will be our major recovery year," as 40,000 residents depend on tourism to pay the bills.
"If you don't have the inventory of hotel rooms and people staying overnight, then you don't have the same spend and ripple effect of people buying their dinners at the mom-and-pop restaurants, the T-shirt places, the wineries, the attractions and all the other [businesses] who are dependent on people staying here overnight."