Canada struggles to keep out US asylum seekers

Canada struggles to keep out US asylum seekers

Snowy northern winters tend to see a drop in asylum seekers crossing from the United States into Canada at Roxham Road in Quebec. In December, the number of asylum seekers entering Canada outside formal land border crossings reached its highest point since August 2017, according to government statistics.

One attorney said that the growing caseload is making waiting longer for eligibility hearings, leaving claimants waiting months on social assistance before getting work permits.

The increase comes after the lifting of a pandemic-era order in December. In order to curb the spread of Covid, border police had refused entry to all asylum seekers since March 2020.

The ministry seems to me that it has been caught off guard, said Pierre-Luc Bouchard, a Montreal lawyer who has 70 refugee cases after two years with almost zero new clients. They are completely confused. A spokesman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the increase was expected and that it is working to speed up applications and shorten eligibility hearing wait times.

In December, Royal Canadian Mounted Police intercepted 2,811 asylum seekers crossing the border outside formal land ports of entry, the vast majority of crossing into Quebec.

In January and February they intercepted 2,382 and 2,164, respectively compared to 888 and 808 in January and February of 2019.

They are not allowed to enter Canada because they do not enter formal border crossings. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which is set to be contested at Canada's supreme court, Canada and the United States can turn back asylum seekers in either direction at formal land border crossings.

Volunteers who come to the border with water bottles or mittens and who try to make sure border-crossers rights are respected have resumed their weekly trips to Roxham Road after suspending them during the epidemic, said Frances Ravensbergen, coordinator for migrant advocacy group Bridges Not Borders.

Some asylum seekers have been awaiting the borders to reopen, according to Bouchard.

Roxham Road, north of Plattsburgh, Vermont, is not a formal border crossing, although so many asylum seekers use it that police officers are often stationed there to intercept migrants.

Some would-be refugees were waiting in the United States, others in Latin America or in Kenya until they felt they could make the trip to Canada via the United States, Bouchard said. Canadian refugee claimants come from a wide range of countries, including Mexico, Colombia, India and Iran.

Bouchard said that many people keep abreast of Canada's shifting regulations.

Bouchard thinks that there is more than just Canada s lifting the border closure at play. People are desperate, he said.

He said that the increase was an indication that the US immigration policies have not really changed under Joe Biden, especially when it comes to gender-based refugee claims, which are seen as less likely to succeed in the United States.

The Biden administration has refused to roll back all the measures imposed by Donald Trump, despite the US apprehensions of migrants crossing from Mexico at a 20-year high last year.

The US government didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.

A Nicaraguan asylum seeker described how he flew into the southern United States, where he was reunited with his wife and kids who had traveled separately. They flew to New York, where they boarded a bus to Plattsburgh in upstate New York and then took a taxi to the Canadian border.

The Canadian police were friendly, he said. He and his family live in a Montreal apartment. He hopes to find work soon when his kids are in school.

He said it was a hard trip to everything in Nicaragua.