Two reports caught my eye:
- In the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders, who is, generally, pretty progressive on most issues, says “There is no good reason why anybody should be walking across unguarded sections of the U.S.-Canada border. The fact that scores of asylum seekers have made the dangerous walk from North Dakota into Manitoba or from New York and Vermont into Quebec is not a signal of Canada’s welcoming generosity. Nor is it a security risk to Canadians … [but] … it is a danger – both a physical one to the migrants themselves (two have already lost fingers in minus 30 C weather, which could easily kill) and a larger danger to the integrity, successful functioning and public support of Canada’s refugee and immigration system;” and
- On the CTV News website, Jason Kenney, a Conservative friend to immigration, says “The problem is the exemption that allows people to enter Canada illicitly to make a refugee claim “is incentivizing people coming in illegally and dangerously. We want regular, safe, legal migration, not unsafe illegal migration.”“
The “exemption,” the loophole, that Mr Kenney wants to close is the “safe third country” agreement.
There is, in principle, nothing wrong with the safe third country agreement. When a refugee has found refuge ~ safe refuge ~ then (s)he should stay there; (s)he should not be free to go “country shopping” just because (s)he thinks the “deal” for refugees may be better in another country. If a refugee is safe in, say, Bulgaria then (s)he has no obvious “right” to say “well, I’d rather be a bit more safe in Ireland;” not, unless, (s)he, willingly, surrenders her/his right to the protection that being a refugee offers and submits to the more severe tests that apply to would be immigrants.
The USA is a safe refuge, and, as Jason Kenney points out, Donald Trump has not made it less safe because ““the U.S. has a fair, just, independent asylum system” … [and] … “It’s not run by Donald Trump. It’s run by the independent American judiciary, the same judiciary that struck down his executive order.”” But refugees are not always as smart as we might wish and some are reacting out of fear and others out of opportunism in seeking what they might perceive to be a “better,” perhaps more generous place of refuge in Canada.
Both Doug Saunders and Jason Kenney agree that the loophole is causing more troubles than it is worth.
Doug Saunders takes the issue a bit further and offers some concrete notions about what needs to be done besides just closing the safe third country loophole. Closing it would mean, he suggests, that “The numbers would increase somewhat, but it would be far less expensive and much less dangerous – and it would look secure, fair and rational to Canadians.” I agree, but then we would have even loooooonger refugee queues, which, in and of themselves, create social and political problems, so, he says, first “Many of those border-crossers – perhaps most – won’t qualify as refugees … [but, now] … They’ll wait months for a hearing, then years for an appeal, before they go home or are deported (by which time they’ll have roots in Canada, creating a second set of crises) … [while, second] … Those who are legitimate refugees will also wait, in ambiguous status, in border towns for long periods and possibly in large numbers.” Neither is a desirable situation.
“To avoid this becoming an enduring, high-visibility crisis with grave political implications, Ottawa should,” Mr Saunders suggests, “bring on board extra Immigration and Refugee Board staff and judges to work the border stations, so hearings can be made in weeks rather than months and appeals in months rather than years. This would cost, but not as much as supporting thousands of ambiguous people for years, or rebuilding the reputation of our immigration system. By making it legal, rational and quick, we can make the border act like a border again.” I agree, again. We might, for example, reassign every single “person year” (government gobbledegook for one employee) in, say, Status of Women Canada, including the minister, to border security ~ most would lose their jobs, of course, having few really useful skills, and would need to be replaced by real border security officers and lawyers skilled in immigration law ~ but we could, with a bit of imagination, cut screening times to days or even hours and appeal times to weeks or, at worst a very few months, and, as Doug Saunders, very correctly, says, “make the border act like a border again.“
Erin O’Toole, in an e-mail that many Conservatives received just days ago said, and I agree, that “Canadians are generous and want to help legitimate asylum seekers, but what is happening at our border right now is not only illegal, it is risky for migrants and rural communities without much police presence.” He’s right as far as he goes but I believe that Messers Kenney and Saunders have gone farther, down the right path, and Erin O’Toole needs to follow. Canadians are generous and they do want to help, but they also expect people, even refugees, to “play by the rules,” and the current system, as Jason Kenney says, “incentivizes” both dangerous as illegal acts; we should change the system and close the safe third country loophole.