Early Sunday morning, February 26, 2017, eight migrants from Somalia cross into Canada illegally from the United States by walking down this train track into the town of Emerson, Man., where they will seek asylum at Canada Border Services Agency. The Liberal government is taking steps to stem the tide of asylum seekers who’ve been crossing into Canada from the U.S. at unofficial border crossings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Budget bill would tighten loophole that encourages irregular border-crossing

The bill would stop anyone who made a refugee claim in the U.S. from making one in Canada

The Liberal government is taking steps to stem the tide of asylum seekers who’ve been crossing into Canada from the U.S. at unofficial border crossings.

Tucked into this year’s 392-page omnibus budget bill, which arrived in the House of Commons Monday evening, is a provision that would prevent anyone who has made a refugee claim in certain other countries from making another claim in Canada. The provision applies to claims made in countries with which Canada has information-sharing agreements.

Only a handful of countries qualify. The United States, through which all of the irregular border crossers pass, is one of them.

Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said the change’s primary effect is expected to be on people whose refugee claims have been rejected in the United States and who then try again in Canada.

The language says that just having made a claim is enough to be rendered ineligible, however.

The provision is based on the belief that Canada’s refugee system is similar enough to that of the U.S. that anyone rejected there is likely to be rejected here as well, Genest said.

People deemed ineligible to make a claim in Canada will not necessarily be deported to their homelands. Genest said they will still undergo a pre-removal risk assessment to determine if it is safe to send them back to their countries of origin.

Canada has a “Safe Third Country Agreement” with the U.S. that treats it as a place that’s equivalent to Canada for asylum claimants. If a would-be refugee arrives at a land-border crossing from the United States saying he or she wants to make a claim, border officers turn the person back. But the agreement has a loophole — it doesn’t apply to people who are already on Canadian soil when they make their claims.

That has prompted thousands of people who fear deportation from the United States to cross the Canadian border through fields and forests.

Many of them are from countries such as Haiti, whose citizens have had “temporary protected status” in the U.S. That status prevents them from being deported to dangerous places even if their individual claims aren’t accepted. Other countries on that list include Syria, Nepal, Somalia and Yemen.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has been trying to shorten the list.

It first cut Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The move has been halted by a court order, but it put tens of thousands of people on notice that they could be expelled from the U.S. and has helped touch off the northward flow of people.

Although the government’s budget bill is mostly about tax and spending measures, it includes numerous other provisions on everything from immigration to airport security, formally creating new departments for Indigenous affairs and changing the borders of national parks.

A similar omnibus bill last year included a measure letting prosecutors negotiate “deferred prosecution agreements” for corporations accused of certain crimes, setting the stage for the SNC-Lavalin affair that has beleaguered the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for months.

READ MORE: New $1B border strategy will get tough on irregular asylum seekers

READ MORE: Jogger who crossed U.S. border accidentally a warning to Canadians

The Canadian Press


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