One of the most difficult things for any politician to do is to tell the whole truth. When defending a policy position, they will often repeat selective facts, while not mentioning other facts that put things in perspective.
Such is the case when the federal government says that asylum seekers from the United States are not queue jumpers. Earlier this year, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said, “with respect to so-called queue-jumping … we have told them over and over again there is no such thing…”
From January to October 2018, 17,105 people illegally crossed the border from the United States and requested asylum. Hussen argues that asylum seekers are not queue jumpers because there is “a separate queue” for illegal border crossers who request asylum.
In other words, if Canada is a nightclub, there is a front door and a back door to get in. Illegal border crossers who request asylum are not “butting in line.” They have a different lineup than people who immigrate to Canada legally.
While Hussen is technically correct that asylum seekers are not jumping the queue, it is a distinction without a difference. On average, it takes 6 to 12 months to immigrate to Canada. (The processing time for a permanent resident card is currently 53 days, but there are additional steps that must be taken before submitting an application.)
An illegal border crosser doesn’t have to wait 6 to 12 months to live in Canada. They can wake up in the morning in the United States and be in Canada before the day is over. If they are eligible to make an asylum claim, they get to stay until their claim is heard, a process that takes more than a year.
Even if an illegal border crosser does not delay the application of someone who wants to immigrate to Canada, they have entered the country 6 to 12 months earlier than the person who follows the legal process. Hence, an illegal border crosser from the United States is equivalent to a queue jumper. They have leapfrogged into Canada ahead of the people who are waiting to immigrate.
In reality, most asylum seekers from the United States who appear at a legal port of entry would be denied entry into Canada under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). Knowing this, they make an illegal crossing instead.
Illegal border crossers can request asylum due to a loophole in the STCA. Under the agreement, “persons seeking refugee protection must make a claim in the first country they arrive in … unless they qualify for an exception…” However, the agreement only applies to people who enter Canada at land border crossings or by train or at an airport. This loophole needs to be closed.
If the STCA were renegotiated, illegal border crossers could be arrested, detained, given due process, and if found guilty of illegal entry, they would be returned to the United States.
Another option is to simply pass legislation, so that illegal border crossers from the United States cannot request asylum. Such a measure would not violate the 1951 Refugee convention. According to James Bisset, a former head of Canada’s Immigration Service, “Canada has chosen to enact laws and regulations that go above and beyond what is required by the Convention.”
While Article 31 states that “Contracting States cannot impose penalties” (i.e., fines or prison time) on asylum seekers who enter a country illegally, it does not prohibit a state from deporting them. Article 33 only prohibits a state from deporting most refugees to a place where their “life or freedom would be threatened.”
A sovereign nation has the right to control its borders and who it allows to immigrate. Unfortunately, Canada has a defacto open borders policy when it comes to asylum seekers. The federal government can stop the flow of illegal border crossings by only allowing people to request asylum if they do so at a legal port of entry.