What happens to asylum seekers crossing illegally into Canada?
The RCMP intercepted nearly 3,000 people who entered Quebec through the United States in July. These people, many of them Haitians, crossed the border illegally, not at official border crossings.
They’re being temporarily housed in tents near the border at Lacolle, Que., and Cornwall, Ont.
Here’s how the government processes their claims:
1. The person crosses illegally into Canada
A person enters Canada, not at the official border crossing. This matters because it means that the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. doesn’t apply unless the person enters at an official crossing. If the agreement did apply, these people could be immediately turned back to the U.S., because they should have made a refugee claim there instead.
2. They’re arrested by the RCMP and turned over to the Canada Border Services Agency
The RCMP intercepts the person and turns them over to the Canada Border Services Agency, which begins the admissibility process.
3. The CBSA does security screening
The CBSA takes the person’s picture, records their fingerprints and does a number of background checks on them to determine whether they are ineligible to enter Canada for security reasons. They’re looking for things like a serious criminal record or a history of violating human rights, or membership in a terrorist group. If they fail this security screening, they’re deported to their country of origin – not the United States. In some cases, this order can be appealed.
4. The government determines whether the person is eligible to make a refugee claim
You’re only allowed to make a refugee claim one time in Canada. If you applied before and were turned down or abandoned your claim, or if you’ve already been granted refugee status in another country, you’re not eligible to make a claim. People who aren’t eligible are also deported to their home countries, or if they have refugee status elsewhere, to that country. Again, this can be appealed in some cases.
Right now, because of the huge influx of people crossing the border illegally, this step is delayed by up to five months, according to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, though he said that the government is working on speeding things up. In the meantime, these individuals will be receiving health care, something the government says is necessary due to the delays. The Quebec government is also considering giving them welfare payments.
Normally, people don’t get access to these supports until the next step.
5. If eligible, the person makes a refugee claim
If a person is found to be admissible to Canada and eligible to make a refugee claim, they can start filling out the paperwork. They should have their first hearing in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board within a few months, according to immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman, though he says that the high volume of claims has led to “slippage” on that deadline.
The claimant needs to show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country due to race, religion, political opinion, nationality or membership in a social group to be granted refugee status.
To be determined a “person in need of protection,” a person needs to show that if they return they would be in danger of being tortured, that there would be a risk to their life, or there would be a risk of cruel and unusual treatment.
WATCH: Video coverage of asylum seekers in Quebec
While their claim is being processed, people are eligible for basic health services and may be eligible for social assistance, education and emergency housing aid depending on the province they’re in. As noted above though, individuals are currently receiving some of these benefits at an earlier stage.
“A lot of the Haitians who came to Canada were people who stayed in the United States because of the earthquake. Many of those people may not qualify as convention refugees,” said Waldman. According to statistics from the IRB, only about 35 per cent of Haitian asylum claims that were settled in the first three months of 2017 were accepted.
If their refugee claim is rejected, in some cases, people can appeal. Otherwise, they have to leave Canada.
If successful, the refugee receives protected person status and is eligible for various support services like language training and employment help. They can also usually apply to become a permanent resident.
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