The number of people crossing the Canada-U.S. border between legal checkpoints slightly increased in February, new numbers show, and Ottawa is bracing for a possible spike as the weather warms this spring.
In total, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 1,565 people were intercepted by the RCMP last month. As has been the case for over a year now, the vast majority of them (1,486 or 95 per cent) crossed in Quebec.
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The number of interceptions in January was 1,517, meaning that there was a small increase month-to-month. There was a drop of several hundred crossings between December and January, which seemed to suggest that efforts in Ottawa to clamp down were having an effect. That pattern has not held.
The total number of irregular border crossings in 2018 now sits at 3,082.
Over the next 18 months, hundreds of thousands of people living in the United States under Temporary Protection Status are expected to be forced either to seek permanent residency or to leave the country.
The Liberal government has acknowledged that some may choose to come north and seek asylum in Canada, but says it will be ready for any and all scenarios. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said that various federal departments, along with the provinces and some municipalities, are working together on the issue.
In the meantime, several Liberal MPs have been dispatched to the United States to liaise with diaspora communities and dispel myths about the ease of coming to Canada.
The Conservatives, however, have argued that the backlog in the system for processing asylum seekers will only get worse. Not enough is being done to put a stop to the irregular crossings, they contend.
Last year, a total of 20,593 people crossed the Canada-U.S. border between checkpoints, taking advantage of a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. If they had attempted to cross and claim asylum at a legal border crossing, most would have been sent back to the U.S.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has said there are no talks in the works to modify the Safe Third Country Agreement.
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Once they cross into Canada, the irregular crossers are arrested, undergo security screening and formal identification, and then begin the process of trying to remain here. As they wait for further processing, many have been given work permits and access to limited healthcare services.
Only a small fraction of the people who have crossed have been given the green light to make an asylum claim so far, however. Last winter, the government estimated that fewer than 10 per cent of the Haitians crossing were being permitted to claim asylum. It’s unclear what has happened to those who have been told they didn’t qualify.