Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is using some of his strongest words to date to try to discourage people from crossing the Canada-U.S. border between legal checkpoints.
“We do not appreciate or welcome irregular migration,” Hussen said in an interview on this weekend’s edition of The West Block.
The minister noted that if people want to come live and work in Canada, but are not fleeing persecution or otherwise in need of Canada’s protection, there are formal avenues that can make their goals a reality.
“We’re making the necessary investments to the (Canada Border Services Agency) to expedite and conduct more removals of failed claimants … Those who do not deserve Canada’s protection get to be removed.”
More than 7,600 people crossed the Canada-U.S. border illegally between Jan. 1 and April 30. The number of arrivals in May has not yet been tallied.
On Thursday, Hussen had to contend with reports of pamphlets circulating in Plattsburgh, NY, offering step-by-step instructions on how to reach the Canadian border and cross it between checkpoints.
WATCH: Solution to asylum seekers starts far from Canadian borders
The minister said officials were reaching out to the non-profit organization behind the leaflets, Plattsburgh Cares, to ensure it is providing all of the information about seeking asylum in Canada. He denied that anyone is being “ushered” into Canada.
Hussen faced four hours of direct questioning on the situation at the border on Thursday night in the House of Commons. He stood by his talking points, repeating that there is “no free ticket to Canada.”
The Liberal government says it is engaged in a widespread and aggressive outreach campaign to discourage irregular crossings. It also devoted an additional $173 million in its last budget to dealing with the situation at the border, including money to speed up the processing of claims at the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Ottawa expects that 17,000 claims made by irregular migrants will be processed within a year.
But that, according to the Conservatives, isn’t nearly enough.
The Opposition is calling on the Liberals to close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., applying the treaty along the entire length of the border in order to permit Canadian officials to send most asylum seekers back to America to make a claim there, regardless of where they try to cross.
Hussen said any proposal that necessitates designating the entire border as an official point of entry is “really unworkable.”
“You’d literally have to put a customs official every 100 metres,” he said. “And you would also need the co-operation of the United States.”
Still, he reiterated, the Safe Third Country Agreement is due for modernization. There’s been no new movement on that front, however.
“We’ve expressed our desire to begin modernizing it with the United States and those discussions are ongoing although there are no formal negotiations yet,” Hussen said.
— Watch the full interview with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen above