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CBSA officers need more resources to keep track of failed asylum claimants: union president

Click to play video 'Not enough resources to track asylum seekers crossing at Canadian ports of entry: Fortin' Not enough resources to track asylum seekers crossing at Canadian ports of entry: Fortin
ABOVE: Not enough resources to track asylum seekers crossing at Canadian ports of entry, Fortin says – Aug 11, 2019

Border agents need more resources in order to keep track of people whose claims for asylum in Canada have been denied and who have been ordered to be deported, according to the president of the union representing front-line officials with the Canada Border Services Agency. 

“For those asylum seekers that know that they are not going to be able to reach the stage that their claim will be granted in Canada, or they know [that] they have a criminal history, the concern is they may disappear,” Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, told The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson.
“The people who do check them within CBSA, it’s a very small group [called] inland enforcement officers.”

Fortin is calling for the number of officers in this group to be doubled, at the least.

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READ MORE: Less than 900 ‘irregular’ asylum seekers removed from Canada since 2017 surge

“We certainly don’t have the resources to track them down and to deport them,” he said in an interview at Roxham Road, at the border between Quebec and New York, one of the busiest areas in which people cross into Canada from the U.S. irregularly.

However, the Liberal government says recent investments and regulatory changes have helped boost border security and the efficacy of the refugee claims system, including deportations.

WATCH: Increase in border crossings due to Trump administration policies: Blair

Click to play video 'Increase in border crossings due to Trump administration policies: Blair' Increase in border crossings due to Trump administration policies: Blair
Increase in border crossings due to Trump administration policies: Blair – Aug 11, 2019

“For those who need our protection, they are going to get it. And for those who are not eligible for protection, they are going to be removed,“ Bill Blair, federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, also said on The West Block.

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“CBSA, I think, is doing an excellent job.“

The Liberal budget for this year designated $1.2 billion over five years to help expedite processing and deal with the deportations of people whose claims have been denied.

READ MORE: Amnesty International wants Canada to suspend refugee agreement with U.S.

Since 2017, amid a crackdown on asylum seekers in the U.S., more than 45,000 people have crossed into Canada through unauthorized entry points, taking advantage of a loophole in Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., which allows people who make it onto Canadian soil to file refugee claims. The agreement would otherwise force them to be turned back to the U.S., a country Canada considers safe for migrants.

WATCH: CBSA struggles to keep up with asylum seeker influx

Click to play video 'CBSA struggles to keep up with asylum seeker influx' CBSA struggles to keep up with asylum seeker influx
CBSA struggles to keep up with asylum seeker influx – Aug 11, 2019

Fortin said it’s very common for large families, some with as many as seven children, to cross into Canada “to come here and to get a better life.” And many asylum seekers cite the current climate in the U.S. as a reason why they choose not to stay there.

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“Most of them, when they are interviewed by officers, I would say about 90 per cent of them will say that they don’t want to stay in the United States,” said Fortin.

READ MORE: Trump to end asylum protections for migrants passing through other countries

It’s “because they don’t like the policy of Mr. Trump,” he adds.

The surge in refugee claims in Canada made the issue a top priority — and challenge — for the Liberal government.

A May report by Canada’s auditor-general found the number of claims had grown to 71,000 by the end of 2018 with a wait time of two years. The wait time in 2017 was 16 months. The report points to outdated and inefficient systems as some reasons for the backlog.

The Canadian Press reported in June that CBSA has removed 866 people who crossed into Canada irregularly since 2017, and whose claims were denied. The immigration department attributed the low number to the fact that removals can only be enforced after an asylum seeker has gone through all the legal avenues possible to remain in Canada.

“With the surge of people that we saw coming irregularly in 2017 [they] are only now completing those determination processes. And for those who are subject to removal, CBSA is working hard to make sure that those removals are effected in a compassionate but speedy and efficient way,“ said Blair, who added that the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, the independent agency responsible for refugee claims, has been given more resources to function at a quicker and higher capacity.
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WATCH: Refugee numbers hit record high

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Refugee numbers hit record high – Jun 20, 2019

Blair also pointed out that the number of asylum seekers who crossed into Canada irregularly earlier this year has declined by nearly 50 per cent compared to the same time in 2018.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has said the current government is grappling with a system that was already underfunded by the previous Conservative government.

That did not go over well with Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel, who said in May that the government “should be taking responsibility for this issue.”

— With files from the Canadian Press