Liberals use budget to strike more aggressive posture on border-crossers
|National Post 19 Mar 2019 at 14:59|
OTTAWA â Striking a more aggressive tone on irregular asylum seekers, the federal government has promised to prioritize the removal of failed asylum claimants who have crossed the border illegally.
Tuesdayâs federal budget commits $1.18 billion over five years to implement a new border enforcement strategy. It provides few details about that strategy, but says it will help border officials âdetect and intercept individuals who cross Canadian borders irregularly and who try to exploit Canadaâs immigration system.â Irregular asylum seekers whose refugee claims are denied will also be âremoved on a priority basis,â according to budget documents.
With the asylum system currently handling about 50,000 cases per year, that money will also be used to speed up the processing of claims and appeals. The government also plans to expand to Toronto a pilot project launched recently in Montreal that attempts to better share information about asylum claims between agencies involved in the immigration system.
The money is a substantial increase compared to last year, when Ottawa committed just $173 million for the processing of asylum claims. The Canada Border Services Agency, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Board will split the bulk of the new money.
The federal government has faced heavy criticism for its response to an influx of asylum seekers crossing the border between official ports of entry that began in earnest in 2017. Many refugee claimants are crossing the border illegally because of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which prevents most would-be refugees from entering Canada from the United States to make their claims, since the U.S. is deemed to be a country in which it would be safe for them to claim asylum. However, the agreement only applies to official border crossings, which means that asylum seekers can make refugee claims in Canada if they cross the border elsewhere.
A total of 20,600 irregular asylum seekers entered the country in 2017, and another 19,400 in 2018, most crossing onto a rural road near Lacolle, Que. About 1,700 people have crossed the border illegally so far this year, though the monthly numbers are substantially lower than they were this time last year.
The Conservatives have attacked the government for its response to the issue, accusing the Liberals of not doing enough to âclose the loopholeâ in the Safe Third Country Agreement. This yearâs budget suggests the government wants to be seen to be taking those concerns seriously, and includes a claim that irregular asylum seekers âhave challenged the fairness and effectiveness of Canadaâs asylum system.â
The language represents a marked shift from last yearâs budget, which stated that all those seeking asylum âmust be treated with compassion and afforded due process under Canadian and international law, and in keeping with our values as an open and welcoming country.â
This yearâs budget proposes legislative changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act âto better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration,â though it offers no specifics. The government also plans to appoint three new Federal Court judges to speed up the appeals process for refugee claims that have been denied.
The RCMP, meanwhile, receive $77.3 million over five years, plus an additional $13.5 million on an ongoing basis, for âenhanced law enforcement at the border.â
The budget commitments follow recent comments from border security minister Bill Blair, who said Monday that heâs continuing to speak with U.S. officials about updating the Safe Third Country Agreement to allow Canada to deny entry to irregular asylum claimants.
The government is not focused solely on accelerating the asylum claims system, however, with a further $283 million in spending going to the interim federal health program, which provides health care to asylum seekers and refugees.
Tuesdayâs budget also proposes to establish independent oversight of the CBSA. Ottawa is planning to expand the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to act as an independent review body for the border agency and the RCMP. The budget also includes $52 million over five years to help newcomers âprotect themselves against fraudulent immigration consultants.â
In the rush to get all that spending out the door, little thought appears to have been given to whether the money is being spent in the best way
Opinion: This governmentâs record clearly shows its interest in spending as much as possible
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