The Trudeau government’s sudden course correction to get tough on illegal border crossings this week is unlikely to stop asylum seekers from illegally crossing the border into Canada and making refugee claims.

Last Sunday, Minister of Border Security Bill Blair returned from a trip to the U.S. where he met with American lawmakers to discuss revising the Safe Third Country Agreement so that Canada would be able to round up asylum seekers illegally entering the country, transport them to the closest legal border checkpoint and send them back to the U.S.

“So [America] agreed that they would only consider the application of this Safe Third Country Agreement at the ports of entry themselves, which was never a problem because Canada has typically resisted people crossing in between ports of entry,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann in a phone interview.

“But suddenly — in the last couple of years with the current government — they have become allergic to enforcing the border between ports of entry.”  

“Why would the United States renegotiate this deal? They would never do that because they want as many of their refugee claimants in their country to leave the United States — that’s their  interest.”

Other immigration experts who spoke to True North on background agreed it’s highly doubtful America would renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The Trudeau government’s 2019 budget (projected to saddle Canadians with another $19.8 billion in national debt) released on Tuesday also reiterated the change in tune from the Liberal government towards asylum seekers illegally cutting in line of those patiently and legally waiting their turns to come to Canada.  

“Canadian immigration, border, and law enforcement officials — including from the Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — will be better positioned to detect and intercept individuals who cross Canadian borders irregularly and who try to exploit Canada’s immigration system,” reads the beginning of a section in the budget which sets aside $1.18 billion over five years to implement a “Border Enforcement Strategy.” The plan includes more funding to process refugee claims faster, as well as promptly deport those who have their claims denied.

This is in stark contrast to the Liberals previous position over the last two years. Before now, they downplayed the crisis at the border and denied those illegally entering the country were queue jumpers.

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in early 2017 tweeted out a misleading tweet advertising to the world’s tens of millions of displaced people — as well as its hundreds of millions of impoverished — they were welcome to come to Canada the government retroactively tried to dissuade some immigrant communities’ members from illegally crossing into Canada. The National Post revealed through an access to information request that inquiries from would-be asylum seekers to Canadian embassies in many countries spiked, directly caused by Trudeau’s tweet heard round the world.

“We have made targeted investments and outreach strategies to correct misinformation about our asylum system and discourage irregular migration,” said Minister Blair’s senior communications advisor Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux to True North in an email.

“This has also involved direct work with U.S. visa issuance officers to align our visa issuance practices and identify new risk indicators. IRCC and CBSA officials have also been working with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers to identify visa fraud with a view towards deterring migrants who intend on using the U.S. as a transit route to enter Canada between ports of entry.”

“Our outreach efforts have contributed to consecutive decreases in the number of border crossings over the past few months as well as decreases when compared to the same time last year.”

Although illegal border crossings have ebbed over the last few winter months (down several hundred a month from this time last year) the number of asylum seekers arriving by airport on visas and then making a refugee claim upon arrival has shot up over the last year and half as well, including a spike in Mexican claims due to the Trudeau government waiving the traveller visa requirement for that nationality.  

The Trudeau government is also speeding up the processing of refugee claims, aiming to process a total of 50,000 claims a year. As the number of refugee claimants arriving at airports and at the border spiked in the past two years, the Trudeau government gave marginal additional funding to the Immigration and Refugee Board. This led to a backlog of tens of thousands of claims, and the average wait time for refugee claimants’ hearings climbed to two years.

Immigration and Refugee Board judges typically take at least a year to train, and the lack of judges to process claims was exacerbated in 2017 because the Trudeau government fired experienced Conservative-appointed judges with newly appointed judges, many with no experience in immigration law.

The budget also earmarks $77 million over five years for increased law enforcement at the border. However, if experts’ prediction that the U.S. won’t agree to closing the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement any time soon is correct, no amount of additional border guards is going to stop asylum seekers from illegally entering Canada to make refugee claims.

A likely reason the Trudeau government is now doing a turnaround on illegal border crossings is that it’s an election year and public polls show more Canadians than not disapprove of asylum seekers entering Canada illegally.

Additionally, news outlet Blacklock’s Reporter, via an access to information request, obtained results from a federal research study (costing $245,328) which found a growing resentment towards illegal border crossers among Canadians, especially from foreign-born Canadians and permanent residencies who legally came to Canada.

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