Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Emergency study on Irregular Border Crossings

In July, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration completed an emergency study on the situation of asylum seekers crossing into Canada irregularly from the US border.

We heard from 3 federal Ministers, 1 federal Parliamentary Secretary, 1 provincial Minister, and 1 Mayor.

In 2017, 1,900 individuals were returned to the U.S due to The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), more than 4 times the number in 2014. People are calling the recent influx of irregular migrants from the United States a crisis, but the only crisis is the government’s reactionary approach and bad management of the situation.

Throughout the study I made it clear that I think this agreement should be suspended as frankly, the United States is not a safe country for asylum seekers, especially with the latest decision from the Trump administration that it will not accept any applications for gender-based asylum claims based on domestic violence and gang violence. It is clear that the government will continue to avoid the elephant in the room that is the Trump administration; which continues to violate international and humanitarian law, enact racist immigration policy, and fuel the rhetoric of xenophobia and hate. It is also clear that Conservatives offer only rhetoric and ideas of somehow shutting down the border, which officials continue to inform us is not actually possible so long as we adhere to our own laws and international obligations.

It was a humbling experience to listen to Seidu Mohammed tell his story and thank Canada for “saving his life”. In his home country of Ghana, he risked imprisonment and lynching by homophobic mobs due to his sexual orientation. While I am proud that he was able to eventually find safety and sanctuary here, I am saddened that he had endure such hardship to get here. His testimony really demonstrates that America is no longer a safe third world country as, after a long, dangerous journey in which his friend died of starvation beside him, he was then put in US detention for 9 months. He was not provided with a lawyer and the court required him to pay $28,000 to be conditionally released from detention. Even after his brother paid this, he still feared for his life due to the constant, realistic threats of deportation from Immigration officers. He fled to Canada in search of safety and lost all his fingers to frostbite in the process.  

Asylum seekers do not want to have to make these dangerous crossings, but they have no choice since the Safe Third Country Agreement prevents them from coming through regular crossings from the United States. We should not make vulnerable people risk their lives in search of safety and protection by suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Mrs. Anne Woolger, founder of Matthew House Refugee Reception Services and Mr. Alex Neve, from Amnesty International, strongly supported me in this view from a Human Rights perspective. The Minister claimed that the government is meeting “our international obligations to continue to provide asylum to those who seek it”, yet the Safe Third Country Agreement clearly undermines this.

To my disappointment, even after hearing Mohammed’s story, the Minister refused to acknowledge that the United States is not a safe third country. Even worse, I had to call the Minister out more than once on his use of terminology; dehumanizing asylum seekers and their dignity by using the words “illegal” and “irregular” interchangeably. However,  the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, states clearly under section 133 that asylum seekers who cross over, directly or indirectly, are actually not committing an offence.

We must not lose sight of who we are as a country and lose ourselves in the rhetoric of fear. This is not a crisis. We’ve seen similar situations before. We simply need a rational approach that recognizes reality, ensures our public services are well funded, and that our policies treat asylum seekers with the compassion and humanity they deserve.