I was recently visiting my parents in Alberta. At 79 years old, my mother is somewhat conservative in her views of the other, people perceived as different from her.
In the course of discussion, she commented that she “doesn’t mind people coming into Canada, except the ones that are crossing illegally.” I know she is not alone in this view. I would like to share my response.
People who are crossing the border without going through the regular immigration channels are crossing “irregularly”, not “illegally”.
It is not illegal to flee unsafe circumstances. It is not illegal to seek asylum.
International and Canadian law protect the right of refugees to flee to safety, including, if necessary, by entering a country in violation of immigration process. “This is based on the fundamental right,” says Canada Council for Refugees, “as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to seek asylum from persecution in other countries (Art. 14).”
The United Nations Refugee Convention and Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) both say that refugees must not be penalized for seeking asylum.
I painted it more descriptively for mom: “if you fled to the U.S. to find safety after your home was destroyed, and instead your family was separated and detained and you found yourself under the rule of a xenophobic government, and therefore sought refuge elsewhere, should you be called a criminal and sent back?”
The Safe Third Country Agreement sees most forced to return to the U.S. Under current U.S. policies, is it really a safe country for immigrants and refugees? Though he later “clarified” the statement, Trump referred to immigrants as “animals”, a dehumanising statement to justify the U.S.’s inhumane behaviour.
Who is crossing into Canada? According to IRCC statistics, the top four home countries are Haiti, Nigeria, US and India (not Mexico, as many people assume). Haitians, for example, are living with Trump’s announcement to end their Temporary Protected Status in the U.S. They are forced into deciding on a future elsewhere, knowing that they will not be able to remain in the U.S.
“But what about security risks?” came the next question. People crossing irregularly want to claim asylum in Canada — they present themselves as soon as they can to law enforcement officials, so that they can make their claim, and go through security screening. Refugee claimants are not trying to avoid the law — they are just trying to find a safe a place to live.