Canada’s Successful Immigration Policy Is Vulnerable. Unofficial Entry Points Need To Be Managed.

Canada’s federal political parties agree that immigration is good for the country. In the United States, the Republicans and Democrats have an intense but incoherent disagreement.

There was a lag in immigrant arrivals in 2020-2021 because of Covid travel restrictions. Prime Minister Trudeau has more than made up for that by upping the targeted numbers to 432,000 this year, increasing to 451,000 in 2024.

Eighty percent of the admitted immigrants are chosen because of their ability to contribute to the economy, many of them nominated under provincially managed programs. This is particularly valuable in 2022, with so many occupations short of workers, building trades and health care professionals being among the most important. Most of the rest are carefully vetted refugees.

Canada and the United States have a Safe Third Country Agreement which allows asylum seekers arriving at a border crossing to be sent back to make their claim.

A persistent issue is hopefuls crossing into Canada, most notably at Roxham Road in Quebec, where the agreement does not apply because it is not an official crossing point. Some of them, most notably from Nigeria, fly across the Atlantic to the United States with the express intention of entering Canada illegally.

This was spurred on by Trudeau’s ill-advised tweet in 2017: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

Some of these asylum seekers successfully apply for refugee status but many just make their way without it. The numbers have been surging. In May the Quebec government demanded that the federal government shut down the Roxham Road crossing.

According to Premier François Legault, at least 100 people every day were arriving. Few if any are prevented from entering Canada. They add considerable burden to the province’s social services, although for now they are also a response to the country’s labour shortage.

Regardless, it is a trifle compared to what the Americans are experiencing.

In the last twelve months there have been close to two million migrant encounters at or near the southern border. Of these, close to half were expelled under Title 42, a Trump-era anti-Covid policy that has continued under the Biden administration. The rest are likely to apply for asylum.

That process is dreadfully slow. According to Syracuse University, asylum seekers across the country wait an average of 810 days for an initial hearing. Republican Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona lead the affected states, which struggle to cope with the numbers but receive little support from their northern neighbours.

To make a point the governors have begun sending busloads of irregular arrivals to northern cities such as Washington, Chicago, and New York. Many of them call themselves “sanctuary cities” that have laws, ordinances, or other regulations that obstruct immigration enforcement. This makes them safe for undocumented immigrants.

The people being shipped by border state governors are in the country legally if they are awaiting hearings for their asylum claim. Illinois Democrat Governor JB Pritzker has declared a state of emergency unlocking resources to support the arrivals. That such measures are necessary might seem bizarre to the mayors of El Paso or Del Rio, smaller cities with larger challenges.

Many observers point to the need to reform American immigration laws, which are hopelessly archaic and complicated. Pundits mourn the inability of Congress to find a bipartisan solution.

Which brings us back to Canada’s simpler context. There is no official number of people arriving at unofficial border crossings, many of which are unmonitored. Perhaps it is as many as 60,000 per year.

To have a per capita experience equivalent to the Americans would mean perhaps 20,000 per month. Unlike the United States, we do not have a process for sending a meaningful proportion back.

Canada has a government that need not struggle for a consensus to implement a solution. The opposition Conservatives would support appropriate measures to manage the illegal entries.

Immigration has Canada’s population growing at almost twice the rate of the United States and every other G7 country from 2016 to 2021. Immigrants are chosen for their likelihood to succeed and contribute to the economy. In addition, we still receive more than 50,000 refugees per year, most of them privately sponsored.

The immigration policy and its outcomes have strong public support. That support will be eroded if the number of irregular border crossers continues to grow. Perhaps some governor with a grievance against Canada will send chartered buses full of asylum seekers to Roxham Road.

Except for Trudeau’s 2017 tweet, management of the immigration file has reflected well on the Liberals. They need to deal with the illegal crossings.


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