Desperate asylum seekers are crossing the Canadian border, and did so in the dead of winter. This has precipitated an emotionally charged, political debate. Simplistic solutions abound, notably loud calls to deploy more resources at Canada’s land border.
But there are serious limits to what throwing money at the border can accomplish. Migrants have been crossing illegally in full view of Canadian authorities, even after being warned they would be arrested. And enhanced enforcement at the border will hardly deter those intent on crossing.
So what can we do?
First, Canadians need to realize immigration is actually a national security policy. We need to grow immigrant levels, but in a way that balances fairness, equity, safety and prosperity.
The initial generation of economic migrants may fill labour-market gaps, even while tending to incur higher health, social and education costs than established Canadians. Yet, the real benefit accrues from well-integrated, well-educated subsequent generations. Unlike much of the rest of the world, Canada does not just take in refugees, it welcomes future Canadians.
How many refugees Canada should accept is controversial. Canada could, and should, take in more refugees if its approach were more systematic in spreading the burden across the country. The means, however, are not up for debate. Canada’s approach to refugees is premised on working systematically with international organizations to identify a limited number of refugees in greatest need of resettlement, and who are reasonably well-matched with Canadian society.
That principled approach is meant to give the most vulnerable and destitute a fair chance. By having the resources, know-how and stamina to make it to Canada, the bulk of illegal entrants from the United States do not fall into that category. There are millions of people in the world worthy of protection under our international treaty obligations; so, how is one to choose?
Encouraging people to jump the queue and cherry-pick their preferred country of settlement undermines Canada’s principled approach to refugees. Is it really in Canada’s interest to encourage people who are already in the United States to cross the border illegally and evade the rule-of-law-based Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States?
What we should be asking is: How did migrants who are crossing illegally into Canada enter the United States in the first place? After all, if they had a legitimate refugee claim, they could have long ago filed it. It also hardly follows that those who are subject to removal from the United States should necessarily be taken in by Canada.
To safeguard the integrity of our refugee and immigration strategy, Canada needs more resources beyond the border. By and large, Canada is already pretty good at this and getting better at working with allied and partner countries to forestall the arrival of illegal entrants.
Remember the arrivals of the MV Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea on Vancouver Island in 2009 and 2010? It was no accident more boats did not arrive. It was the result of concerted, deliberate, strategic action by the government of the day.
Never has it been more difficult to enter Canada by irregular means; crossing between ports of entry is a last resort. Since November, 2016, the Electronic Travel Authorization makes it much harder to fly to Canada using false or forged travel documents. Canada has also improved the sharing of entry-exit data at ports of entry with the United States. To reduce the rise in illegal crossings to the new U.S. administration is overly simplistic. The recent surge in irregular crossings is instead a symptom of the confluence of these changes.
In sum, putting more resources at the border is wrong-headed and misinformed. Instead, Canada needs more resources beyond the border, especially for intelligence and immigration enforcement, to ensure that those whose refugee claims are denied are, indeed, removed.
If Canada’s fairly principled approach to refugees is compromised, then that undermines Canada’s demographic competitiveness, economic prosperity and national security strategy.
Christian Leuprecht is a professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University and a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
“Voices of the College” is a series of written interventions from Members of the College of New Scholars. The articles provide timely looks at matters of importance to Canadians, expressed by the emerging generation of Canada’s academic leadership. Opinions presented are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the College of New Scholars nor the Royal Society of Canada.