As American asylum claimants climb sixfold in 2017, both Trump and Trudeau are to blame

After Haitians and Nigerians, Americans were the third largest group of asylum seekers in 2017.

Lucas Holtvluwer Montreal QC

According to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2,250 US citizens applied for asylum in Canada during 2017. This massive influx marks an increase of more than six times the 2016 total and is the largest since 1994. After Haitians and Nigerians, Americans were the third largest group of asylum seekers in 2017. According to experts, the vast majority of these American claimants are children of Haitian asylum seekers. As reported in The Guardian, Stéphane Handfield, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer said, “Most of the Americans applying for refugee status are the children of non-residents. They are US citizens because they were born there, but they come across the border with their parents because they don’t want to be separated.”The reason for the influx is twofold.

The Trump Effect

Firstly, the primary reason for this sudden influx is the election of Donald Trump and his strict enforcement of immigration policy. Past presidents of both parties have taken a much more lax approach on immigration and have at times chosen not to fully enforce all the rules on the books. However, when Trump was elected, in part because of his hardline immigration viewpoint, marking a significant shift in how the White House enforced immigration policy. Since his election, Trump has cracked down on illegal immigration on America’s southern border and has removed the temporary protected status of people living in the U.S. from a number of countries including Haiti. This, in turn, has resulted in an influx of asylum claimants at the Canadian border, particularly in Quebec, as people from the affected countries look to claim asylum in Canada rather than be deported back to their home countries. Given this change in policy, a moderate influx is surely understandable, if not to be expected. However, an increase of 600% from 2016 to 2017 certainly raises some eyebrows and call for some further explanation.

Trudeau's virtue signalling

This, of course, is where Trudeau comes in. Being the image-conscious Prime Minister that he is and seeing an opportunity to display his virtuous self on the world stage, Trudeau tweeted in January of 2017:

This one self-righteous tweet took a slowly leaking tap and opened it all the way up. One can only imagine how many headaches Trudeau could have saved himself, the Canadian Border Services Agency and the Immigration Refugee Board if he had just fought back the urge to hit send. One can hardly blame the man really. An opportunity pumps up Canada’s welcoming reputation at a time where the U.S. had just elected an unabashedly America First president must have seemed just too good to pass up.

The price of this problem

Alas, this brief moment of hubris would have a costly and lengthy effect. Since the 28th of January, 2017, the day that tweet was sent, thousands have illegally crossed the border to claim asylum in Canada. To date, more than 37,000 people have crossed the border illegally, been intercepted by the RCMP and brought in for processing since Trudeau’s turgid tweet was sent. According to the latest figures from August of this year, the federal government has already spent $270 million in the past year and a half on irregular border crossers. That’s not all this debacle has cost Canadian taxpayers, however. Canadian Border Services Agency spent $54.5 million between April 2017 and June 2018 on dealing with irregular asylum claimants. The Immigration Department says they’ve spent $117 million since January 2017 and the RCMP is reporting a paltry bill of only $7.3 million since June of 2017. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not include the Immigration and Refugee Board which has spent just under $17 million in their efforts to process well over 30,000 claims since January 2017. For those of you keeping score at home, that brings us to a grand total of just over $465 million dollars thus far; funds graciously provided by you, the Canadian taxpayer. Now, where will this all go from here? Well, nobody can be certain but as it stands, thanks to the harsher winter weather, the stream of asylum seekers should substantially decrease in the coming months. If Trudeau and his government can successfully walk back the harm his careless tweet inflicted, as they’ve already begun to do, they may be able to reduce the asylum numbers back to their normal levels. In the meantime, for Canadian taxpayers, the damage is already done.


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