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Trump’s America is not a “safe country” for refugees

Protest outside the White House against Trump’s immigration policies, January 31. Twitter photo by @TimNHyde.

The Council of Canadians has long opposed the Safe Third Country agreement.


In 2005, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow explained, “The Smart Border Accord includes a Safe Third Country agreement, which requires Canada to turn back refugee claimants who have arrived at our border via the United States. The agreement is ostensibly based on the principle that refugees must claim refuge in the first country they reach as long as that country is ‘safe’ for them. But it is really based on strong pressure from the [US President George W.] Bush White House, which views refugees as a security problem, to create a seamless North American refugee system, with the terms and conditions set in Washington.”


The Globe and Mail further explains, “Migrants who cross at open fields or other unguarded areas are not covered by the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, and have the right to make a refugee claim in Canada.” That provision is part of the reason we are seeing an increased number of refugees risking their lives in the cold and snow to cross into Canada unofficially.


The situation they are fleeing from in the US is serious. CNN reports, “From 2001 to 2015, there were 2,545 anti-Islamic incidents targeting 3,052 Muslims, according to the FBI. Last year, anti-Muslim hate times surged 67 per cent [and] many Muslims believe hate crimes are under-reported by victims and not pursued vigorously by police and prosecutors. This year, the FBI has begun counting anti-Arab incidents as well.”


And Al Jazeera has noted, “The number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the US has nearly tripled since Donald Trump launched his presidential election campaign in 2015. The Southern Poverty Law Center [also] documented nearly 900 hate incidents within the 10 days after Trump’s election on November 8, but noted it was ‘almost certainly a small fraction of the actual number’ because of under-reporting. Many of the perpetrators invoked the president-elect’s name during the incidents, indicating the surge was linked or motivated by his electoral win, the report said.”


Now, The Guardian is reporting, “The Trump administration considered a proposal [by the Department of Homeland Security] to mobilize as many as 100,000 national guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by the Associated Press. Staffers in the Department of Homeland Security said the proposal had been discussed as recently as last Friday [February 17], the AP reported.”


On January 28, the day Trump imposed the travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” But Toronto Star national affairs columnist Thomas Walkom points out, “If the Trudeau government truly believes the US under Trump has become anti-refugee, suspending [the Safe Third Country] agreement and allowing more to apply for asylum at the border would be a practical way to help.”


Instead of doing that, Trudeau stood beside Trump at the White House during a media conference on February 13 as the US president stated, “We have some wonderful ideas on immigration. We have some, I think, very strong, very tough ideas on the tremendous problem that we have with terrorism. And I think when we put them all together, which will be very, very quickly — we have a group of very talented people — we will see some very, very obvious results.”


Among those ideas: Trump wants to hire 5,000 more border guards and build a wall between the US and Mexico, while Trudeau moves forward with C-23, a pre-clearance border security bill that would give US border guards new powers to question, search and arrest people at airports, bus stations and train terminals in Canada. C-23 would also allow US border guards in Canada to be armed and to conduct strip searches on travellers. It also means that permanent residents of Canada seeking to re-enter Canada via the US could be turned away at US airports.


Our ally Syed Hussan has commented on the increased number of people fleeing the US into Canada. He says, “At this rate, there may be an extra 4,000 new applicants [this] year. …The photos of smiling cops welcoming children could not be further from the truth. The RCMP is arresting and detaining people, even though immigration is an administrative matter and not under criminal / policing jurisdiction.” He also notes, “Resist Canadian exceptionalism. Canada is not safe – it has just been weeks since a white supremacist murdered six people in prayer. Thousands of people are denied refugee status and detained every year. Just as many are deported.”


The Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to rescind the Safe Third Country agreement, lift the cap of 1,000 applications for privately sponsored refugees which has already been reached this year, fast-track refugee applications approved or nearly completed by the US before Trump’s ban, withdraw C-23, and ensure health care and support for those crossing the border into Canada.