The Migrant Crisis, American Style

(This column originally appeared in the Weekly Standard)

By: Candice Malcolm

June 4, 2018

Crossing the southern border was more difficult than I expected. After telling the border officer that I’m a journalist coming down to report on illegal border crossings, I was sent to another building for more questioning. Accompanied by an intern and a local freelance photographer with dual citizenship, we were brought into a holding room for secondary screening. After a few rounds of questions and a thorough search of our car, the border officials finally let us cross. We drove less than three miles down an inconspicuous country road and arrived at a popular illegal border crossing—the location where upwards of 95 percent of illegal border crossings take place, according to recent statistics.

When we pulled up, we were greeted by a group of activists who had mistaken us for migrants. I spoke to two people from Amnesty International and a humanitarian activist who later told me she was also a local government official. Within 10 minutes, the first car arrived: a taxi carrying an African family of four. The activists handed out water and hats as the family gathered their belongings and went straight across the unmanned border. Within a few minutes, another taxi, carrying another African family, did the exact same thing. Another journalist was at this location a few days later, and in her 31-minute Periscope video she captured dozens of migrants—including people from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Haiti, and Jordan—forming a steady flow across the border. She recorded two different limousine buses dropping off well-dressed migrants with piles of suitcases to walk across the border. Some refused to be interviewed; others happily recounted the steps they had taken to get to the border to claim asylum. One women described in detail why she was taking this risk—for my children, she said, for their safety and their education.

We were witnessing the global migration crisis, unfolding on our porous southern border, with our own eyes. But this is a different southern border than the one you might see and read about in the news. My colleagues and I are Canadian, and this is the scene at Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, where migrants illegally cross into the rural community of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, Canada.

More than 600 migrants crossed at this one location over Easter weekend, and border officials expect as many as 400 per day during the summer months. Last year was a record year for illegal immigration. Canada received 50,440 asylum applications—double the number of the previous year and five times higher than in recent years. Approximately 20,500 of these asylum seekers crossed the border illegally into Canada, most right here at Roxham Road. And 2018 looks to be an even more challenging year. During the first four months of 2018, about 7,500 migrants crossed into Canada illegally—a pace three times higher than last year.

This has forced the Liberal government, led by pro-immigration, pro-diversity prime minister Justin Trudeau, to backpedal on its previous messages of openness and inclusion to all. One top official recently warned that illegal entry is no “free ticket” into Canada, while another stated that “we estimate that a bit more than 90 percent of irregular migrants do not meet our criteria, and that they must leave.”

The official later clarified that his “90 percent” figure was specifically referring to Haitian migrants who streamed into Canada last year after hysteria and misinformation swept through the diaspora communities in New York and Florida. Following the 2010 earthquake that devastated the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation, both Canada and the United States created special temporary immigration programs for displaced migrants. Canada’s protected status program expired in 2016, and Canada once again began deporting migrants back to Haiti. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security similarly announced that its protected status program for Haitians would come to an end in 2019. Rather than returning to their country of origin, or facing eventual deportation by the Trump administration, some 8,286 Haitian nationals heeded the advice of YouTube videos and WhatsApp messages telling them to go to Canada—described as a “haven” for all migrants.

Canada’s prime minister months earlier had sought to define his country in similar terms. “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau declared on Twitter on January 28, 2017, the day after Trump issued his heavy-handed travel ban. The tweet made international news, and the liberal intelligentsia praised Trudeau for his compassionate position towards migrants and refugees. Several media outlets, however, interpreted Trudeau’s virtue-signaling as a legitimate policy announcement.

Misinformation began to spread, and many people believed that Canada had committed to accepting those who were being turned away or deported by the Trump administration. No such policy changes were announced by the Trudeau government, but public documents revealed chaos and confusion at Canadian consulates and embassies around the world. “Clients are asking if it is true that Canada will accept the refugees the U.S. are rejecting, and what is the process to do so. I would imagine that missions all around the world are seeing these enquiries increasing since the weekend,” wrote one Canadian diplomat. “We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from the public about requesting refugee status in Canada, and a number clearly having links with our Prime Minister’s tweet,” wrote another. The following 15 months would see 67,000 unscreened and un-vetted aspiring refugees arrive in Canada.

Contrary to rumors being spread through social media, Canadian immigration law is strict; and it explicitly prohibits migrants coming from the United States from applying for refugee status in Canada. The Safe Third Country Agreement, a bilateral treaty signed by the United States and Canada, requires migrants to make their asylum claim in the first safe country they arrive in, either Canada or the United States. If a migrant attempted to cross into Canada from the United States at an official Port of Entry with the intention of claiming asylum, Canadian border guards would simply turn that migrant away. At an unofficial border crossing like Roxham Road, however, there are no border guards to turn migrants away. Instead, Canadian police arrest illegal border crossers and send them to a holding center in Canada to be screened and vetted. At this point, once safely inside Canada, migrants make their asylum claims. Canada’s international treaty obligations prevent officials from deporting self-proclaimed refugees once they’re in Canada, and Canadian law entitles eligible migrants to due process in a refugee hearing.

This is all an elaborate loophole to circumvent the Safe Third Country Agreement. Human smuggling rings charge thousands of dollars and promise clients a new opportunity for safety and freedom in Canada. And while the media focus their attention on families crossing in desperation—fleeing war or fleeing Trump—there are plenty of nefarious actors attempting to hide amidst the asylum seekers. In early May, Canadian officials intercepted a registered sex offender wanted in Texas. The Nigerian man had recently pleaded guilty in the United States to possession and distribution of child pornography but disappeared before sentencing—only to show up at Roxham Road. He’s not alone. An August 2017 report from Canada’s Global News stated that “multiple refugee claimants have been found in possession of child pornography.”

While Canadian officials desperately try to stop the flow of illegal migration, Canadian laws and public policy create major incentives for these migrants to come to Canada. Illegal migrants are arrested and detained by Canadian officials who do brief initial screening and background checks. As long as migrants meet Canada’s broad eligibility standards, they are released into Canada and free to travel wherever they wish as long as they return for their refugee hearing date—now being scheduled 20 months hence. In the meantime, they receive gold-plated access to Canada’s public health care system through a program called the Interim Federal Health Program. This program remarkably—thanks to well-organized refugee activists and lobbyists—provides asylum seekers with better care than Canadian citizens receive. The program offers the basic care given to all Canadians, free of charge and funded by taxpayers, but it also includes additional services such as dental care, vision care, prescription medication, and home care—services Canadians pay for out of pocket.

On top of this general health care coverage, asylum seekers also receive social welfare payments, government housing, and access to Canada’s public education system. The Canadian immigration department revealed that migrants receive up to C$20,000 per person, per year in government handouts, from public education to welfare payments.

One of the unintended consequences of Canada’s generous welfare state is that it invites free-riding. Concerns about foreign free-riders were once minimal thanks to Canada’s remote location and the fact that it shares a border only with another advanced Western liberal democracy. But because of the modern ease of world travel, free-riders now come from every corner of the planet to take advantage of Canada’s generosity—and many of them make their way into the Great White North from the United States.

America’s southern neighbor is often accused of being complicit in facilitating illegal immigration into the United States. Mexican border officials have developed a laissez-faire attitude towards unwanted migrants entering at their border, based on an apparent assumption that these migrants are just passing through on their way to America. But likewise, U.S. embassies in Africa are issuing tourist visas to Nigerian nationals who, upon landing in New York, make their way directly to Roxham Road to claim asylum.

Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Trudeau, have taken up the habit of blaming the problem on the country’s southern neighbor. “Trudeau pins Canada’s illegal-immigration woes on Trump administration,” read a recent headline in the Washington Times. The article quoted a Canadian official alleging that the “White House is not co-operating” with Canadian efforts to secure the border. It’s always easier to blame the problem on someone else; the reality is that Canada bears responsibility for protecting its borders and upholding the integrity of its immigration system.

But America, too, has an interest in stopping the illegal flow of migrants crossing its northern border. If nefarious actors can slip north into Canada, it means they can also return south.

Canada and the United States share the world’s longest international border. We also share a tradition of ordered liberty and common law that dates back...(READ MORE)