How to deal with “irregular” immigrants/refugees

Politicians of all stripes are weighing in on the Roxham Road immigrant/refugee “problem” and there is push back from various organizations who feel bad for the refugees. Both sides are using half truths to make their cases.

Before explaining my views, let’s start with some facts with which most Canadians agree. First, a large majority know that Canada needs immigrants because our population is aging and we do not have enough tax payers to support quality healthcare and the benefits our rapidly expanding senior demographic needs. At the same time, immigrants (and even more so, refugees) put pressure on our social safety net and drive-up housing costs. Long term Canada gains from getting more skilled immigrants but short term there are pressures which mean that we cannot just have wide open borders.

Second, a solid majority realize Canada is a wealthy country and we should help refugees who come from very dangerous situations.

Third, we must not lump together immigrants or potential refugees who come through regular border crossings with those who make illegal crossing whether at Roxham road or anywhere else. The former is legal while the latter is not.

What some politicians are saying

People coming to Canada outside normal border crossings are costing Canadians a fortune and they get clothing, housing, free medical care and are treated better than our own homeless.

With no screening, some coming over are criminals, drug smugglers, human traffickers, etc. Further, we quickly lose track of the location of those who want to disappear.

Premier Legault says, send them to Ontario since Quebec is assuming an unfair share of the burden. Of course, Ontario does not want them either.

Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted a few years back that refugees are welcome in Canada and implied that we are better than the US during the time President Trump was taking a very hard line on illegal immigrants. The result was more and more immigrants/refugees started coming to Canada but not at regular border crossings. They could not cross at regular border crossings because they would have been turned back since the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between Canada and the US says that refugees must apply for asylum in the first safe country to which they come.  However, the treaty only applies to normal border crossings. Trudeau now says the treaty must be renegotiated so that it will apply to both regular and irregular border crossings.

What refugee sympathizers say

A front-page article in the Friday March 3 issue of the Montreal Gazette told the story of an irregular border crosser who came over in 2017 with his wife and children (now numbering 6). This year the whole family, will become citizens. Based on the article they will be excellent additions to our cultural mosaic. The implication is that these are the people Canada needs and we should be more welcoming. However, making policy based on one case is not smart. There are other stories where the illegal border crossers are criminals and maybe even committed murder or rape. Are most illegal border crossers people we want or not. We have no statistics but certainly screening people before they come to the country or even at the border is better than no screening until we catch them, if we catch them.

In the same issue of the Gazette, an Op-ed article argued the STCA should be suspended so refugees could make an application at the regular border crossing. This would eliminate irregular border crossings and would be more humane. However, effectively we would be opening our borders to anyone who could get there, even if coming from a safe third country, the US.

My views

All countries have the right to decide who they allow to enter, stay and become permanent residents and/or citizens. Canada has an excellent and generous track record of taking in refugees and immigrants. The same is true of the US. There is nothing wrong with screening potential immigrants before they come to Canada and selecting ones who will benefit the country. Letting people simply skip the queue and just show up is much more expensive for Canada. For refugees, it is a similar system and we screen potential refugees, as best we can, before they come to Canada to ascertain if they are legitimate refugees.

The problem we have now started in the US at their southern border. Under President Trump efforts, which were partially successful, were made to the stop the influx of undocumented border crossers. However, under President Biden the borders were effectively thrown wide open causing immense problems for border states including murder, rape, human trafficking, drug smuggling and huge costs to house the undocumented. Now some of the border states are bussing the immigrants to “sanctuary cities” which supposedly have very liberal views on the issue. At least, that was the case until the busses started arriving. Now in New York City they are exporting the problem by bussing the newcomers to the Canadian border and inviting them to walk across at places like Roxham Road. Thanks to Trudeau’s virtue signalling tweet, we are now a “sanctuary country.”

What do we do now?

Renegotiating the STCA to treat all people crossing the border the same and returning them is an excellent idea. The US should agree since they are also concerned about illegals coming from Canada to the US. Further, the biggest number of undocumented border crossers come from Mexico. Some are criminals backed by the cartels and now many fly to Canada where no visa is required for entry. They have fake passports, vanish into Canada and then sneak back to the US at irregular spots because US Border agents are very good at detecting them if they use regular crossing points. That is why they do not cross at regular border crossings.

If the US drags their feet, or do not agree with a new STCA, Canada should unilaterally return undocumented border crossers to the US regardless of where they cross. If US border agents can take people to Roxham Road, as they have, and if NYC can bus them to Roxham Road, then we can return them.

Does our Prime Minister have the guts to stand up for law abiding Canadian citizens. We will see. This may strike some as being cruel but I am not talking about returning people to Afghanistan, Iran, or any other dangerous country but to the country that more people around the world want to come to than any other. If we just accept all comers and take care of them for years, as we do now, before deciding and then deporting some, that is cruel. If we toughen up our policies and border, fewer will come and being in the US is not exactly a terrible hardship, particularly compared to countries from which true refugees have fled. If we do not, then we have only ourselves to blame when crime, including murder and rape, increases; when the fentanyl crisis explodes even more than it has already; when our healthcare system must deal with even more people; and when we have more and more homeless or marginalized residents instead of ones who will be assets to the country.

Finally, sentences for human smuggling should be dramatically increased to match those in the US. It should also be a crime to knowingly help illegal aliens by driving them to an irregular crossing or paying for their transportation. Canadian and US border agents should work together to stop the smugglers rather than aiding and abetting the crime as some US agents have done.

A final request

As always, allow me to ask you to forward/share this article with those who might be interested and urge them to subscribe. My blog is free and will never have advertising but unless enough people get others to subscribe, it will be hard to get a critical mass. Hundreds of you are already on my mailing list but thousands would be much better.


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Picture of Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Steinberg has a BSc from McGill University, a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University, and was a professor at Concordia University. He was Mayor of the Town of Hampstead for 16 years and led the demerger battle. He was was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and is currently President of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association.

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