By Jeremy J. Nuttall for TheTyee.ca
Residents of a small town in southern Quebec gathered Sunday to try and make sense of their hot spot status in Donald Trump’s new world order.
Hemmingford, Quebec is one of the few places in Canada on the front lines of an influx of refugees coming from the United States.
Representatives for police, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a group that helps refugees in nearby Montreal sat in front of a packed rec centre gym at an event organized by a local United church.
The town is near an increasingly popular place for refugee-status seekers to enter Canada without using a designated crossing. Doing so is illegal under the Customs Act. But if they were to cross into Canada at a legal crossing, they would be sent back under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugees to seek status in their first safe country of entry.
Some who arrive at Hemmingford are reported to have wanted to live in the U.S. but were denied status there. Others intended to end up in Canada, but entered the U.S. first because there they could obtain a visa more easily.
In Hemmingford last month, a photo was taken of a Mountie smiling as he held up a young child making her way into Canada with her family. Around the same time, other photos showed handcuffed refugees detained by Canadian police. Some are calling Hemmingford, population 808, a terminus in a new underground railroad.
As their home becomes known as a back door into Canada, Hemmingford residents Sunday displayed a relaxed attitude toward the situation, and many were at the meeting hoping to find out how they can help.
Happy to have them
Hélène Gravel lives at the end of one of the first driveways refugees pass after they cross the rusty gate and ditch near a white marker signifying the international boundary between Canada and the U.S.
The crossing sits at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, about 10 kilometres from Hemmingford, where Roxham Road crosses into the U.S. near Champlain, N.Y.
There’s no Statue of Liberty here, not even a plaque, just trees and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sitting in their vehicles waiting to arrest those crossing for breaching the Customs Act.
Gravel said it’s nothing new to see people crossing — she’s watched it happen for 20 years — but never like this.
“There were only a few people every year, but now it’s a lot every day,” she said.
Recently the Canadian government told journalists about 2,500 people crossed into Canada via Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. illegally in 2016, and since the beginning of this year alone there have been about 430 in those regions combined.
Almost 300 of those were in Quebec. Quebec borders have seen a 230 per cent increase in “irregular” border crossings over last January.
It used to be mostly young, single men who would cross, Gravel said. If they happened to see her they would ask if they had arrived in Canada. Now, she said, it’s families she sees being picked up by police and driven past her property.
She reckons many of them are leaving the United States fearing the Donald Trump administration as the president targets immigrants and refugees as a place to lay the blame for the nation’s woes.
Last Tuesday, during a speech to congress, Trump invited relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants as guests of the address and launched a website listing “victims of immigrant crime,” despite research showing immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.
On Monday, Trump announced tweaks to his travel ban after it was rejected by a judge last month.
But despite such moves by Trump and his loyalists, Gravel isn’t afraid of living metres from where these refugees come into the country. She’s actually tired of journalists knocking on her door asking her if she’s scared of them.
It is a bit too busy now though, Gravel said, stressing she’s happy to have the refugees come to Canada. She’s already lost one neighbour who no longer comes to his vacation property because the idling police vehicles and crossing refugees have become too much of an intrusion.
“It’s just a quiet place, we are not used to so many people,” she said, explaining she hopes Canada doesn’t establish any permanent processing centre at the crossing. “I live there because it’s quiet.”
Outpost for world’s troubles
It is indeed quiet.
Driving into Hemmingford is like entering a village arranged by a devoted collector of Lilliput Lane housing figurines.
Tall — but not too tall — hardwood trees hug the gutters of the road, giving way to gently sloped grass fields and carefully manicured properties.
A public outdoor skating rink slowly succumbs to the unseasonably warm March temperatures on the cusp of town. Residents stop reluctantly at the town’s lone blinking stoplight at its busiest intersection.
This is rural Quebec; a place for cows, apple cider and comfortable fall fashions. It’s not supposed to be a place where frightened refugees trudge their children across snow in biting cold fleeing a country threatening to send them back to places filled with violence and poverty.
Now Hemmingford has become connected to the world’s troubles as millions of people from places like Somalia and Syria roam outside their countries looking for help.
At Sunday’s rec centre meeting, experts explained why people are coming to Canada, more specifically, why they are coming to this tiny nook of the world.
It’s a matter of geography, RCMP Const. Marcel Pelletier told the crowd at the Hemmingford rec centre. Pelletier said it’s an easy place to cross, but most people using it are bound for places like Toronto, which is obstructed by the Great Lakes.
So, refugees make their way to Roxham Road instead, he said.
There is concern more people could make the trip as the weather warms and how Canada would handle a major influx, and what it would do with the people arrested after crossing.
Canada does hold some refugees, even refugee children, in detention centres, a practice Amnesty International has asked Ottawa to end.
Back at the rec centre, about 150 people who live along the road and in the area were more concerned about helping the refugees than keeping them out of the country or locking them up.
One asks Pelletier if it’s legal for her to feed or shelter people who have crossed illegally. He replies that he’d rather she call the police first.
Others are there to help in a joint letter writing exercise to Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, asking him to rescind the U.S.’s designation as a safe third country.
That would mean refugees wouldn’t have to cross a ditch and rusty gate to enter Canada. They could ask for protection at a legal border crossing and not risk braving the elements to cross in places like Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.
Among the audience on Sunday, knitting a scarf in the third row as she listens, is Jeanine Floyd, who immigrated to Canada herself from the United Kingdom years ago.
She remembers when crossing into the U.S. at the end of Roxham was child’s play for local kids.
“They would go down to the end of the road on their bicycles and they would dare each other to cross,” Floyd said. “This was the most exciting thing that would happen on Roxham, actually crossing the border to America.”
Now the border marker represents something other than fun and games as residents in the area worry about the suffering of those making the journey to the Canadian border.
They want to offer more than meaningless gestures to these people, Floyd says, suggesting that’s why people came together in Hemmingford Sunday.
“I think it’s just that pressure of wanting to fix it,” she says. Her tone goes dour. “We can’t fix it.”
Commentary by Dr. Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia
Throughout the campaign for the White House, Donald Trump sensationalized one of the great sores of U.S. political and social life: the issue of immigrants, notably the undocumented, and what his presidency would do to them.
As Trump asserted to Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, the target here was deporting “the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate.”
To that end, he has also promised to create what he has termed a “deportation force” specifically to “round up” undocumented residents, enabling the “good” ones to enter on a legal basis. This view, incidentally, is common in such countries as Australia and some in the European Union.
Building the wall
Throughout its history with immigration, the United States has had a complex association, swerving between nativist impulse and economic accommodation. The issue of Hispanic immigrants, most notably Mexicans, riles various U.S. citizens concerned that a reconquista, pecking away at U.S. sovereignty, is in the making. Trump’s promised Wall along the Mexican border is not so much a practical response as a viscerally padded one, rooted in the symbol of control long lost.
Since a Trump administration is supposedly going to be all about business, the near impossibility of achieving the totality of such an ignoble dream will come to the fore. The balance sheet of contributions by immigrants, whatever their status, has always outweighed by some good margin what negative aspects the vast pool offers the United States. Furthermore, the undocumented pool provides a class that enables prices, however justly this may seem, to be kept down.
To deport on scale millions of immigrants deemed unsuitable to the U.S. dream would not so much make America great again – to use Trump’s tiresome, sales-pitched line – as it would unmake it. That is merely an observation on consequence, and possibly one the non-ideologues will pick up on.
Shallow on facts
The figure of two to three million drawn out by Trump out of his not so magical hat is also questionable. The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have those figures, at least in so far as they are of the bad egg variety. The Donald, as ever, continues being shallow about the facts.
Trump is also going to be facing considerable opposition on the ground, both from the legal side of matters, and logistical frustrations. The machinery needed to fulfill the removal of such immigrants is patchy, often stuttering due to local measures.
The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution stands out as one the greatest impediments. Full removal proceedings must be undergone in court. Time is required, with the government having to show grounds of alienage and deportability, with the respondent permitted grounds of defence and opportunities to plead for relief from deportation. These points are also outlined in measures implemented by Congress. A burdensome road for the government indeed.
The scale also being promised would be staggering – the ACLU suggests that the whole mass deportation scheme, were it to be implemented, would require the arrest of 15,000 people a day on immigration charges, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Courts charged with immigration cases are bound to suffer acute paralysis.
In hotspot California, opposition and resistance to any such policy from a Trump administration is being promised. In Los Angeles alone reside up to a million undocumented immigrants of the total 11 million in the country. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said on Monday that no favours were going to be given to the federal government, making the point that the LAPD would not abandon precedent in favour of Trump’s new calls.
“We are not going to engage in law enforcement activities solely based on somebody’s immigration status. We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts. That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”
Since 1979, then police chief Daryl Gates signed Special Order 40 prohibiting officers from making contact with someone on the sole grounds of determining whether he or she was in the country on legal grounds. During Gates’ tenure, the supply of those arrested for low-tier crimes to federal agencies for deportation started to dry up. The LAPD, in other words, was uninterested in doing the dirty work of the federal authorities.
This effectively undercuts the issue of identifying the undocumented non-citizens in question. To deport, you would have to have the means, and complicity of state authorities, to conduct the round-up. Such behaviour, if conducted to scale, would result in mass violations of the Fourth Amendment, a true police state measure.
Trump has a few bullying tricks up his sleeve. He has threatened to withdraw funding from police departments and sanctuary cities that persist in their pathway of protection and stalling on the issue of how to deal with undocumented residents. But government is not merely about hard cash and threats of targeting budgets. Ideas and pragmatism count, and Trump’s self-proclaimed embrace of shallowness in search of success will have to bend – at least at points.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This commentary has been republished from Global Research with permission from the author and has been lightly edited for the Canadian context.
by Ranjit Bhaskar for New Canadian Media
It would seem as if sharks and undocumented immigrants are equally deserving of Toronto City Hall’s mercy. Both have been spared extreme measures, although one hopes the reprieve granted to the immigrants is not as short-lived as the lifesaver granted to the marine predators.
The sharks basked in the Council’s attention recently when the sale of their fins was banned. The respite offered to them by Canada’s biggest city was soon dismissed in a court of law, rendering the whole resolution moot.
This time around it is the turn of migrants, specifically those who are here without proper papers. The City has declared that they can now surface, sparing them deportation or any punitive measures from Toronto. Toronto is now a “sanctuary city” that would ensure safe access to services for undocumented residents without fear of being turned over for detention and deportation.
The near unanimity (there were only three no votes against 38 ayes) with which the resolution passed gives the impression that its noble motive of protecting poor, disenfranchised migrants rose above partisan interests. However, given the entrenched divisions in the council, that is highly unlikely.
What seems to have happened is a rare convergence of interests for very different reasons. For the left, it sent out a signal to their constituents that they are doing their best to protect the interests of the downtrodden. For the conservative capitalists, this was the best way to ensure the continued availability of indebted workers at below-minimum wages to keep businesses running in profit.
But the move is largely irrelevant given that the services the City is proposing to offer them are already available, with no questions asked about residency status. Children without immigration status are welcomed in schools run by the city and information about them or their families are not shared with immigration authorities as per Toronto District School Board Policy P.061 SCH. The Toronto Public Library also is not keen to know about a person’s immigration status and is happy to accept a plethora of documents to satisfy its need for ID and address proof, including having a postcard mailed to confirm an address. Under normal circumstances, the Toronto Police too will not ask witnesses to or victims of crime about their residency status. Other services where your residency status matters like health and welfare subsidies are offered by the provincial or the federal governments. The City Council has no say here, moral or otherwise.
However, the timing of the council’s vote is significant as Toronto’s undocumented population of 200,000 is expected to surge in April 2015. That is when many legal, but temporary, foreign workers will see their permits expire under a federal rule enacted in April 2011 that created a four-year limit on the cumulative time a foreigner can spend in Canada as a temporary worker.
That rule change was made to reduce the perceived over-dependence of Canadian employers on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to meet their permanent labour needs. The number of workers under this program has increased from around 100,000 in 2002 to over 400,000 today.
It should not come as a surprise that the concept of sanctuary cities originated in the United States, with Los Angeles being the first in 1979 by preventing the police from inquiring about the immigration status of those they arrest. Broadly, the term “sanctuary” generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one's immigration status. While the designation has no legal meaning, so far more than 30 U.S. cities have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented migrants.
The Toronto Council was right to ask Ottawa to establish an amnesty program for undocumented migrants and similarly recommend that the Ontario government review its policies to ensure their access to health care, emergency services and community housing. But, Canada’s premier city and home to its largest number of immigrants has gone too far by offering “sanctuary,” even if the resolution is of little practical effect.
It sends a mixed message from Canada. On the one hand the federal government has been battening down the hatches on asylum seekers and taking proactive measures to dissuade refugees from boarding creaking boats headed to our shores. While different levels of government may see things differently – and we are all for humane treatment of all arrivals - a coherent immigration policy is a national imperative. We do not want to replicate the American nightmare with millions of “illegals” in Canada. Nor do we want to unravel the national consensus around rules-based immigration.
As Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, one of the few opponents of the sanctuary motion, said, it “sends a message to the world that it is okay to break the law to come to Canada and it says that the City of Toronto is an accomplice to this lawbreaking.” - New Canadian Media
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit