Interview on AM770 with Danielle Smith Discussing Immigration Developments (Just Before the Trumpquake)

It was a pleasure discussing immigration developments with Danielle Smith on AM770 last week, just before Trump’s Executive Order caused chaos and confusion over the weekend. A transcript of our conversation:

Danielle Smith:                  Let me just take a pause, ’cause I don’t want to end up short changing the conversation with my next guest. We’re going to get into a different topic immigration impacts for Canada. Two big things that have happened in the last couple days. Number one, shutting down the Mexican boarder by building a well. Number two, which were expecting an executive order today, a suspension on refugee claims in America. Now how is that going to impact us? Raj Sharma is my guest he’s a Calgary Immigration Lawyer, we’ll talk to him about that when we get back on News Talk 770.

Okay, welcome back! Now we’ve got two big decisions happening in the United States and there’s been some analysis suggesting that they’re both going to impact us. I’m going to find out from my next guest, Raj Sharma is a Calgary Immigration Lawyer and he joins me now. Raj, thanks so much for being with me.

Raj Sharma:                        My pleasure.

Danielle Smith:                  Lets first talk about this decision of the government to finish the boarder wall on Mexico’s boarder. It’s interesting to me it’s already one third built so they’re acting like they don’t have any boarder wall but in any case, there is a lot of people saying what that might mean is an influx of Mexicans to Canada. I think there’s some 11 million as the estimate of illegal immigrants in the United States. The Federal Immigration Minister, when he came through with a proposal to remove the visa on Mexican visitors, he said I might have to revisit this if we end up getting more then 3500 Mexicans claiming refugee status in any given year. There’s sort of an expectation that some how we’re going to be impacted by this. What are you seeing and what are you expecting?

Raj Sharma:                        Well Danielle I think it remains to be seen whether the boarder wall will in fact curb illegal immigration to the U.S. It’s [inaudible 00:02:00] 30 foot walls just means that there’s going to be increased demands for 31 foot ladders. That being said, the mood and sentiment in the U.S. has certainly changed and I think it’s very very clear that there’s going to be an enforcement mindset to our colossal neighbor to the south.

What’s going to happen and this is what CIC the bureaucrats have sort of looked into and … This kind of ties in with my experience as well, I was a refugee protection officer between 2002 and 2004. Thereafter I set up … started private practice and we had thousands of Mexicans made refugee claims in Canada during those years [inaudible 00:02:50] 7 or 8 thousand at certain point. At a certain point in one year, we had more refugee claimants from Mexico than we had in all of Africa.

Danielle Smith:                  Wow! Give me a timestamp on that again. When did that occur, what years?

Raj Sharma:                        I think it started probably around 2004 or so and at that point you had maybe well over 7,000 refugee claims from Mexico at that point.

Danielle Smith:                  Wow. What was happening at that time in Mexico? I can’t remember back to 2004.

Raj Sharma:                        Well 2009 it was, we had about almost 10,000 refugee claims from Mexico and this is all because of the drug wars. So in the last 10 years or so we’ve had tens of thousands of people killed in Mexico. So I think Canadians view of Mexico is a little bit skewed. I mean Mexico is this sort of sun destination that we all go to to escape the ravages of our winters. That’s not the reality on the ground, there’s an incredible amount of violence there. And obviously there’s always these significant push and pull factors. And so Mexicans started making refugee claims in Canada until there was a visa requirement placed on that. That dropped from 9500 and after that visa requirement was imposed it whittled that number right down to just dozens.

Danielle Smith:                  So it completely stopped the flow by having a visa requirement. So what would happen is people would come here under the auspices of coming for vacation then they’d make a refugee application when they arrived.

Raj Sharma:                        Right and so immigration offices over sees … someone has to make a request for a visa. When they make that request they’re going to look at the situation of this applicant they’re well established, they have a job to go back to they’ve got a house to go back to, they’ve got family ties to go back to. These immigration officers they’re pretty good at sensing that out and they will give a visa to a well established or a business man or a professional for example. They won’t give a visa to for example a 22 year old or a 23 year old young man or young woman, single, who may very well come and make a refugee claim.

Danielle Smith:                  Then explain to me how our system couldn’t have been the one they used in the U.S.? Why couldn’t the U.S. do the same thing? Just have a visa requirement? Is it because the poorest boarder that people are just sneaking across?

Raj Sharma:                        A, there is a visa requirement. The U.S. does have a visa requirement to Mexicans now that’s one. The other is that again their asylum policies may be less generous for example then Canada maybe Mexicans don’t apply for refugee protection in the U.S. because it may not get accepted. There’s been varied numbers as to how many Mexicans we accepted or whether they’re objectively not well founded. So you had Chris Alexander or Jason Kenny call them bogus refugee claimants but you did see the numbers go up there. You did have probably about 20 25 percent acceptance rate of the Mexicans that made refugee claims. Indeed over the last 10 years, Canada’s accepted about 6500 Mexicans and their dependents and given them permanent status as a result of successful refugee claims.

Danielle Smith:                  Can I ask you, if they’re fleeing because of the drug war, are they saying “Hey I’ve been involved in drugs I want to now get out, please protect me.” Or is it “There’s such a criminal element in my community, I feel unsafe raising my children here.” What do you need to have as a standard to be able to get a successful refugee claim?

Raj Sharma:                        Once again, we’ve got a little bit broader definition of refugee protection than the U.S. For example, section 96 where the convention definition of a refugee talks about a personalized risk due to [inaudible 00:06:41] persecution because of race, religion, [inaudible 00:06:46] opinions that sort of standard that we accepted post World War II. Canada also has … we also give protection under Section 97 to people who can establish [inaudible 00:07:00] that there’s a risk to their life and it doesn’t sort of have this sort of component. For example, there is … human rights violations in Mexico there are journalist that have issues, there are political sort of activist there are for example a union or labor activist and you know frankly, a domestic situation, domestic violence, we’ve seen some horrific cases involving women and abuse and just a lack of protection available to victims of domestic abuse.

Danielle Smith:                  Okay, that helps to explain it. Can you explain why the U.S. is so different though because if you’ve mentioned there some legitimate refugee claims, there’s something else going on in the U.S. if they do truly do have 11 million people who are illegally in the country. They’re they for economical reasons, they’re there to be farmer workers or laborers or working in restaurants working under the table. What happens to that group of people?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, that’s perhaps the million dollar question. There is something called, a safe third country agreement that we signed with the U.S. So basically if someone is in the U.S. they’ve got to make a refugee claim there first. If someone arrives in Canada, they’ve got to make a refugee claim here first, they can’t go forum shopping. We say people that were in the U.S. for decades for example perhaps moving a refugee claim or [inaudible 00:08:22] and then just coming up to the boarder and making another refugee claim in Canada. So the safe serve country agreement tried to put a stop to that.

Now the Mexicans oddly enough, the safe third country agreement will not prevent Mexicans from making refugee claims at the boarder, even if they’ve been living in the U.S. for years or decades.

Danielle Smith:                  Is that presumably because they haven’t made a refugee claim in the U.S. They’re just working there illegally, so we would be the first refugee claim they were making?

Raj Sharma:                        No, whether or not they make a refugee claim in that country is irrelevant to the operation of the safe third country agreement. One of the exceptions is that the U.S. has a visa requirement for that … those nationals and we’ve dropped that visa requirement for those nationals. That’s peculiarly one of the exceptions to the safe third country agreement. Another one is that if you sneak into the country and make a refugee claim in land, the safe serve country agreement doesn’t apply to you either. So we have these demands where we’re seeing hundreds of individuals crossing the Manitoba border, Ghanaians, one man’s going to lose basically all of his fingers. He was …

Danielle Smith:                  All because of … from frostbite, I think we were reading about that in the last couple of weeks.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right. He has been denied protection in the U.S. so he risked a seven hour journey through knee deep snow to make a refugee claim inside Canada because if he had made that claim at a port of entry or a land crossing they would’ve turned him back.

Danielle Smith:                  Okay, I want to talk about international refugees in a minute but let me just ask you one last question. Because I’m reading Trumps executive order, he is saying that in executing faithfully the immigration laws about … of the United States, he seems to want them to have enforcement priorities and he’s pretty clear about what the priorities are. Anyone convicted of a criminal offense, anyone charged with a criminal offense, anyone whose committed acts that constitute any chargeable criminal offense, anyone whose engaged in fraud or made a … in connection with an official matter before a government agency, anyone whose abused the access to public benefits they are all subject to a removal order. So he sounds to me like … And also anyone who is a risk public safety or national security. So it sounds to me like his first order of business is getting rid of the bad guys, getting them out of the country. Which is why I’m still trying to figure out if people sort of proactively worry that he is going to go after the farm workers, and the laborers if their just going to start steaming up to Canada. Or if how we should be preparing for that?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, I think there’s a couple of things. First of all, President Obama deported the most number of aliens so President Obama is the deport-ator in chief so to speak. The priority on criminality has always been there, and been there for the last 8 years or so. Just on a side note Danielle, it’s a little bit interesting, if you don’t have authorization or status in Canada your foreign national here and you commit a crime, legally we can’t even remove them until the criminal charges have been resolved. People might be a little bit surprised to hear that.

In terms of the outcomes, CIC is predicting thousands of Mexican refugee claims and the lifting of the visa and of course these claims … they’re estimating potential cost to Canada of above 270 million dollars per year. That wouldn’t offset the increase in tourist dollars, only about a hundred million dollars or so.

That’s one issue that might arise. That may be offset by some solutions, I was proposing just increase the visitor visa fee requirement on Mexican nationals so that we can at least cover up the cost of expected and foreseeable increase to refugee claims and obviously the burden [that would] put on public system.

Danielle Smith:                  Right, so you get at least a source of revenue from it. But again it may be that it’s not that … that they wouldn’t be arriving directly from Mexico. It may be that they are goin to make their way up through … by land through America.

Raj Sharma:                        I think that likely. Now bear in mind, there’s significant cultural and other ties that a Mexican or an illegal alien in the U.S. from Mexico or those countries. There’s significant ties to keep them in the U.S. and that could be just cultural or just the sort of … it could be family ties for example. It’s not that they’re gonna … All of these millions of individuals are going to come up and start making claims at the boarder.

Danielle Smith:                  Got it. It may go back to the levels that we say before, the 10,000 at the peak.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right.

Danielle Smith:                  Got it. Okay, lets see if we can talk … and I know it’s speculative because we’re still waiting for it but the New York Times received a leaked version of the next executive order everyone’s expecting coming.

The board brush stokes is they want to suspend for 90 days all refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and then they want to indefinitely block Syrian refugees, so no time limit on that. They want to ban all refugees from the rest of the world for 120 days and then when they’ve reoriented and reopened they want to reduce their total refugees from 110,000 which they currently take in to only 50,000. That’s sort of what they’re expecting, and I think in addition there is going to be some crack down on sanctuary cites, but I think that might be related to the other one. This is a pretty dramatically different turn that the United States is taking on the position of refugees then what our government is taking here. I mean our government brought in 25,000 Syrian refugees fast track. The [inaudible 00:14:02] have now been targeted as a particular ethnic group that we want to bring over so that they can avoid genocide so I think those individuals just started arriving last week. I think we’ve heard the immigration minister talk about opening up to another 50,000 Syrian refugees. I’m thinking this is putting us in potential conflict with the direction of the new Trump administration.

Raj Sharma:                        I think so, a lot of people have asked and I have been asked whether … what role Canada has to play in terms of U.S. policy. Tails rarely wag dogs, and the reality is that the U.S. experience is different then the Canadian experience. In terms of immigration generally speaking, there’s very much more of an enforcement sort of mind-set… and again look lets … In all fairness the U.S. is like Jupiter, U.S. is the massive gravitational field sucking in all of these sort of asteroids or whatever else. We’ve been very lucky, Canada’s been able to … Our immigration policy and the way we select immigrants, and that’s what we actually do, we select immigrants instead of immigrants selecting us. The vast majority of immigrants we select and we have language proficiency and education and work experience requirements. The U.S. has not been able to do that because the porous border … and those … Our immigrants aren’t necessarily competing with native born or Canadians in terms of these jobs at the lower run. Whereas individuals in the U.S. and … and by the way this is the reason for Brexit.

In the UK they expected 60,000 Polish immigrants and they got 600,000. Those Polish immigrants, under the EU, had the right to work in the UK and they were competing directly against native British people for those type of [..] truck driving job. When they are driving down the wages for the native born and that really gives rise to nativist sort of sentiment and to immigration resentment.

I met with the previous minister of immigration and they’re talking about increasing immigration. I said, look there’s going to be blow back if you increase immigration without a rational connection or explanation. We’ve been very very lucky, Canada’s very very welcoming because we select the majority of our immigrants and we don’t let foreigners select Canada.

Danielle Smith:                  Is there any danger though, that if the Trump administration perceives the people are going to use Canada as an entry point to get into the Unites States, that we may face some kind of border controls or sanction?

Raj Sharma:                        I don’t think so, I think it really is fortress North America with the [inaudible 00:16:46] of Canada of the U.S. For example, we’ve agreed [inaudible 00:16:50] all of their demands. President Obama wanted exit control in place to Canada and we gave them that. We’re going to have exit control in place by 2018. Bear in mind Danielle, we … Canada tracked people entering Canada, we never tracked when those people left Canada. One of the requirements that the U.S. had, probably legitimately, and it’s going to cut down on citizenship fraud and residency fraud here in Canada is that we are now going to track when people leave Canada. So that’s good. We are part of the Five Eye’s, the group of Five Eye’s so we share a massive amount of intelligence with the U.S. and the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We have our criminal databases are shared, our immigration databases are quite a bit … are shared, they know when someones made a [inaudible 00:17:38] application to Canada and we know when someones made a [inaudible 00:17:43] application to the U.S. for example.

Danielle Smith:                  So, there’s lots of …

Raj Sharma:                        We’re cooperating and collaborating and I don’t … Yes, if the Trump administration wants us to change something we probably will.

Danielle Smith:                  Okay. Raj Sharma I’m sorry we’re going to have to leave it there but you’ve been a wealth of information I sure appreciate your observations today.

Raj Sharma:                        My pleasure!

Danielle Smith:                  That was Raj Sharma who is a Calgary Immigration Lawyer. There you are. Potential issues that we’re going to have to deal with but also some solutions that have already been put into place. Do stay with us, news is next.