PBI-Canada to host visit of Saltillo Migrant Shelter legal coordinator Javier Martínez, March 14-19

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Peace Brigades International-Canada, in collaboration with PBI-Mexico and PBI-International Secretariat (ISEC), is in the process of organizing meetings for Javier Martínez Hernández, the legal coordinator of the Saltillo Migrant Shelter, with civil society allies, academics, government officials, and Member of Parliament in Canada.

Javier will visit Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal from March 14 to 19.

This is a basic backgrounder on some of the key issues related to this visit:

1- What is the Saltillo Migrant Shelter?

The Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project has explained that the Casa del Migrante de Saltillo (House of the Migrant in Saltillo) fights for the human rights of migrants who are transiting through Mexico. Due to the security situation faced by the shelter, PBI-Mexico has accompanied the Saltillo Migrant Shelter since 2014.

The city of Saltillo has a metropolitan population of about 925,000 people and is situated in the state of Coahuila which borders the American state of Texas.

2- What are the key factors driving migration in the Americas?

NBC News has reported, “Climate change, when layered onto a mix of economic instability, violence and weak governance, can become fuel — a threat multiplier that could aggravate Honduras’ vulnerabilities, leaving people little choice but to flee.”

3- What obstacles do migrants face at the US/Mexico border?

Reuters has reported that there are 6,500 members of the security forces on Mexico’s southern border area with Guatemala and a deployment of 15,000 national guardsmen in the northern part of the country near the border with the United States.

Additionally, Vox has reported, “Agreements, which the US has signed with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, require migrants on their way to the US to apply for protections in those countries first.”

“If they fail to do so, US immigration authorities will send them back to those countries, collectively known as Central America’s Northern Triangle, where crime, violence, and lack of economic opportunity has driven hundreds of thousands to flee over the past year.”

4- What is the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement?

The Globe and Mail has previously explained, “The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, signed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, means that with few exceptions, refugee claimants must make their claim in the first safe country they arrive in. That means virtually all asylum seekers attempting to enter Canada through a U.S. port of entry will be turned away.”

Significantly the article adds that “because Canada is a signatory of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers entering the country between border points are not automatically deported and may make asylum claims.”

5- Where do migrants cross the border into Canada?

Over the past two years, about 50,000 migrants have crossed the border at Roxham Road, an irregular border crossing at the Quebec-New York state border, about 80 kilometres south of Montreal (30 miles north of Plattsburgh, New York).

In September 2019, CBC reported, “Nationals from Colombia are among the top two source countries seeking asylum at Roxham this year.”

6- What is Canada’s response to irregular migration across the border?

In April 2018, Reuters reported, “Canada wants the agreement rewritten to apply to the entire border. …’We’d like to be able to get [the United States] to agree that we can, if somebody comes across, we just send them back’, [a Canadian official] told Reuters, adding Canada had raised the issue ‘at least a dozen’ times since.”

A team of researchers conducting interviews with refugees, including people originally from El Salvador and Guatemala who crossed the US-Canada border, have noted, “By April 2019, the Canadian government rushed through an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It made refugees ineligible to make a claim if they had already done so in the United States…”

7- What about refugee claims from Mexicans entering Canada?

Global News has reported, “Ottawa imposed a visa requirement on visitors from Mexico in July 2009, after the country became Canada’s top source of refugee claims, which totaled 9,000 that year, most of which were rejected.”

That article then notes that the visa requirement was lifted on December 1, 2016 and that, “Three-quarters of the Mexican refugee claims that were heard by the Refugee Board in 2017 were either rejected, abandoned or withdrawn.”

The largest number of Mexican refugee applicants have sought asylum at the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Global News reports that, “Most claimed refugee status on the ground they feared drug cartels.”

Additionally, University of Toronto Professor Anne-Emanuelle Birn and York University Professor Liisa L. North have commented in their study of this issue, “In 2017, Canada allocated a pitiful number of spots to Central Americans: out of 25,000 total spaces for resettled refugees, just 380 for all of the Americas.”

8- Are migrants jailed in Canada?

In July 2019, the Canadian Press reported, “The CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] says there were 6,609 people detained in holding centres in 2017-18, up from 4,248 a year earlier. There were 1,831 detainees held in jails last year, compared to 971 in 2016-17.”

This NeverHome.ca article indicates the numbers are even higher:

“The Canadian government jailed over 87,317 migrants without charge between 2006-2014 and spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars over five years to detain migrants.”

“Migrants are the only population within Canada who can be jailed simply on administrative grounds without being charged with a specific criminal offense.”

The Canada Border Services Agency immigration holding centre – located about 8 kilometres from the Toronto International Airport, can hold up to 195 detainees.

9- What is the Sanctuary City movement?

In May 2017, Briarpatch Magazine reported, “[There are] an estimated 500,000 people living in Canada without immigration status, at least 200,000 of whom are believed to live in the Greater Toronto Area.”

“Non-status migrants, fearing the possibility of being discovered and reported to the CBSA, are forced into precarious employment and denied access to life-sustaining services.”

The Toronto Star has reported, “In 2013, the City of Toronto declared itself a ‘sanctuary city’ for non-status migrants. In a 37-3 vote, city council passed a motion requiring all city staff to be trained to ensure immigration status did not impede residents’ ability to get essential city services.”

That article notes shortcomings in the implementation of this policy, and the Georgia Straight reports, “Immigration advocates who have led the push for Vancouver to adopt so-called ‘sanctuary city’ policies have expressed strong dissatisfaction with new guidelines that the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) shared [in July 2018].”

10- What support and advocacy services are available to migrants in Canada?

Among the advocacy and services for migrants in Canada, there is the FCJ Refugee Centre, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, and No One Is Illegal in Toronto. There is also the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Immigrant Workers Centre, MUR, AGIR (Action LGBTQ with Immigrants and Refugees), Collectif Education sans Frontieres, No One Is Illegal, and Solidarity Across Borders in Montreal.

In terms of academic institutions, there is the University of Toronto Global Migration Lab and the York University Centre for Refugee Studies.

Please see the PBI-Canada website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page in the coming days and weeks for further updates on this visit.

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