The Canadian undocumented?

Father Tom Joyce CMF| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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January is the month of the refugee. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that in 2010 more than 30 million people sought asylum in other countries--264,000 in the United States and 165,000 in Canada--because of war or persecution. But that, doesn’t mean that they were welcomed to stay. After processing, some are denied and asked to leave.

Canada once had a reputation for being most accommodating. Not so anymore. The Conservative government has tightened its process of granting asylum and has reduced the number it accepts. This seems already to have created a new set of “illegals” or unauthorized immigrants according to the Los Angeles Times.

The phenomenon became more publically known couple of weeks ago, when the Los Angeles area experienced a series of arsons--mostly of parked autos. Harry Burkhardt, the suspect, was soon apprehended. He and his mother, Dorothee, were here on visitors’ visas and holding German passports. But they also entered the U.S. from Vancouver, after having been denied asylum. 

Canada has revised its asylum process--ostensibly to quicken the pace of acceptance, but really to save money and to cut the number of asylums granted during hard economic times. Now asylum-seekers are to get a hearing in 90 days and, if rejected, are to be ushered back to their home country within 120 days. This is not enough time, immigrant advocates say, to gather the documentation to make the petitioner's claim of persecution-- before or after the hearing. Canada has 42,000 pending cases and 124,000 ready for deportation. The fear is that those rejected will travel as visitors on still valid passports, like the Burkardts. While the U.S. and Canada have an agreement to prevent asylum-jumping, as in case of the Burkhardts, once they're legally in the country, they have the right to present themselves to an asylum officer. If rejected, they won’t necessarily go home, but might just melt into the shadows among the other undocumented.

Many of those seeking asylum in Canada last year came from surprising places. The largest number is from Hungary. Now a member of the European Union, which insists on strong human rights policies, the former Communist country seems to be slipping back into one-party rule. The EU has charged Prime Minster Viktor Orban of extending his party’s control over the central bank, the judiciary, and the media. Critics speak of transforming the county into a “Putin democracy” or a “Viktorarcy.”

It’s a shame that the plight of refugees should complicate the U.S.’s immigration problems further, or that Canada should temper its generous welcome to refugee. The number of refugees continues to be high. The UN High Commission estimates that every minute eight people flee their homes because of conflict or persecution. So there are millions more refugees than those that come to seek asylum. (Note that the Gospel of Matthew has the Holy Family seeking asylum in Egypt.)