The number of asylum seekers entering Canada through unauthorized crossings along the U.S. border dropped in September, but it is hard to predict whether there will be another surge in the coming months, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says.
About 50 people a day entered Canada through an unofficial crossing point at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., in September, compared with 200 to 250 a day in August, Mr. Hussen said on Thursday. More than 12,000 asylum seekers have crossed at Lacolle from New York this year.
"The numbers have definitely gone down, but we will wait to see if this is a trend or not," Mr. Hussen told reporters on Parliament Hill after a meeting with members of a federal-provincial task force on irregular migration.
Earlier on Thursday, Canadian government officials said they recently reviewed the Trump administration's immigration policies and found that the United States is a safe country for refugees. The conclusion means that a bilateral agreement requiring people to be sent back across the border if they claim refugee status after entering Canada through an official U.S. border crossing still stands. The NDP and refugee advocates have called on the government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement and review U.S. President Donald Trump's recent anti-immigration measures.
Speaking to a Parliamentary committee meeting, Paul MacKinnon, an assistant deputy minister at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), said the department regularly does reviews of the U.S. refugee determination system and its broader immigration policies.
"We did one just a few months ago, even after the [Trump] executive orders came out, and we maintain that their system is fair and does not affect the Safe Third Country Agreement as it now stands," Mr. MacKinnon told a joint meeting of the House of Commons national security and immigration committees.
Most of the asylum seekers who crossed at Lacolle are Haitians who fear being expelled because the Trump administration plans to end a program in January, 2018, that granted them temporary protected status after the massive 2010 earthquake in the impoverished Caribbean country. Thousands of panicked Haitians headed north to Quebec after misinformation on social media suggested Canada would accept them as refugees.
Officials revealed at the meeting that more than 5,600 asylum claimants who crossed at Lacolle have received limited health-care benefits under a special directive from Mr. Hussen. The minister said the provision ensures that people who crossed at Lacolle can access the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) while they wait for an interview with the government to determine their eligibility for asylum. He said most asylum seekers complete their eligibility interview within hours of crossing the border, but the surge at Lacolle has caused delays.
"Because of that, those people couldn't then get IFHP because they were waiting for us, through no fault of their own," Mr. Hussen said. "In order to lessen the pressures on emergency rooms, hospital rooms in Quebec, we made a decision to give them IFHP."
Officials also used Thursday's meeting to address what they called "myths" about the recent surge in asylum seekers, including the suggestion that people who cross at places such as Lacolle are taking the spots of overseas refugees waiting to resettle in Canada.
"They are not jumping a queue, because the system is designed to deal with that type of movement," said Michael MacDonald, a director-general at IRCC. "There's no queue jumping for those. And that processing is not in any way connected to the overseas refugee processing system."