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Immigrant advocates and refugees rallied Tuesday demanding the Canadian government end a controversial policy aimed at asylum seekers in the U.S. and Canada and ensure permanent status for all undocumented refugees.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) requires asylum seekers entering Canada or the United States to claim refugee status in the country where they first arrived. This means a person who travels through the United States into Canada, for example, must seek asylum in the U.S., since that is the first country they entered.

“Refugees are dying because of this agreement,” said Luisa Ortiz Garza, a permanent resident from Mexico who attended the rally. “All these people (migrants) want is a better life. We worked hard here, and we want legal status for all. We don’t want to see more refugees die because they don’t have legal status, and now they are forced to leave Canada because of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.”

Luisa Ortiz Garza, a permanent resident from Mexico, says refugees who don't have legal status are now forced to leave Canada because of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. Photo by Abdul Matin Sarfraz for Canada's National Observer

During U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to Canada at the end of March, the two countries announced the expansion of the STCA to include the entire land border, not just official border crossings. This means asylum seekers crossing irregular borders, including Roxham Road in Quebec, can be turned back to the U.S. without the federal government processing their application.

Migrants warn the new rules will push refugees to take greater risks to cross the border and could even cause them to turn to human smugglers for help.

The rally, organized by the Migrant Workers Alliance, was held days after police recovered the bodies of eight people from the St. Lawrence River at the U.S.-Canada border. They are believed to have died trying to cross from Canada into the United States by boat.“These deaths were predicted and are predictable because the unprincipled expansion of the STCA is forcing migrants to take even more dangerous routes to avoid detention,” said Syed Hussan, spokesperson for the alliance.

The deceased include Florin Iordache and his two infant children, said Hussan. “Florin had been denied refugee status in Canada and (was facing) forced deportation. While the specific motivation of the families that drowned ... remain unknown, many migrants are forced to leave Canada and go to the U.S. in search of a better life because they are denied permanent resident status and, therefore, equal rights here.”

Protesters also converged on Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino's Toronto constituency office Tuesday to deliver a box containing 7,000 petitions signed by Canadians concerning the treatment of people crossing the Canada-U.S. border to make a refugee claim.

“Refugees are dying because of this agreement,” said Luisa Ortiz Garza, a permanent resident from Mexico who attended Tuesday's rally. #STCA #SafeThirdCountryAgreement

Hussan said the petition delivered to Mendicino’s office calls for an end to policies and practices that force migrants to risk their lives in search of safety and a better life.

“We call on Prime Minister Trudeau to end the Safe Third Country Agreement, to ensure migrants can safely cross the U.S.-Canada border and to ensure equal rights through permanent resident status for all migrants,” he added.

Based on the STCA agreement, Canada will welcome an additional 15,000 migrants on a humanitarian basis from across the Western Hemisphere over the next year.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
April 5, 2023, 02:31 am

This story has been corrected to reflect the proper spelling of Luisa Ortiz Garza's name and her status as a permanent resident in Canada.

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