Department figures show minister telling only part of story

Posted by admin on Oct 28th, 2009

The Embassy, By Laura Payton, October 28, 2009

Figures obtained by Embassy show Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is only telling part of the story when he claims success in cutting down on the number of Mexicans applying for asylum. When the government imposed visa requirements on July 14 for travellers from Mexico and the Czech Republic, Mr. Kenney said it was doing so to limit the number of people travelling to Canada from those countries to apply for asylum. Over the past month or so, Mr. Kenney has been boasting that the visas have been extremely successful, citing dramatic decreases in the number of applications being made at Canadian ports of entry. To prove those claims, he has highlighted the fact that 1,323 Mexican refugee claims were made at Canadian ports of entry in the 10 weeks prior to the visa imposition. That contrasts with 35 Mexican applications made at Canadian ports of entry in the two-and-a-half months since the visa requirements came were introduced.

However, Mr. Kenney has been careful to avoid mentioning the number of claims made from within Canada. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada figures, in-land claims increased from 892 over the 10 weeks prior to the visa requirements, to 1,014 for the same amount of time after. This represents an increase of 122, or about 13 per cent.

Port of entry claims are made at the Canadian border or in airports; in-land claims are made at CIC offices inside Canada.

A CIC spokeswoman was hesitant to provide the in-land numbers, saying she didn’t want to “confuse” the story. The in-land claims would have been made by Mexicans already inside Canada either for work or tourism, she said, so likely weren’t affected by the imposition of the visas.

While Mr. Kenney is correct that the number of refugee claims from Mexico are way down, refugee advocates say the number of in-land claims is an important number to watch in order to judge whether the visas are stemming the flow of refugee claimants.

“Obviously you need to talk about in-land claims and port of entry claims. You can’t disassociate one from the other because claims are made at both ends, at both times,” says Gloria Nafziger, refugee co-ordinator at Amnesty International Canada.

“The only way that you could really know how effective the visa imposition would be is by continuing to monitor the in-land claims over a period of time…. But if you’re not reporting those numbers then you have no way of monitoring whether that statement is really true,” she said.

A spokesman for Mr. Kenney said the number of in-land claims is available to those who ask, and that using only the ports of entry number is about comparing “apples to apples.” It took CIC almost two weeks to provide the numbers.

“Anyone can make an inland claim—[temporary foreign workers] like seasonal agricultural workers, for example—who aren’t impacted by the visa requirement,” wrote Alykhan Velshi in an email.

“The visa is designed to address asylum claims at [ports] of entry by individuals pretending to be visitors. In-land claims can be made by any foreign national in Canada, Temporary Foreign Workers (such as Seasonal Agricultural Workers) and others who come to Canada on work permits are still making asylum claims from within Canada at CIC inland offices.

Inasmuch as the number of asylum claims from Mexico has decreased significantly, yes, it has been a success—I would argue an almost unmitigated success.”

Maurizio Bevilacqua, the Liberal immigration critic, says the failure to report all numbers call Mr. Kenney’s credibility into question.

“To maintain one’s credibility, it is important to be upfront and transparent,” said Mr. Bevilacqua. “And the numbers a minister places in the public domain should be correct and not misleading. If your credibility is questioned then citizens begin to lack trust. No minister or elected official can afford that.”

The number of refugee claimants seeking help at a Spanish-speaking Toronto centre has been higher than expected since the visas were imposed, says Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre.

Mr. Rico-Martinez argues the visa requirement has forced Mexicans who used to travel freely between Canada and their home country to apply for refugee status so they can stay. He says it’s difficult to separate those who are economic migrants from those who are here to escape violence, since they are often the same people.

“We have been doing between eight to 10 personal information forms a week still,” for Mexican applicants, said Mr. Rico-Martinez, referring to one of the first steps in applying for refugee status. “Mexicans [who] were here before the imposition of the visa. We’re seeing some of them had been living here for months, for years, and they were very used
to going back and forth.”

“We have always had an idea that the number of claimants that was high was a percentage of the Mexicans living illegally in Canada. So now we are starting to see what is the real, real number.”

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