OTTAWA — The federal Liberals recently dispatched their immigration minister to Minnesota in the hopes of preventing another wave of asylum seekers from crossing into Manitoba this year. The move comes as officials near Emerson prepare for the risk of mass arrivals of border jumpers.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen visited Minneapolis to host a town hall-style meeting with African diaspora groups, a roundtable talk with local resettlement organizations, and also discussed the issue with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.
"I went to Minnesota to engage with those communities, to make sure that we’re still being proactive," Hussen told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa. "We’re not taking anything for granted."
Last year, at least 1,000 people crossed irregularly into Canada in the area around Emerson, largely Somali and Ghanaian citizens. It’s illegal to enter Canada outside of a border post, but under international law people who cross illegally and file asylum claims are shielded from prosecution.
The immigration minister said he spoke with a variety of African diaspora groups on his visit, the weekend of Dec. 9, 2017.
In August, Conservative MP Ted Falk, who represents the Emerson area, called on Hussen (a refugee from Somalia) to use his language and cultural skills to dissuade possible asylum claimants — as MPs of Haitian and Latin American origin have done in radio shows and newspapers in the U.S.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Hussen also visited the University of Minnesota and spoke to an auditorium about Canada’s private sponsorship program.
"Members of the local Somali community, where he enjoys rock-star status, threw him a welcoming reception," the newspaper reported.
Hussen said Tuesday he clarified myths about people with U.S. temporary-stay permits somehow being eligible for residence in Canada, or that the country gives automatic asylum to people from certain countries. "We don’t want people uprooting their lives, their deep roots in the United States, based on misinformation."
In August, leaders of west and east African groups in Minneapolis told the Free Press many were pondering making asylum claims in Canada. They blamed the United States winding down its temporary protected status (TPS) permits, which allowed non-criminals to stay in America if their home country is facing war, pandemics or natural disasters.
The decision to end TPS for Haitians led thousands of them to cross into Quebec, while the administration led by U.S. President Donald Trump declared Monday that El Salvadorians would lose TPS validity in 18 months. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will be stripped from the TPS list in May, though Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan remain listed.
Hussen said he doesn’t anticipate as many El Salvadorians will cross into Canada because they have stronger community ties in the U.S. than Haitians. He also said there are contingency plans being put in place to avoid the confusion and backlogs that took place when thousands crossed into Quebec.
In a recent interview, Emerson reeve Greg Janzen said the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency were having regular meetings to prepare for the unexpected.
"We’re trying to plan for the worse, if we get 100, 200, 300 a day," Janzen said, describing it as "almost like an emergency plan."
"Like: what do we do when we have 100, 200 people coming across when it’s -20 (C) out?"
Hussen pointed out Emerson crossing numbers are nowhere near as high as last winter. The RCMP intercepted 38 claimants in November, down from the March 2017 peak of 170.
"Even though the numbers are very very low, we’re preparing officials there for any future influxes, if possible," he said.
Part of that involves online advertising and targeted internet search-engine marketing for groups in the U.S.
Hussen also said the government has learned from the problems that arose last year. Those lessons include boosting funding to speed up work-permit processing and asylum hearings, as well as keeping provinces in the loop.
In September, Ian Wishart, Manitoba’s education minister, who is in charge of immigration, lauded Ottawa’s efforts to curb an uptick in claims, though he called for more federal funding to help the province integrate the hundreds who have already arrived.
On Tuesday, Wishart did not raise concerns with how Ottawa is handling the file.
"This is not a safe time of year to be out in the open and exposed to the elements," he wrote in a statement. "We urge anyone who is thinking about crossing the border between ports of entry to reconsider."
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"