March 3rd, 2024

As border pressure mounts, Mexico says asylum claims in Canada are already dropping

By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press on January 25, 2024.

Mexico says asylum claims to Canada started dropping last month — a revelation that comes amid mounting pressure on Ottawa to reimpose visas for Mexican citizens. But Immigration Minister Marc Miller said Thursday he hasn't yet seen evidence of that claim. Miller speaks to the media during the federal cabinet retreat in Montreal, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

OTTAWA – Mexico says asylum claims to Canada started dropping last month – a revelation that comes amid mounting pressure on Ottawa to reimpose visas for Mexican citizens.

Mexico’s foreign ministry says both countries are undertaking unspecified “joint measures,” which it credits for a decline in the number of claims filed in December.

But Immigration Minister Marc Miller says he hasn’t yet seen evidence of that decline, and is keeping mum on whether either country has changed its policies.

Asylum claims from Mexico have shot up in recent years, even as the rate of Mexican applicants who actually get refugee status remains well below that of other countries.

That’s partially the result of the government’s decision in 2016 to lift the visa requirement, making it easier for people from Mexico to make an asylum claim in Canada.

The Conservatives want the Liberals to reverse their repeal of the visa requirement, arguing the change has led to fraud, abuse and strain on the asylum system.

Mexico’s foreign ministry wrote in a statement late Thursday that it’s important to maintain the economic benefits of easier travel between both countries.

Miller echoed that point earlier this week, and said Monday that both countries are looking at options to lower the number of claims, adding that he is avoiding giving more detail to avoid exploitation.

Yet he did not confirm Thursday whether any policies have changed as a result of those diplomatic talks.

“Any action obviously can entail a reaction,” Miller said. “Obviously, there is some measure of some sensitivity to it.”

Miller added that “Mexico is only one part of the story” of irregular immigration, and he repeated that bad actors would exploit the system if Ottawa was fully transparent about what’s being discussed.

When asked if policies have led to any changes in the number of claims, Miller replied, “I haven’t seen any yet.”

The Biden administration has warned that human traffickers linked to Mexican cartels may be exploiting Canada’s visa-free regime in order to get people into the U.S.

Indeed, the shared northern border is becoming a political issue in both countries, said David MacNaughton, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Washington during Donald Trump’s first term as president.

The U.S.-Mexico border has long been a focal point for Trump, and likely will be as well for President Joe Biden as a rematch of their 2020 election battle takes shape.

But Republicans in Congress have in recent months made an effort to bring the U.S. border with Canada into the conversation about irregular migration.

“Increasingly, we’ve heard complaints about the northern border” in the U.S., MacNaughton told a webinar hosted by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“This isn’t just a Mexico issue – it is actually a reflection of, I think, what is an increasing sort of isolationism and protectionism in the United States.”

Quebec Premier François Legault cited the rise in Mexican claimants in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week, warning that his province’s services for refugees are reaching a “breaking point.”

Mexico’s statement noted that Quebec in particular has benefited from the cultural, tourism and scientific exchanges.

The ministry says that Mexico and Canada are aligned on the need for “a constructive approach and a comprehensive dialogue that considers all factors motivating” irregular immigration.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.

– With files from Laura Osman

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