Lawyer Andy Semotiuk

Andy Semotiuk – Pace Law Firm

Immigration News

In this interview, immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk discusses several immigration headlines that are making waves. Topics include:

  • Refugees entering Canada from the US
  • The Safe Third Country Agreement
  • Dual citizens still being stripped of Canadian citizenship
  • Trump’s travel ban

Andy, there are reports that the number of refugees entering Canada from the US has spiked, with dozens of people crossing the borders of Manitoba and Quebec in one week. What’s the solution?

First, let’s put this problem into perspective. The number seems to be increasing, but there have always been people who cross the US-Canadian border to claim refugee status. It isn’t a huge number – yet. By comparison, Canada has helped 40,000 Syrian refugees move to Canada over the past 18 months. There are other legitimate refugees entering Canada daily. I believe the country should continue its receptive work in this area. However, I believe Canada should close the loophole in the law that allows people to cross the US/Canadian border on foot to claim refugee status.

This is in regard to the Safe Third Country agreement?

Yes. That agreement between the US and Canada states that a refugee must apply for refugee status in whichever country they enter first: Canada or the USA. However, it does not cover people who enter through unregulated areas, such as a farmer’s field in Manitoba. Some of these refugees have had hearings in the US and been denied refugee status – many of them well before Trump took office. These people are essentially using Canada as a de facto court of appeal for failed US refugee claims. This needs to be stopped before it becomes a big problem.

Many lawyers and advocates would disagree. They are calling for an end to the Safe Third Country agreement altogether.

That’s fine, I like a good argument. Look, the issue is that Canada can’t be the solution for America’s illegal immigration problem. Canada cannot possibly accommodate 11 million illegal immigrants coming across the border either to make refugee claims or, worse, to disappear into the country unaccounted for. Besides, if we’re going to have an argument about illegal immigrants and enforcement in the US, let’s not kid each other. Canada denies refugee claims and deports people for a variety of reasons all the time.

 Refugee will have all fingers amputated. Pic: Austin Grabish/CBC

Pic: Austin Grabish/CBC

We need to be very careful here. Words have consequences. Depicting Canada as a “sanctuary country” is misleading and dangerous. Two weeks ago, refugees lost fingers and toes to frostbite after crossing into Manitoba. We should not be encouraging such crossings. As for the big picture, Angela Merkel declared in 2015 that Germany would take a million refugees in one year. The country was swamped in no time. Fast forward two years, and Germany is offering money to people to go home. This is a fate Canada should avoid.

Speaking of enforcement and deportations, there has been an increase in the number of dual citizen Canadians who have been stripped of their Canadian citizenship, whether because of criminal conduct or misrepresentation on their applications. Thoughts?

When Trudeau campaigned for office, he promised that this practice would end. Instead, the stripping of citizenship has increased. Trudeau said in 2015, a “Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.” Okay. Where’s the beef?

Revocation of citizenship should not be on the books. Any criminality involved with obtaining citizenship by false means should be dealt with in the criminal courts. So should any criminal conduct by people who have already become Canadians. The government shouldn’t get two bites at the apple. Otherwise we create two classes of citizenship: a Canadian-born class, and an “other” class. This is inconsistent with democratic ideals.

trump and trudeau

Trump and Trudeau met on February 13, 2017. Pic: AP

Our three levels of reviewing foreign applicants should be more than enough to ferret out fraudsters – review when applying for entry, review on the permanent resident application, and review again in the naturalization process – all of which come with background checks. If someone slips through that maze, we need to fault the immigration apparatus and allow the criminal courts to take over.

Let’s go south of the border. The 9th Circuit denied a motion to lift the restraining order on President Trump’s travel ban. The ban is gone for now. What’s next on this issue?

Good question, as things seem to change from day to day. The result of the appeal court’s decision was to return immigration policy back to its past operational format. And yesterday, Judge Robart in Washington made his temporary restraining order an indefinite one, though there was little doubt of that happening, anyway. This means that the Trump administration is either going to have to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court, or they’re going to have to write a new order that will pass muster.

This really went sideways on the administration, didn’t it?

As we discussed two weeks ago, the roll-out of the executive order was awful. Alan Dershowitz pointed out on the news the other day that the Trump administration got themselves in trouble by not saying that green card holders were exempt from the travel ban. Taken together with Trump’s past tweets about “banning Muslims,” a court challenge was no surprise. We’ll see if Trump decides to write a new order or tough it out through the courts. Dershowitz thinks Trump will win eventually, but that the glacial pace of the judicial process makes it a no brainer to abandon the executive order and prepare a new one.

Whatever the case, immigration has become the first big battlefield for this administration’s plan to reinvent Washington and take the country in a new direction. The battle has spilled over into the courts and out into the streets in almost daily demonstrations. It seems that events are unfolding more quickly now than in the past. There appears to be a heightened state of political awareness in the nation sparked by the immigration debate. On the one hand, you can celebrate the fact that these issues are being debated and might be settled for years to come. On the other, the continuous high level of vitriol can’t be good for the country. Stay tuned.

Andy Semotiuk is a US and Canadian immigration lawyer with offices in Toronto and New York City. He is licensed to practice law in California, New York, Ontario, and British Columbia. He has helped thousands of people immigrate to Canada and the United States.