CGRS Supports Efforts to Protect Access to Asylum in Canada

April 3, 2018 - Last summer the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Canadian Council of Churches filed a legal challenge in federal Canadian court to the Safe Third Country Agreement between the United States and Canada. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, refugees who pass through the United States are barred from applying for asylum in Canada because the United States is considered a “safe third country.” The three organizations spearheading the challenge argue that the U.S. asylum system has long failed to adequately protect refugees and that the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies and practices have only exacerbated its shortcomings. The organizations are calling on the Canadian government to revoke the United States’ designation as a safe third country and allow individuals who have passed through the United States to make refugee claims in Canada.

The Canadian advocates leveling this challenge have solicited CGRS’s expertise in asylum law to bolster their assertion that the United States is no longer a safe third country for refugees. CGRS Director Professor Karen Musalo is submitting expert affidavits in support of the challenge, in which she describes the state of the U.S. asylum system and the ways in which it falls short of international refugee protection standards, particularly in its treatment of women asylum seekers. Karen’s affidavits address barriers to protection posed by overly restrictive legal standards and procedural measures, such as the one-year asylum filing deadline, detention, and lack of access to counsel. The affidavits also address the arbitrary and highly disparate outcomes in U.S. asylum adjudication, including extremely low grant rates in certain jurisdictions.

As we participate in this challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement with Canada, we are troubled by reports that the Trump Administration is looking to institute an analogous safe third country agreement with the government of Mexico. Such an agreement would allow the United States to refuse to consider the asylum claims of asylum seekers (except for Mexican citizens) who pass through Mexico en route to our southern border. This would have dire implications for the many asylum seekers from Central America and elsewhere who pass through Mexico and seek asylum in the United States. Mexico should not be considered a safe third country; its asylum system is riddled with deficiencies and abuses, leaving many asylum seekers at risk of deportation to grave danger in their home countries. Those who are able to obtain asylum remain acutely vulnerable to trafficking, kidnapping, and other harms perpetrated by criminal groups in Mexico, who routinely target refugees. CGRS is prepared to advocate against any effort on the part of the Trump Administration to enter into a safe third country agreement with Mexico.

Photo from Charles Krupa, Associated Press.