By Teresa Wright
THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA _ Asylum seekers who entered Canada irregularly last year will cost federal organizations $340 million an amount projected to balloon to almost $400 million by the end of 2019, the federal budget watchdog says.
A report Thursday from the parliamentary budget officer calculates the average cost of each irregular migrant who arrived in Canada between April 2017 and March 2018 at $14,321.
The PBO projects that costs will rise to $16,666 in the fiscal year ending March 2020 because of extensive wait times for migrants waiting to complete the entire asylum claim process, “leading to greater expenses for federal health insurance costs.”
The actual amounts can vary depending on how long asylum seekers wait for their refugee claims to be finalized, budget officer Yves Giroux wrote in his report. For instance, claimants accepted at their first hearing will cost the country less, those who exhaust all legal avenues and are eventually removed from Canada will cost more.
But Giroux warned that $340 million could become an annual cost if Canada doesn’t seen any decrease in the number of irregular asylum seekers.
Canada has experienced an influx of irregular migrants along the border with the United States since early 2017, shortly after the Trump administration took steps to end temporary protected status for tens of thousands of migrants living in the U.S.
Since then, almost 35,000 asylum seekers have filed refugee claims at the Immigration and Refugee Board _ Canada’s arms length agency that deals with refugee claims and appeals. Many claimants have avoided official border checkpoints where they would have been turned back to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country agreement between the two countries.
The PBO says this influx has placed “significant pressure” on federal resources, leading to major delays in processing times for refugee claims.
Last year, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) had the capacity to hear 24,000 claims per year, but received more than 52,000 total new asylum claims half of which were from irregular migrants.
The federal government promised $173 million over two years to address rising costs, but Giroux said the growing backlog of claims shows it is not enough money.
“It’s a bit like shooting yourself in the foot to under-fund the IRB and other government agencies, because these kinds of savings end up increasing federal costs. So the savings, in terms of claims processing, end up costing more,” he told reporters in French.
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has been calling on the Liberals to close a loophole that exists in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which is believed to be a major factor in the spike of irregular border crossings.
She blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for causing the spike when he published a tweet in January 2017 in which he welcomed fleeing migrants to Canada in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants.
“It just blows my mind that between 2017 through next fiscal year, this prime minister is choosing to spend $1.1 billion on essentially what amounts to the abuse of our asylum system. Some of the numbers in here are absolutely shocking,” Rempel said in response to the PBO report Thursday.
Ontario has pegged its provincial costs for dealing with irregular migrants at $200 million. Quebec did not provide the PBO with its cost estimate, but Giroux said they likely face similar financial pressures as Ontario.
Giroux said federal figures suggest costs for provinces and territories are at least the same amount as those incurred by the federal government.
Conservative MP Larry Maguire asked Giroux to analyze the current and projected costs of dealing with an influx of irregular migrants who have been crossing through non-official entry points along the Canada-U.S. border since 2017.
Maguire, a member of the Commons immigration committee, said he turned to the PBO for help after not getting answers from the Liberals on the total costs of “illegal immigrants” entering Canada.
“As parliamentarians, we have been repeatedly stonewalled by the Liberals on what the total costs have been to taxpayers. Today we finally have those numbers and… they’re very staggering,” he said at a press conference.