Canada court rules US is no longer safe for refugees

A federal court in Canada rules that an asylum agreement with the United States is invalid due to how America treats refugees.

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Protesters hold signs as they block a street in front of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) office during a demonstration against migrant detention facilities on July 2, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An agreement between the United States and Canada for over 15 years is now void after Canadian courts ruled the US is no longer a safe place for refugees.

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According to BBC News, The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), standard since 2004, requires refugee claimants to request protection in the first safe country they reach. Now the deal has been declared unconstitutional due to the US’ harsh treatment of immigrants.

Federal court judge Ann Marie McDonald ruled that way due to the likelihood of the US to imprison the migrants, according to BBC. This decision is a win for Canadian immigration activists who have worked to help migrants turned away at the border.

Lawyers representing refugees who had been turned away challenged the agreement, arguing that the US did not qualify as “safe” for asylum seekers, BBC News reports.

“It is my conclusion, based upon the evidence, that ineligible STCA claimants are returned to the US by Canadian officials where they are immediately and automatically imprisoned by US authorities,” Judge McDonald said in her ruling according to BBC News.

She continues “I have concluded that imprisonment and the attendant consequences are inconsistent with the spirit and objective of the STCA and are a violation of the rights guaranteed by section 7 of the [Charter of Rights and Freedoms].

Nedira Jemal Mustefa, a refugee forced to stay in the United States describes her time in solitary confinement as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience,” in court documents, according to BBC News.

Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers acknowledges the practices and says they are not secret. “We’re all too familiar with the treatment that the US metes out to asylum seekers,” she told Reuters news agency, according to BBC News.

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The STCA was created to establish a simple way to manage refugee claims and prevent what BBC News notes as “asylum shopping.” Since President Donald Trump took office, over 50,000 people have crossed the US/Canada border hoping for refugee status. Those claims were being processed until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Trump has issued multiple anti-immigrant policies. Beyond his promise to build a wall between the US and Mexico, he most recently suspended the H-1B visa that allowed foreign-born workers to work in the United States.

His administration also tried to stop college students from overseas from returning to US schools if they were learning primarily online due to the pandemic. However, the administration reversed course after pushback from colleges and universities and several states threatened lawsuits.

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The BBC says Judge Mcdonald’s ruling is however delayed for six months to allow Canada’s parliament and the US Congress to respond.

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