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Justin Trudeau condemns US family separation at the border

“What’s going on in the United States is wrong”

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Jun 20 2018, 3:22pm

via The Canadian Press

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally joined international outrage against the U.S. immigration practice of separating migrant families at the Mexican border, saying on Wednesday morning that “what’s going on in the United States is wrong.”

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“I can’t imagine what the families living through this are enduring. Obviously, this is not the way we do things in Canada,” Trudeau said during a press conference.

The statement came days after Trudeau initially refused to comment on the matter, suggesting that it wasn’t his place, and that he didn’t want to “play politics” by speaking out against Trump’s policy of separating children from parents seeking asylum who are apprehended after crossing into the U.S. through unsanctioned points of entry.

“All Canadians are troubled by the images that are emerging out of the United States,” said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told Parliament during Question Period on Tuesday, after being pressed by NDP MP Jenny Kwan to admit that the U.S. is “no longer a safe country for migrant children.”

However, Hussen wouldn’t go that far.

“The lives of these children are very precious,” said Hussen. “We continue to monitor any changes to the domestic asylum system in the United States.”

Recent immigration policies being enforced by border guards in the U.S. have prompted renewed calls for Canada to scrap a controversial agreement with its southern neighbour, which results in asylum seekers from the U.S. to be automatically turned away.

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The Safe Third Country Agreement, introduced in 2004, says asylum seekers must make their claims in the first safe country of arrival — as of right now, both Canada and the U.S. consider each other safe countries. This means that most asylum seekers coming to Canada from the U.S. are turned away if they’re trying to make their claims at official points of entry.

The agreement, however, requires the government to hear the cases of those who are already on Canadian soil. This is why thousands of people have taken the risk of crossing the border between official points of entry, in places like Lacolle, Quebec.

“The United States has long been an unsafe country for refugees, but certainly the recent developments prove that,” Efrat Arbel, a University of British Columbia law professor who has studied the agreement extensively, told VICE News in an interview, echoing advocates, academics and lawyers across the country, arguing that Canada needs to suspend it.

“By maintaining the [agreement], notwithstanding these developments, Canada is complicit,” she continued. “We know that the United States is not abiding by the basic standards of rights protection as articulated in international law," she said.

"We know that through its conduct, it is needlessly subjecting children and families to unfathomable pain for no legitimate reason, and by continuing to return asylum seekers to the United States at our border and by continuing to maintain the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires our state actors to return those individuals to the United States and also sends a message to those individuals that our borders are effectively closed for their protection, we are complicit.”

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Hussen said: “The Safe Third Country Agreement is not about denial of asylum, it’s about the orderly management of asylum seekers between the United states and Canada, and actually has been a very good agreement for Canada.”

Asked if he would commit to suspending the agreement, Hussen would only say the government had provided “global leadership” on migration, invested $138 million, and reduced immigration detention by 30 percent.

This comes as the outcry over Trump’s immigration policies has reached a fever pitch, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been widely criticized for refusing to condemn them.

“Trump is taking migrant children hostage and putting them in cages to advance his political agenda,” said Kwan, describing how in recent weeks, border guards have been taking migrant children away from their parents and throwing them into makeshift internment camps.

The statement comes as part of the backlash to Trump’s new zero tolerance policy, which targets anyone who crosses the border “illegally,” including those travelling with children, for federal prosecution.

On Tuesday, Mexico's foreign minister called the policy "cruel and inhumane."

The day before that, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the separation of children from their parents as "unconscionable."

"The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable," Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said. "I call on the United States to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children."

Cover Image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 7, 2018. (The Canadian Press/ Patrick Doyle.)

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