Immigration issue could cost $1.1 billion; PBO report

A report requested by Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire has determined that the federal government’s $173 million set aside for refugee processing will not be able to cover costs should the number of claimants continue to remain the same.

A report requested by Brandon-Souris Member of Parliament Larry Maguire suggests the country’s current immigration situation may cost the federal government $1.1 billion through the rest of 2018 and the next two fiscal years.

In June, Maguire formally asked Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Yves Giroux to look into costs associated with immigration as it pertains to illegal border crossers seeking refugee status. Maguire, Conservative Party Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel and Charlesbourg–Haute-Saint-Charles (Quebec) MP Pierre Paul-Hus hosted a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday to discuss the results of the study, which was released 18 months after Opposition MPs began asking the federal government to provide information on issue.

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“Over the last two years, the (governing) Liberals have failed to properly manage the border. Close to 35,000 people have illegally crossed the border into Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and my home province of Manitoba,” Maguire said in an introductory statement at the press conference.

“We’ve 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 due to the allowing of illegal border crossers. By the end of next year, the Liberal government – because they failed to manage our border crossings – will have spent at least $1.1 billion.”

Maguire noted that the PBO report, which is titled Costing Irregular Migration Across Canada’s Southern Border, did not include costs incurred by provincial governments in areas such as housing, welfare and elsewhere.

“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that are not included in this report – if not another billion,” he said. “The federal government, the RCMP, the CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency), CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service), Immigration and the Refugee Board have all had to re-allocate resources to deal with illegal border crossers and plead with the Minister of Finance for new funding.”

The PBO report said the total cost of asylum claims reached $340 million through the last year, $368 million this year and could broach $396 million in 2019-2020.

Giroux noted that the federal government had relegated $173 million over the next two years to cover additional costs associated with asylum seekers, both legal and illegal. Giroux could not delineate between the two kinds of refugee claimants because information collected by the federal government accounted for the average costs of all claimants.

Nevertheless, the PBO report said the $173 million response, which was based on 5000 to 8000 individual claimants per year, would not cover the true costs associated with the issue. The actual number of individual claimants is 23,000 through the past year. Each case can cost between $10,000 and $34,000 dependent on how complicated each individual process becomes, with the average cost being $14,321.

Meanwhile, municipal and provincial governments are asking for aid in dealing with the situation within their own jurisdictions. In June, the federal government announced $50 million in funding for Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. The City of Toronto alone has asked for $64.5 million to reimburse its costs thus far, and another $43 million per year moving forward.

“It just blows my mind that between 2017 and through the next fiscal year, this Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau) is choosing to spend $1.1 billion on essentially what amounts to an abuse of our asylum system,” Rempel said during the press conference, adding that the issue was “a problem of his own making that essentially undermines the integrity of the system.” She said the federal government has chosen not to close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, a aspect of the agreement that allows individuals to abuse Canada’s asylum system.

“Some of the numbers in (the report) are absolutely shocking,” she said. “The fact that the cost per illegal border crosser – just the federal costs alone and, I’m sure with the provincial costs added on to it – are somewhere in the range of what the total gross salary of what a minimum wage worker in Canada would be.”

Maguire is not aware of any illegal crossings occurring within the Brandon-Souris constituency, but people have entered near the Emerson Port of Entry in the riding of Provencher represented by MP Ted Falk. Regardless, Maguire is hearing about the issue from his own constituents.

“I constantly hear from local residents about how the Liberals have failed to properly manage the border,” he told the Westman Journal on Friday. “This summer, we had a packed town hall with Michelle Rempel in Brandon, and it was good to see so many people who are engaged.”

The PBO reported that refugee board hearings have been held for 18 per cent of border crossers currently in the system, with a fraction being removed from the country. Through 2017-2018, the refugee board was capable of handling 24,000 claims per year, but more than 52,100 claims were submitted. The situation has caused a glut in the refugee claim process, putting undue pressure all organizations involved in the issue, said Maguire.

It has also raised questions about how the government is handling the immigration situation both fiscally and administratively.

“In the coming days, we will write to the Auditor General to request an investigation into how the government has handled this entire situation,” Maguire said. “We want to ensure everything was done by the book and that all costs are accounted for.”

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