Windsor mayor says city is helping migrants find work and integrate into the city

Mayor Drew Dilkens, shown here in February, says the city is doing its best to make asylum claimants feel at home.  (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
Mayor Drew Dilkens, shown here in February, says the city is doing its best to make asylum claimants feel at home. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens told CBC News it's "too soon to tell" what will happen after Canada and the U.S. reached a deal to tighten the rules on asylum claimants crossing the border.

But Dilkens says the city is working through the number of asylum claimants currently in Windsor and trying to get them "actively engaged in the community" by finding work for them.

Dilkens talked on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday about the roughly 1,100 asylum claimants who've recently arrived in Windsor, many through the Roxham Road border crossing in Quebec. The Trudeau government reached a long-discussed deal with the U.S. Thursday to close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

"We're trying to find the silver lining here," he said during the interview.

"They certainly don't want to stay in a hotel room 24/7. They want to get out and be productive as well."

With the new agreement, asylum seekers must make their claims in the first safe country they reach. Prior to the deal, it only applied to official ports of entry, not the entire border.

Canadian authorities patrolling the border, including at the popular Roxham Road crossing, are now able to turn asylum seekers back to the United States.

That agreement "is good news to have orderly and structured processes for refugees seeking asylum in Canada," Dilkens said.

He said he wasn't surprised by the move.

"Watching sort of the track that was being was being laid in advance of the [U.S.] president's visit, it wasn't just pressure from Canada at Roxham Road, it was also complaints by the United States."

In response to a influx of asylum claimants to Canada, the federal government is housing people at hotels in cities including Windsor.

A group of Windsor councillors told the federal government earlier this month the city can't handle any more asylum seekers.

Dilkens said the city is renting around 650 to host almost 1,100 migrants who are here seeking refuge.

"Our country was founded on immigrants, my city as well. And so we want to be good hosts," said Dilkens. "But there's no doubt it does put strain on on all facets of our municipal systems."

Mike Morency, who runs refugee claimant support service Matthew House, spoke to council last week about the growing number of asylum seekers.

He said refugee claimants face unique challenges and require additional support to adjust to life in Canada.

"It's like entering into a car race when you haven't even bought your first car yet," he said.

"These people don't even have their refugee claims submitted."

Dilkens spoke about the STCA and said it's a good sign the agreement "has been expanded to look really border-wide."

"We have the world's longest undefended border. And we need to make sure that there are sensible rules in place to protect both of our nations," he said.

In a council meeting earlier this month, David Cote, a staff lawyer at Legal Assistance of Windsor told council the root of the problem lied in the STCA.

"As long as the federal government continues to implement the STCA without regard to the treatment of asylum claimants in the United States, we will continue to see people entering Canada," Cote told the community services standing committee.

"A cap on numbers has not and will not work."