A participant in a 2018 rally in Toronto holds a sign reading “Freedom to move, Freedom to return, Freedom to stay. #RefugeesWelcome.” Photo credit: John MacDonald/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

CUPE joins refugee and migrant justice advocates who are condemning the closure of the Roxham Road border crossing, following U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit.

Roxham Road is the unofficial crossing between the United States and Canada that thousands of refugee claimants have used in search of a better life. Closing this border crossing is part of a broader plan to expand the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).  It will result in increased hardship, and possibly death, for thousands of vulnerable refugees.

CUPE has spoken out about our serious concerns with the STCA. Under the agreement, refugee claimants must request refuge in the first safe country they arrive in. The United States is the only country that has been designated as a safe country under this agreement.

Advocates point out that the U.S. does not in fact guarantee the safety of refugees. The Canadian Council for Refugees highlights that refugees in the U.S. system face arbitrary detention, expedited removal before they have had a chance to appear before a judge, and criminal prosecution for crossing into the U.S.

Many advocates were shocked by the closure. They have long argued that the solution to unofficial border crossings is to suspend the STCA and let people cross in a safe and secure way at official ports of entry. Two separate courts have ruled the STCA is unconstitutional, in 2007 and 2020. The Supreme Court of Canada heard a case about the agreement in late 2022 and has not released its decision.

According to the Migrant Rights Network, “refugees and other migrants were already dying crossing via Roxham Road because the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) and other immigration laws made it impossible to travel safely.” Canada’s undemocratic decision to close Roxham Road will push refugee claimants, many of them desperate to find safety, to cross in more unsafe ways.

People have lost limbs and died crossing in dangerous conditions at various locations along the U.S.-Canada border, because of the STCA. The Canadian government’s latest decision will make such tragedies more common. It is also an unworkable and expensive plan that will fuel increased border surveillance and embolden the human smuggling industry.

Canada is on the wrong side of history. Under international law, people have the right to seek refugee protection and to a fair process that determines whether they should receive it.

CUPE calls on members to take action by supporting the Migrant Rights Network’s campaign to support refugee claimants seeking safety in Canada.