If Justin Trudeau really cares about keeping refugee women and girls alive, his government needs to rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement

Canada’s complicity with a US policy could well sentence thousands of Central American women to death.

Many Canadians are rightly horrified by the Trump administration’s recent move to begin separating children from their asylum-seeking parents when they cross the US-Mexico border. A related — and perhaps equally devastating — change to American policy has received far less attention: domestic violence and gang violence no longer qualify as grounds for asylum in the US. Because the Canadian government still adheres to the Safe Third Country Agreement with the US, Canada is complicit with a policy that could sentence tens of thousands of Central American refugee women to extreme physical abuse, sexual enslavement, and death.

Carmen* and her daughter fled Guatemala after a marero — a member of a criminal gang — offered them a choice: if Carmen wouldn’t enter into a sexual relationship with him, he’d force Carmen’s daughter to become his girlfriend instead. It was not an idle threat. This same marero had already murdered a female in Carmen’s family, he’d stalked Carmen, and shot up her house. When Carmen, her husband, and their kids fled to another part of Guatemala, the marero found them. And that was when he made his impossible offer.

Rosa* and her children fled Honduras to escape extreme domestic violence. Rosa’s husband regularly beat her and confined her to their home. Her husband warned that if she ever left him, he would use his extensive connections to find her. When her husband began hitting their kids, too, Rosa fled with them to the US. People in Rosa’s hometown report that her husband is still looking for her.

Carmen and Rosa’s experiences are shockingly common among female asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The UN Development Programme reports that Latin America is the most violent region in the world for women. Rates of femicide are particularly high in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In 2016, one woman was murdered every 19 hours in El Salvador. In 2017, it was one every 18 hours. 2018 is on track to be even deadlier.

Because they have crossed onto US soil, Carmen and Rosa — and so many others like them — are prohibited from seeking asylum in Canada, due to Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. Although the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, and many Canadian immigration lawyers have called for the repeal of Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States on the grounds that the American asylum system and detention practices violate international and Canadian law, the Trudeau government is instead looking to “modernize” and perhaps extend the Agreement, as demanded by the opposition Conservative Party.

Canadians must question just how “safe” the United States is for Central American women trying to escape extreme violence. The United Nations recently called on the United States to stop detaining irregular migrants and to stop separating children from their families at the border, arguing that these practices are illegal. The Global Migration Project at Columbia University established that deportation has indeed been a death sentence for many Central American migrants deported from the US.

Earlier this month, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that asylum-seekers like Rosa and Carmen should not be allowed to remain in the US, as domestic violence and gang violence will no longer qualify as grounds for asylum. His ruling came as part of his personal intervention in the case of a Salvadoran woman seeking asylum in the United States to escape the domestic violence she endured for over a decade in El Salvador. Sessions questioned whether US protection was warranted for this woman, and so many others like her. As Sessions phrased it, “I have no doubt that many of those crossing our border illegally are leaving behind difficult situations, but we cannot take everyone on Earth who is in a difficult situation.” To characterize flight from domestic violence in a country where one woman is murdered every 18 hours as “a difficult situation” is an appalling and egregious understatement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made much of his feminism. But if he really cares about keeping refugee women and girls alive, his government needs to show it by rescinding the Safe Third Country Agreement.

*Not her real name

Jaymie Heilman teaches Latin American History and the History of Illicit Drugs at the University of Alberta.

Maria Walker has an MA in Latin American Studies from Stanford University and volunteers at an immigration detention center on the US-Mexico border.

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  • Can’tUnseeIt

    This entire subject makes me sick to my stomach. I’m not surprised really about Sessions & Trump’s & the entire administation’s stance on immigrants, women and children in particular, as it is in keeping with their total lack of ethics and morality. Sentencing all these people to their deaths is in keeping with people who run black-hole torture centers and praise the glories of “extraordinary rendition.” I am surprised that Canada has this agreement with the US regarding those seeking asylum. Well, in the US all of the ugly monsters are finally coming out to reveal their manifold ugliness without shame. Like the truly criminal, murderous bunch of dictators that they are, these shits find that nothing is out of bounds in the way of extortion including ripping children from their parents and locking them up in cages. I think nothing short of an all out breakdown is on the near horizon and it won’t be pretty. And if I hear one more media person refer to this as “the year of the woman” I think I will vomit. This is it ladies, enjoy your year cuz that’s all you’re getting.

    • Candice Smith

      thank you for your comments. it’s also worth noting that United States still runs a torture prison in Cuba (and against Cuba’s wishes), and this is with Canadian complicity. While I am not fond of Khadr, it’s horrendous that it took so long for Canada to get him out of the torture prison!

    • Mexican American Lesbian

      One technique the capitalist-controlled media does is to run a good cop bad cop routine to convince the public right-wingers are really left-wingers and any real left doesn’t exist. Half the media attempts to humanize neoliberals like Obama and Trudeau as somehow progressive social reformers while the other half attempts to show how they’re somehow hard-leftists using very selective evidence (that’s usually doctored and incomplete).

      Neoliberals have consistently realized that their policies are best passed while a so-called “leftist” candidate hammers them past. Blair was in many ways far worse than Thatcher. Clinton was far worse than Reagan. And Trudeau will end up being FAR worse than Harper, mark my words.

      Trudeau is simply another neoliberal who’s basically the Bill Clinton of Canadian politics. He’s consistently passed legislation to lessen punishment for corporate crime, passed laws to prevent indigenous people from protesting incursions onto their land (which have increased manifold during his tenure), rescinded on his promises to cut tax loopholes for rich people (he only increased their taxes by pittance percentage points, yet most of the loopholes will allow them to not even notice it) and now seems willing to budge on immigration, even though the right labeled his EXTREMELY mild immigration policy as somehow being whatever neologism du jour they’ve invented.

      His RCMP appointment (a female) is enforcing these immigration and anti-indigenous policies, by the way.

      Libfems are unable to see through these lies. They praised Janet Reno being appointed AG under Clinton yet don’t realize she was possibly the most evil woman there ever was, passing laws to criminalize brown men and allow for massive deportations. She was the one who laid the foundations of the current problem.

      • Can’tUnseeIt

        More like good oligarch vs bad oligarch. The term neoliberalism has changed in meaning (or should I say metastacized) over the years. I don’t think of Milton Freedman and Obama as blood brothers. That said, with the system as it is currently designed no one gains political office on a national level, and increasingly at a State level, without the backing of those who live in Richastan. We are about as far from a working democracy as we can get…almost to the point where we can discard the word as not relevant to our political life. Media has always been controlled by the wealthy classes who have spun the facts to serve their own interests. What has changed is the wealth and power has now concentrated in the hands of very few players and they have succeeded in drowning out their critics both by global control of media outlets and outright slaughter of journalist who dissent and don’t willingly “imbed” in the global corporate agenda. Not to mention owning all of the resources.

  • Hekate Jayne

    Here is what is actually happening.

    The “detention centers” have been privatized (either in pieces or in whole, I am not sure, but the result is the same) and the corporations servicing the centers have been given 5 year contracts.

    Once again, males have devised a system that lines the pockets of a few of the richest ones.

    This is why we have 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated males and 33% of the world’s incarcerated women. This is why we will never have universal healthcare or gun control. This is why male government created “detention centers”. PROFIT.

    If asylum seekers refuse to come in via approved places and they try to cross in other ways and die, or if they go back home and die, our male government doesn’t care. This country is not interested in helping anyone. The only thing that they are interested in is hoarding wealth and they have been murdering us with their greed for decades. Now they have figured out how to make money by taking children away from their mothers just because they can.

    And as a bonus, they can “lose” the kids. How fucking convenient.

    • oneclickboedicea

      Given the issues with kids going missing in ‘care’, have they been lost or sold off into prostitution?

      • Candice Smith

        I am absolutely against prostitution. While not a big fan of George Bush Jr., this was one of his major reasons for supporting asylum and opposing deportations. Often women who are deported and don’t have family back home, wind up trafficked into prostitution. I used to think that undocumented immigrants to United States/Canada were often “trafficked into prostitution” only within United States/Canada, but Bush Jr. explained that the trafficking often happens when the women/girls are deported.

  • Cangle

    Omgawdessss. Manifold ugliness, how pertinent.

    More children to traffic.

    THIS is my “it” moment.

  • Candice Smith

    Okay, there is something called middle ground. Yes, I believe in accepting refugees and those seeking asylum. However, I am concerned about creeping Sharia, and constantly bending to please cultural issues. Guess what? It used to be fashionable to oppose cultural practices over women’s rights. (In other words, women’s rights should come before cultural issues.) Remember back with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and NDP Federal Leader Jack Layton opposed religious tribunals (any religion!) and unreasonably bending for cultural sensitivity. There used to be agreement that women’s rights should come before cultural rights. Maybe the tide shifted in the Fall of 2015. When then Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair suggested that Muslim and “Orthodox Catholic” women were oppressed (though he wasn’t for the burka ban, Mulcair said: Why punish the victims?)… well, let’s just say Leftists weren’t pleased. I am sick and tired of political correctness, so I will say it: I am concerned about religious extremism. Again, I believe in accepting refugees, but both Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh have not condemned (a) Religious Law supplanting Secular Law; (b) nor has Trudeau condemned Islamic extremism (Singh has done the latter). In fact, only PC Leader Andrew Sheer has condemned both (1) Religious Law (including Roman Catholic and Islamic) and (b) Islamic extremism. (Green Party is the worst on not condemning Religious Law and Islamic extremism.) Lastly, it’s not always a left or right issue. Bernie Sanders was far more critical of terrorism, Religious extremism, human trafficking of migrants… (Sanders also has history of opposing legalized prostitution). Like I said, not always left or right, but more age-related with older people putting women’s rights first.

    I understand most of the people coming across the Canadian border are not Muslim or even from Arab countries, but there wouldn’t be such a huge backlash against refugees if Canadians were assured that women’s rights come first. Trudeau doesn’t even listen to progressive Muslims who share these concerns. I am white and working class, and I have found that “white Leftists” are actually the worst when it comes to bending to cultural extremism. White Leftists are often shocked when I suggest that we should listen to progressive Muslims… okay, now I feel better that I got that off my chest. thanks.

  • Mexican American Lesbian

    Some traditional pagan religions are not patriarchal. I certainly know traditional Zapotec beliefs are somewhat feminist to an extent from my interactions with immigrants from Oaxaca.

  • mm hmm

    Yemeni men will be “just fine” while U.S.-backed bombs are raining down on Hodeidah? Mexican men will be “just fine” while fleeing U.S.-trained cartels? Guatemalan men will be “just fine” after decades of CIA interference with their government?

    … And the men who are not allowed in the U.S. are still around women, just not us. You sound xenophobic and politically illiterate to boot.