Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Migrants face prison in U.S., lawyer says

The Windsor Star
Thu 04 Oct 2007
Byline: Don Lajoie
Source: Windsor Star

With the mayor's office announcing that the number of refugee claimants from Florida seeking Windsor city services has now reached 276, an American immigration lawyer is warning illegal immigrants seeking asylum here they could face prison if returned to the U.S.

Speaking at a news conference called Wednesday by the Detroit refugee aid agency Freedom House to clear its name in connection with the current refugee crisis swamping Windsor, immigration lawyer Noel Saleh said the situation facing the estimated 300 illegal Mexican and Haitian immigrants believed to have crossed into Canada is more dire than most may realize.

"Because of bad information they received from unscrupulous operators, it's highly likely their refugee applications will be denied in Canada," he said.

"Many may be returned to the United States to face triple jeopardy."

He said that's because many failed applicants may be sent back to the U.S. as the country of entry, where they could then be turned over to American immigration authorities and held in custody pending deportation to their country of origin, be that Mexico or Haiti.

In a worst-case scenario, he added, an illegal immigrant re-entering the U.S. without advance permission could be subject to federal charges. If convicted, they could face two years in a federal prison and then be deported.

Those found to have sought illegal entry twice could be convicted as felons and serve 10 years before deportation.

"Many only hoped and wanted to believe a myth that there was a program of economic asylum available in Canada," said Saleh. " But there's no such project.... And they could now face the risk of criminal charges."

He said it is important that like-minded illegals still living in the U.S. get the message that Canada's border is not open and that they should avoid being victimized by "misrepresentation or unscrupulous" immigration consultants like those alleged to have sent hundreds fleeing a rumoured immigration crackdown in Florida.

"Don't put yourselves in the same jeopardy that the first wave now faces," he warned.

Pegg Roberts, executive director of Freedom House, distanced her organization from the influx of migrants at the Canadian border, saying the group has no affiliation or relationship with the Jerusalem Haitian Community Centre, the consultants blamed for beginning the mass exodus.

Jacques Sinjuste, director of the JHCC, attempted to link his organization to Freedom House during a recent visit to Windsor by providing copies of letters and electronic communications between the two organizations as evidence a relationship existed.

But Roberts said that Canadian refugee information was likely down-loaded from the Freedom House website by the JHCC and, in cases where the refugees had a strong case, Freedom House would contact the applicants "to tell them an appointment had been set up" for them with Canadian authorities.

"But we had no direct contact with JHCC," said Roberts, adding she is unsure why Freedom House ever appeared on the organization's website.