- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) yesterday announced final rules for a bilateral agreement between the United States and Canada that guarantees asylum seekers at the countries’ shared border will get a hearing and can remain in either country until a final ruling.

“The agreement ensures that all asylum seekers will be heard,” said CIS Director Eduardo Aguirre Jr., noting that the pact — known as the Safe Third Country Agreement — will take effect in 30 days.

Mr. Aguirre said CIS and Citizenship and Immigration Canada “worked diligently” to anticipate and resolve potential challenges to guarantee procedural safeguards for the decision-making review process and the ability of asylum seekers to have someone present when interviewed about exceptions.

The agreement, signed in December 2002, could not take effect until both countries published final implementing regulations, said CIS spokesman Dan Kane. Canada published its final regulations on Nov. 3.

Mr. Kane said the agreement applies only to asylum seekers at a U.S.-Canada land border port of entry or those being removed from Canada or the United States through the other country. It permits either country to return asylum seekers to the other country during consideration of any request for protection based on fear of persecution or torture.

Mr. Kane said the agreement was included in a 30-point action plan under the Smart Border Declaration signed in December 2001 by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and John Manley, former deputy foreign minister of Canada.

Mr. Kane said it highlights U.S.-Canadian cooperation to develop mutually beneficial approaches to common security goals while continuing to provide access to the asylum systems in both countries for those with protection concerns.

The agreement adheres to both the United States’ and Canada’s long-standing commitment to protect refugees by ensuring that asylum protection claims are heard and decided in one of the two countries, he said.

The agreement’s exceptions include unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers with family members in the United States who may be able to provide support to an asylum seeker while he or she is pursuing protection, he said, adding that family members include a wide range of relatives — spouses, sons, daughters, parents, legal guardians, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

For asylum seekers to qualify for the exceptions, he said, family members in the United States must have some form of lawful immigrant or non-immigrant status — other than a visitor’s visa — or have an asylum claim pending.

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