There is a sense of resignation surrounding the influx of refugees fleeing Donald Trump’s America and seeking asylum in Canada; the feeling that the situation is the result of complex circumstances that make a solution difficult to implement.
This passivity is a mistake. There is good reason to believe that the rise in illegal border crossings since Mr. Trump took office in January is going to keep growing over the course of his four-year mandate. Doing nothing is not an option.
To be blunt, a perfect storm is brewing. Canada’s international obligations require it to consider the refugee claim of anyone who lands on its shores. The one exception to that – the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement, under which people who seek asylum in Canada or the U.S. aren’t allowed to jump from one country to the other – is easily defeated by avoiding official border crossings and entering Canada at an unsecured area.
Add to this U.S. President Donald Trump’s toxic rhetoric and the concrete actions that he has taken in his war on immigrants. This includes the roundup of refugees and illegal immigrants living anywhere in the country – and not just near the Mexican border, as was the policy under the previous administration – and their transfer to far-flung detention centres.
It also now includes the U.S. decision to extend for only six months, until January, the temporary protected status (TPS) granted to some 58,000 Haitians who fled their country in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, which killed 200,000 or more people and devastated the already fragile island nation.
Add to the mix Canada’s reputation as a welcoming place, and the result has been a steady flow of refugees entering this country on back roads and through fields. There were 4,345 illegal border crossings into Canada in the first six months of the year, according to federal government figures. The majority, 3,350, occurred in Quebec, followed by 646 in Manitoba and 332 in British Columbia.
A second wave began last month, after the White House’s decision to extend the TPS designation for Haitian refugees for only six more months, instead of the usual 18 months. That decision came in spite of the fact that conditions in Haiti remain dire.
“Many of the conditions prompting the original January 2010 TPS designation persist, including a housing shortage, a cholera epidemic and limited access to medical care, [and] damage to the economy,” according to a report by U.S. immigration officials in December. The destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew, in October of last year, only exacerbated Haiti’s problems.
If and when their U.S. TPS designation expires in January, Haitians who haven’t obtained lawful status will be deported. Thanks in part to false rumours that Canada automatically accepts people with TPS designation, more than 1,000 Haitians have entered Quebec illegally since the start of July.
Canada, in fact, ended its own TPS designation for Haitians last year, but those who had it were allowed to apply for residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Most received it but some were deported, according to a Montreal advocacy group.
Haitians arriving here from the U.S. could well see their refugee claims refused and find themselves deported, too. Canada is not, in fact, an automatic paradise for refugees.
But that doesn’t mean desperate people won’t try. Canada’s immigration officials and the federal government need to admit to themselves that the conditions exist for the influx of asylum seekers from the U.S. to increase dramatically.
The Associated Press reported in May that a top immigration official had asked her staff to gather information on how many Haitians with TPS designation had been convicted of crimes in the U.S., or were caught receiving illegal benefits.
Critics suspected that the Trump White House wanted to unearth a few gory details in order to create a media narrative in support of the mass expulsion of Haitian TPS refugees, many of whom have made lives in the U.S. and have had children there.
Those same critics now suspect, with valid reason, that the Trump administration will similarly try to libel the 257,000 Salvadoran and Honduran refugees in the U.S. whose temporary protected status is up for renewal next year – not to mention another 50,000 TPS refugees from other countries.
The number of refugees in the U.S. seeking asylum in Canada thus seems destined to rise. For the moment, the Trudeau government is willing to clean up the President’s mess without complaint. And why not. This compassionate country can handle the load; in fact, the number of refugee claims has been higher in other years.
But at some point, what has so far been manageable could well become a logistical and political crisis. There are more than 300,000 TPS-designated refugees in the United States, and Mr. Trump is likely going to put a target on all their backs. When that happens, Canada needs to be ready.