News / Canada

Canada ‘prepared’ for influx after Trump order to lift residency protection for Salvadorans

But Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the order doesn't mean Canada will see another spike in irregular migrants like last summer’s surge.

Mateo Barrera, 4 originally from El Salvador, whose family members benefit from Temporary Protected Status, attend a news conference in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost Temporary Protected Status under President Donald Trump.

Damian Dovarganes / The Associated Press

Mateo Barrera, 4 originally from El Salvador, whose family members benefit from Temporary Protected Status, attend a news conference in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost Temporary Protected Status under President Donald Trump.

OTTAWA—Canada is ready for another surge of migrants, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says, but the U.S. order to lift residency protections for nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador doesn’t mean a new wave will inevitably come.

Hussen made the comments Tuesday after he met with a panel of federal and provincial ministers assembled last year to deal with a spike of thousands of asylum seekers who crossed into Canada from the U.S., including thousands of Haitians who walked across the border last May after Washington announced it would lift their temporary residency status.

Hussen played down the prospect of a similar surge of Salvadorans in the coming months, crediting government moves that include an ongoing push to inform U.S. communities that Canada isn’t automatically welcoming, as well as efforts to speed up the process of determining whether people crossing irregularly are eligible to make asylum claims.

“We’re prepared,” Hussen said. “We continue to be prepared domestically to engage and make sure that we respond even better the next time there’s an influx — if there’s an influx.”

The Trump administration announced Monday that it would end a 17-year special government program that allowed tens of thousands of Salvadorans to temporarily live and work in the country. Washington said the program will remain in place until September 2019 to allow people to “arrange for their departure” from the U.S. or to find a legal way to stay in the country.

Hussen said this 18-month grace period will give people time to apply for different types of residency status instead of coming to Canada.

“We expect that a lot of them will do that,” he said. “These are people with deep roots in communities in the United States.

“This is a population that we’re already engaging as part of our outreach efforts and we’ll continue to engage.”

Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents Canada’s border agents, said Ottawa has no reason to believe another influx isn’t coming. He said that, even in the midst of the extreme cold in late December and early January, 50 to 60 people were crossing by foot into Quebec each day. On New Year’s Eve, there were 127, he said.

“All the factors are there to see a significant increase.”

Monday’s decision in the U.S. comes after Washington’s move last year to end access to the same program for almost 60,000 Haitians. That announcement preceded a surge of asylum seekers from the country, particularly in Quebec, according to government figures.

The wave strained social services and forced officials to temporarily house migrants on cots in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The federal government also brought in the military to set up tents at the border, dispatched MPs to U.S. cities in an effort to curb the flow of migrants, and instructed its 13 consulates across the U.S. to put out the word that Canada isn’t a sure bet for asylum.

Data released last November, for example, showed that Haitians crossing into Canada between February and October 2017 had the lowest asylum acceptance rate of any population: 17 per cent.

There is also a backlog of claims before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Anna Pape, the board’s senior communications adviser, said Tuesday that the projected wait time for a refugee hearing has jumped to about 18 months from 16 months last September.

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