Afraid of deportation under Trump, refugees brave the cold, escape to B.C.
Trump policies pushing refugees north, but immigration advocates urge those in U.S.: American 'Sanctuary Cities' protect them better than Canadian law can.
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"You have to run. You run in danger of being caught," seven-months-pregnant Carmen explained, recalling how she and her spouse Juan came to B.C. by foot last week. "It was dark, there was a lot of snow; it was really cold."
After a harrowing journey through Guatemala and Mexico to escape terrifying threats from criminal gangs in their home country of Honduras, the couple and their now 11-year-old son José had found a good life in Boston.
But everything changed after the election of Donald Trump.
“Everything was going fine until President Trump was elected,” said Juan, speaking through a translator in a Vancouver office (Metro agreed, for their safety, only to reveal the couple's given names).
“Donald Trump said, 'When I’m the President, I’m going to (deport) so many millions of people.'”
Trump recently signed an executive order that aims to put some of his campaign promises into effect: deputizing law enforcement officers as immigration officials, threatening to cut federal funding to so-called “Sanctuary Cities” and building more detention facilities (as well as the infamous wall) along the Unites States-Mexico border.
Juan and Carmen’s fear of deportation was heightened because Carmen is pregnant, her baby due in April. It’s not uncommon in the United States for babies born in the country — and therefore American citizens — to be allowed to stay in the country in the care of friends or relatives while the parents are deported.
And the couple says they fear for their lives should they be deported back to lawless Honduras: they say they will be targeted by the same criminal gangs who threatened to kill them before, because Carmen could no longer afford to pay a “war tax” on the house she owned.
Juan and Carmen chose British Columbia because they had heard it was a nice place with a lot of job opportunities. One night just over a week ago, the family crossed over a snowy field between the Washington and B.C. border.
Migrant support workers in the Lower Mainland have heard many stories like Juan and Carmen’s lately. Just like the more well-known refugee claimants who have made their way to Emerson, Manitoba, they’re spurred by a fear of the new President.
Juan and Carmen plan to start their Canadian refugee claim in the next few days. But Byron Cruz, a nurse with Sanctuary Health, says that when people call him from the United States, he tells them not to come to Canada.
He says they’re safer in one of the United States’ Sanctuary Cities: cities that have policies in place to ensure undocumented migrants have access to city services, and do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce federal immigration laws.
While Canada’s commitment to open immigration and refugee acceptance has been widely reported in American media, Cruz says that without more action, it’s just words.
“Canada is not a safe country to come,” Cruz said. Vancouver is not yet a Sanctuary City, he said, referring to policies adopted by the city. “It’s not enough. People are not safe here because police report to immigration. In those Sanctuary Cities in the United States, the police do not report to immigration.”
Cruz added that not all school districts in B.C. accept the children of undocumented migrants, a situation that has led to some children being removed from school.