Canada's immigration officials prepare for more Haitians to cross border following Trump's cancellation of TPS

Posted by MontrealGazette on Wednesday, November 22, 2017 Under: Migration

The day after the Trump administration announced it was canceling a temporary residence program for almost 60,000 Haitians in the U.S., immigration officials here say they’re prepared for another wave of asylum seekers if worried Haitians flee to Quebec.

About 27 winterized trailers, which can accommodate up to 200 people, have been set up near the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing in case a flood of migrants enters via Roxham Rd., an unofficial entry point to Quebec.

“We are ready. We have improved the way we work and can treat high volumes,” said Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr, a spokesperson for Canada Border Services Agency. “We don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know how many are expected to cross every day.”

Plans to accommodate a large number of migrants at the border were made before the U.S. cancelled the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program on Monday, she said.

On Tuesday, Ottawa dispatched Montreal MP Emmanuel Dubourg to New York to meet with the leaders of the local Haitian community to try to prevent another exodus of Haitians to Quebec. Dubourg said he doesn’t want thousands of Haitians to cross the border illegally during the next few months with false hope.

Although the number of migrants entering Quebec has slowed since August, when 5,530 people sought asylum, about 1,700 migrants entered Quebec in September and October, Gadbois-St-Cyr said. 

Since Donald Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016, about 15,381 migrants have been intercepted by the RCMP trying to enter Quebec. Most of the asylum seekers are Haitian nationals.

“It’s an exceptional situation,” Gadbois-St-Cyr said on Tuesday.

The heated trailers near the Lacolle border will replace the tents that were used to house migrants in the summer.

Currently, no migrants are being housed at the border because immigration officials have been able to conduct security checks quickly and send asylum seekers to Montreal, where local organizations help them get settled. The federal immigration department has also opened new offices in Montreal to process refugee claims.

The TPS was granted to 60,000 Haitians living in the U.S. following the earthquake that devastated their homeland in 2010. It allows Haitians to live and work in the U.S. until conditions in Haiti have improved enough to return home. When the program ends in July 2019, Haitians in the U.S. will have to leave the country, live underground or apply to stay in the U.S. using another immigration program.
When rumours surfaced earlier this year that Trump was going to halt the program, Haitians living in the U.S. began coming to Quebec from as far away as Miami.

The flood of migrants into Montreal last summer forced city officials to set up temporary accommodation in the Olympic Stadium and the former Royal Victoria Hospital. 

Haitian-born Dubourg said there is a great deal of uncertainty in the Haitian community in the U.S., but the message needs to get out that Canada isn’t necessarily a default option.

“I’m there to inform them: Be careful before you make a decision,” the MP said. 

“Crossing into Canada outside of the normal points of entry is not a free ride into staying in the country.”

He said statistics he has seen suggest that about 10 per cent of Haitian asylum seekers who applied in Quebec during the summer were accepted, down from about 50 per cent previously.

Dubourg said the recent announcement that Canada will accept close to one million immigrants over the next three years was reported in the Haitian press as proof more Haitians would be welcomed.

Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of a union representing customs and immigration officers, said he expects another wave of Haitian asylum seekers.

“But the good news is that with the grace period of 18 months, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Liberal government have time to prepare so they don’t have to deal with a crisis like this summer’s.”

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said his government has the situation under control.

“We put in place a mechanism to react to what happened last summer and we can put it back in place rapidly,” Garneau said.

In : Migration