Trump gives 200,000 Salvadorans a deadline to leave U.S., prompting unknown number to look to Canada

The Republican administration is ending legal status for 200,000 people from El Salvador, a situation further complicated by their 190,000 children, who are U.S. citizens

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      Canada is preparing for a second wave of Latin American immigrants to leave the United States.

      Last November, the Trump administration ended temporary protected status (TPS) for some 46,000 Haitian immigrants who have resided in the United States since an earthquake struck the island nation in 2010.

      Partly as a result, Haitian asylum claims to Canada increased significantly, from 319 in 2015 to 631 in 2016 to a projected 8,332 in 2017 (based on the year’s first nine months of data), according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) figures.

      In Quebec, the influx occurred so quickly that in August, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium was converted into a temporary shelter and people were forced to sleep there on cots. B.C. has also experienced a sharp increase in refugee claims.

      Now a much larger group of TPS immigrants has been told they have to leave the United States.

      On January 8, the Trump administration announced it would not renew TPS arrangements for people from El Salvador. There are an estimated 200,000 of them in America, plus their children who were born in the United States.

      Most of them arrived in America in 2001. Now they've been given a deadline to leave the country: September 9, 2019.

      Related: Trump's refugees: Fleeing a xenophobic America

      Jean-Nicolas Beuze is the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Canada. In a telephone interview, he cautioned against overstating a cause for alarm.

      “It is very difficult to foresee what will be the impact of the end of the TPS for the Salvadorans,” Beuze told the Straight in a telephone interview. “People do not take the decision to come to Canada lightheartedly. It’s really a difficult decision for them to make, whether to remain irregular in the United States or coming to Canada, where they have to start a new process of getting asylum.”

      Beuze suggested the sharp rise in asylum claims from Haitians may have had less to do with America’s TPS framework and instead was more a result of “misinformation about what was going to happen to those Haitians who were crossing into Canada”.

      That was partly a diplomatic reference to a January 2017 message posted on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Twitter account. “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” it reads. “Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”. 

      Critics argue such rhetoric was partly responsible for the rise in irregular border crossings observed through 2017.

      Beuze said the Canadian government has since worked to rectify the situation. “Once information was provided to Haitians, that, actually, they would have to file a claim before the refugee board…the numbers completely dropped,” he said.

      Taking questions from reporters on Tuesday (January 9), Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen also downplayed concerns. He argued that many of the Salvadorans in question will focus efforts on remaining in America.

      “These are people who have deep roots in communities across the United States. They have children, they have jobs, some of them have mortgages and so on," Hussen said, quoted in a Globe and Mail report.

      Pablo Rodriguez, Liberal MP for Honoré-Mercier, is scheduled to travel to California to meet with community groups and Spanish-language media there.

      “Canada has a robust and structured immigration system that must be respected,” he told La Presse earlier this week. “Before leaving your job, pulling your child from school and selling your house to come to Canada, make sure you understand the rules and the laws. Because if you don’t fill these criteria, chances are you’ll be returned, not to the U.S. but to your native country.”

      In addition to the 200,000 Salvadorans living in America under the TPS, it’s estimated there are an additional 190,000 children of that group who were born in the United States and who therefore have full U.S. citizenship.

      Beuze said this further complicates the situation.

      “One member of the family might be legally entitled to stay in the U.S. while the others may not,” he explained. “Therefore, families may have to make choices if they are forced to leave the country. Do they bring their kids with them or give them the opportunity to remain behind?”

      Canada has seen sharp increases in asylum claims from people who claim persecution in certain Latin American countries ever since the Trump administration signalled it might cancel legal arrangements that allow those groups to remain in the United States.

      In December 2016, the Straight published an in-depth article that traced one Salvadoran’s journey from the capital city of San Salvador to Vancouver.

      In that story, Byron Cruz, who works with a Vancouver-based immigrant-support group called Sanctuary Health, reported rising demands placed on his organization by growing numbers of undocumented immigrants in B.C. “We have seen an increase of families and individuals who are coming from the United States,” he said in December.

      Interviewed again this week, Cruz said that trend has continued.

      “Just this morning [January 8], we met with a group and there were a few Salvadorans who live in Vancouver and have families in the United Sates,” he said. “There’s lot of fear.”

      Such anecdotal reports are supported by figures collected by the federal government.

      IRCC data shows that 315 people were intercepted by the RCMP while entering Canada outside of an official border crossing. That figure then jumped to an average of 812 each month for the next five months.

      Then, in July, it jumped again, to 3,134, and then to a peak of 5,712 in August. RCMP interceptions then fell to 1,881 in September, 1,890 in October, and 1,623 in November.

      Cruz said it’s his opinion that the end of the TPS for people from El Salvador will lead many to try for residence in Canada.

      “We’ve had a few Salvadoran families crossing the border,” he said. “We will see more of that.”

      Like Beuze, Cruz drew attention to those TPS immigrants who have children with American citizenship.

      “Some of them will cross the border [into Canada] in order to keep family unity,” he said. “It is inhuman, that the United States government is dividing families in this way.”