Fleeing to Canada
A rising number of Haitians, concerned about their status in the U.S., are entering Canada illegally
Why Haitians are crossing the border.
Thousands of Haitians sought refuge in the United States after the devastating earthquake in 2010. Recently, the Trump administration cast doubt over their long term prospects there and the fear of being deported next January has led to large numbers heading for Canada. Justin Trudeau’s government is attempting to dissuade them from entering illegally.
The Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages promising safe haven in Canada claim to have the blessing of the Canadian government. Creole-language radio stations offer up consultants giving free and paid consultations for Haitians seeking residency across the U.S. border. Border cities such as Montreal are welcoming immigrants with open arms, or so the stories go. 2. Haitians in the US, fearful of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants but unwilling to return to the grinding poverty of their homeland, have responded by the thousands. They’ve quit their jobs, sold their possessions and taken planes, buses and even taxis to the US-Canada border.
3. The number of migrants illegally crossing into French-speaking Quebec more than tripled in July, with another 3,800-plus entering in just the first half of August. And now Canada is aggres- sively trying to stem the flow and dispel the myths that have triggered an unprecedented exodus of mostly Haitian asylum seekers.
4. Canadian consulates across the US have been mobilized. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dispatched his nation’s only Haiti-born parliamentarian, Emmanuel Dubourg, to Miami, home to the largest concentration of Haitians in the US Armed with the Creole language and his own personal tale of migrating to Canada from Haiti four decades earlier, Dubourg was clear everywhere he went: There is no new
immigration program for Haitians in Canada. “It’s not true that Canada is wide open,” Dubourg said, as he visited Miami’s Little Haiti Cultural Center Complex. “Crossing the border … is no free pass.”
RUMORS AND HOPE
5. Some asylum seekers have cited Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the special humanitarian program for Haitians that the Trump administration has signaled may end in January, as their reason for fleeing north. But Dubourg blamed “misinformation circulating” on social media.
6. One such message in French circulated among Haitians on WhatsApp. It read: “The Consul of Canada in the USA held a meeting in New Jersey for more than two hours. It invites and even encourages all Haitians (with or without TPS) to apply for a Canadian residence.” It even provided a phone number to someone purporting to be a Creole-speaking attorney, along with a line: “The fees will be reduced by the Canadian government. Inform yourself and good luck.” But the number doesn’t work.
7. Claudia Roger, a Haitian national, said she shared the message on a WhatsApp group because she believed it was a legitimate answer to many people’s prayers. “A lot of people are having this TPS problem and they don’t know where to turn,” she said. “That’s not good. They are taking advantage of it. (People) are desperate and they are scared.”
8. Dubourg said the Canadian government has launched an investigation to uncover who is behind the push to send Haitians north. Haitian leaders in Miami and New York also believe there’s a profit motive. “I have Haitian people in New York in my district stopping me on the streets, coming to my office to share with me their decision to go to Montreal, because they believe that Canada has opened the door for them,” said New York City Councilman Mathieu Eugene. “Some of them say they heard that Canada is accepting Haitian people with TPS. Some tell me that their friends are already in Canada, family members are already there, and are telling them, ‘You have to come over because they received this, or they received that and Canada is going to give them authorization to stay,’” Eugene said.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
9. Eugene said he tells them the fight for a renewal of TPS beyond the January expiration date is continuing. “They don’t want to hear it,” he said. “It’s very difficult to change their minds.” When he visited Haitian asylum seekers at a shelter in Montreal, Eugene said it became clear that many had made a rash decision. “They were asking me questions, ‘What’s going to happen? Are they going to send us back to the US? Are they going to give us the authorization to stay?’” he said.
10. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, speaking at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami, renewed his call for an 18-month extension of TPS. The illegal migration to Canada by Haitians, Nelson said, was “another reason why the administration should extend, right now, the Temporary Protected Status for the 60,000 Haitians that are here, so they don’t feel like they have to flee to Mexico or Canada in order not to have to go back to Haiti.”
11. The steady stream of asylum seekers — 10,000 since the beginning of the year — sweeping into Quebec has strained government resources. With some Canadians now questioning the integrity of their immigration system in the wake of the surge, Trudeau signaled a slightly tougher immigration stance than he had earlier. Canada, he said, remains a “welcoming and open” society to those fleeing persecution and in need of protection but “we are also a country of laws. Entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage. There are rigorous immigration and customs rules that will be followed. Make no mistake.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police stop a group of Haitians attempting to cross the border illegally, 28 August.