Mi­grants learn that even lib­eral Canada has its lim­its

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Dan Bilef­sky

MON­TREAL – Af­ter flee­ing to Mon­treal from Long Is­land, Marlise Beauville felt, she said, as if she had reached the Promised Land.

She en­tered the coun­try last sum­mer with­out pa­pers, yet re­ceived a work per­mit, a monthly stipend of 600 Cana­dian dol­lars (about $480 U.S.), free health care and free French lessons. The weather has be­come bit­ter cold, but her Cana­dian neigh­bors are warm.

Though it is not clear that she will be able to stay, she is hun­ker­ing down, adamant that limbo in Canada is bet­ter than re­turn­ing to Haiti, where she fears the fam­ily of her dead hus­band will kill her. “I won’t – I can’t – go back to Haiti,” said Beauville, a care­giver from Anse-aVeau, Haiti, who was vis­it­ing a Haitian com­mu­nity cen­ter here.

Beauville was one of a surge of thou­sands of Haitian mi­grants who crossed the bor­der from the United States to Que­bec last sum­mer, spurred by a May an­nounce­ment by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that Haitians could lose their tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus in the United States, granted af­ter the 2010 earth­quake that dev­as­tated their coun­try.

The mi­grants were hop­ing to ben­e­fit from a loop­hole in a U.S.-Canada treaty that al­lowed them to make refugee claims in Canada if they did not ar­rive at le­gal ports of en­try, but crossed the bor­der il­le­gally.

But Cana­dian of­fi­cials are warn­ing that even lib­eral Canada has its lim­its amid con­cerns, fairly or not, that il­le­gal mi­gra­tion is stretch­ing the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem to a break­ing point and risks stok­ing a po­ten­tial back­lash.

Canada’s min­is­ter of im­mi­gra­tion, Ahmed Hussen, him­self a for­mer refugee who moved to the coun­try from So­ma­lia when he was 16, said Canada was proud to be a wel­com­ing coun­try but could not wel­come ev­ery­one. Only about 8 per­cent of Haitian mi­grants had re­ceived asy­lum here since the sum­mer, he said, while there is a back­log of about 40,700 cases, ac­cord­ing to Canada’s Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Board.

“We don’t want peo­ple to il­le­gally en­ter our bor­der, and do­ing so is not a free ticket to Canada,” Hussen said. “We are say­ing, ‘You will be ap­pre­hended, screened, de­tained, fin­ger­printed, and if you can’t es­tab­lish a gen­uine claim, you will be de­nied refugee pro­tec­tion and re­moved.’ ”

Cana­dian im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials are once again brac­ing for a pos­si­ble in­flux of mi­grants head­ing north. On Mon­day, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said it would not be re­new­ing tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus for nearly 200,000 Sal­vado­rans, a hu­man­i­tar­ian mea­sure that had al­lowed them to live and work legally in the United States.

On Thurs­day at a White House meeting, Pres­i­dent Trump de­manded to know why he should ac­cept im­mi­grants from Haiti and some coun­tries in Africa, which he de­scribed in vul­gar and dis­parag­ing terms. His re­marks pos­si­bly fur­ther un­set­tled oth­ers in the United States al­ready anx­ious about their pre­car­i­ous sta­tus.

In what ap­peared to be an ef­fort to dis­pel false hope among would-be im­mi­grants and help stem an in­flux, Pablo Ro­driguez, a Lib­eral law­maker who was born in Ar­gentina, will be trav­el­ing to Los Angeles next week to meet with mem­bers of the His­panic com­mu­nity there to ex­plain the lim­its of Cana­dian asy­lum pol­icy.

On an ear­lier trip there, he sought to counter false me­dia re­ports in the Latin Amer­i­can press that he said were sug­gest­ing that mi­grants could travel to Canada, “walk in and stay for­ever.”

This past sum­mer, the govern­ment also sent Em­manuel Dubourg, a Lib­eral Haitian-Cana­dian mem­ber of Par­lia­ment from Mon­treal, to Mi­ami’s “Lit­tle Haiti” to spread the word that get­ting asy­lum in Canada was dif­fi­cult. “Peo­ple come here and re­al­ize that this is not the Promised Land and that they could be de­ported back to Haiti,” he said.

Im­mi­gra­tion is a par­tic­u­larly emo­tion­alis­sueinQue­bec,aprovince­largely made up of French speak­ers sur­rounded by an English-speak­ing ma­jor­ity, where im­mi­grants are re­quired to send their chil­dren to French-only schools. Que­bec’s Lib­eral govern­ment re­cently banned full face-veils in the province in pub­lic spa­ces, ar­gu­ing that it en­cour­aged the seg­re­ga­tion of women.

In Au­gust, the num­ber of asy­lum­seek­ers who il­le­gally crossed the U.S. bor­der into Que­bec swelled to 5,530, most of them Haitians, ac­cord­ing to Cana­dian govern­ment data pub­lished that month. In Novem­ber, that num­ber dropped to about 1,500 peo­ple, sug­gest­ing that cold weather and the warn­ings from Cana­dian of­fi­cials were hav­ing an ef­fect.

Many of those who travel to Canada avoid the of­fi­cial bor­der, so they can cir­cum­vent the Safe Third Party Agree­ment be­tween Canada and the United States, which re­quires asy­lum-seek­ers to ap­ply for refuge in the coun­try where they first ar­rived.

That loop­hole has cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal headache for the govern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, prompt­ing crit­i­cism that it is en­cour­ag­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, even as refugee ad­vo­cates warn that Haitian mi­grants could face poverty, vi­o­lence or worse if they are sent back to Haiti.

Hussen em­pha­sized that Canada was obliged to honor its in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments un­der the 1951 U.N. refugee con­ven­tion, which makes clear that asy­lum claims should be con­sid­ered even if those ap­ply­ing use ir­reg­u­lar means to en­ter a coun­try be­cause refugees are, by def­i­ni­tion, flee­ing per­se­cu­tion.

But ex­perts say there are too few judges to ad­ju­di­cate the back­log of refugee claims, which means that the asy­lum process for mi­grants like Beauville can drag on for as long as two years.

“There is a dis­con­nect be­tween Trudeau’s hash­tag ‘Wel­come to Canada’ and the re­al­ity that the sys­tem is over­whelmed,” said Michelle Rem­pel, the shadow im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter for the op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tive Party. “It can lead to a na­tion­al­ist blow­back like we have seen in Europe.”

Beauville is un­de­terred. She said that af­ter her hus­band died 15 years ago in Haiti, his fam­ily threat­ened her with a ma­chete, seek­ing her in­her­i­tance. So she fled to Long Is­land, where she eked out a liv­ing as a care­giver.

Life was not easy in the United States – she had left her son with her sis­ter in Haiti – but at least it was bet­ter than liv­ing with death threats.

When re­ports that Haitians were go­ing to be de­ported from the United States be­gan to cir­cu­late in the sum­mer, Beauville once again packed her bags. She left her home in Long Is­land, boarded a Grey­hound bus for Platts­burgh, and then took a taxi to an un­of­fi­cial point along the U.S.-Cana­dian bor­der.

When an ami­able Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice of­fi­cer warned her that she would be de­tained, she had her re­ply ready: “Please ar­rest me.”

She was de­tained but not hand­cuffed.

“They asked how much money I had,” she re­called. “They took my fin­ger­prints, and a group of us were then taken to a YMCA for pro­cess­ing. I love Canada be­cause it is an open, wel­com­ing coun­try. I feel I re­ceive love here.”

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