Migrants learn even liberal Canada has certain limits
Officials say immigration system overwhelmed with claims
MONTREAL — After fleeing to Montreal from Long Island, N.Y., 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, or about $480, free health care and free French lessons. The weather has become bone-cold chilly, 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 that the family of her dead husband will kill her.
“I won’t — I can’t — go back to Haiti,” said Beauville, a caregiver from Anseà-Veau, Haiti.
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 since the summer, he said, and 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.
In August, the number of asylum-seekers who illegally crossed the U.S. border into Quebec swelled to 5,530, most of them Haitians, according to Canadian government data. In November, that number dropped to about 1,500 people, suggesting that cold weather and the warnings from Canadian officials were having an effect.
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.
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.
Marlise Beauville (left) and Marie Nadege, a fellow migrant, dine at a cafe in Montreal. Beauville was one of a surge of thousands of Haitian migrants who crossed over to Canada last summer.