A fam­ily from Hon­duras, who re­cently fled the United States by walk­ing through snow across the bor­der into Bri­tish Columbia, ex­plains why they chose to seek asy­lum in Canada.

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BETHANY LIND­SAY AND NICK EAGLAND With a file from Matt Robinson

It was a cold Fe­bru­ary night and the ground was cov­ered with snow when Juan, Car­men and their 11-year-old son Jose slipped across the U.S. bor­der into Bri­tish Co­lum­bia.

Car­men is seven months preg­nant and she dreaded be­ing sep­a­rated from her chil­dren if she was de­ported from the States, a pos­si­bil­ity that had sud­denly be­come very real af­ter the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump. And so, the Hon­duran fam­ily de­cided to try their luck in Canada, where they had heard the gov­ern­ment was more wel­com­ing.

“We had to run. We ran in dan­ger of be­ing caught,” Car­men said of her ar­rival in B.C.

The fam­ily has been here a week and is seek­ing le­gal aid to file a refugee claim next week. Post­media News agreed to use only their first names for this story.

Speak­ing through a trans­la­tor, the fam­ily said they left Hon­duras be­cause Jose had no fu­ture there, ex­cept to be forcibly re­cruited into one of the vi­o­lent gangs that con­trol much of the coun­try. The fam­ily had lost their home when they could no longer af­ford to pay a “war tax” to the lo­cal crim­i­nals — they were given just two days to leave or they would be killed.

Af­ter a long, dan­ger­ous jour­ney through Gu­atemala and Mex­ico, they set­tled in the eastern U.S., where they lived hap­pily for two years un­til a new pres­i­dent was elected on a prom­ise of de­port­ing mil­lions of peo­ple like them. Now, they say many Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants are plan­ning to head north.

“My work friends, a lot of them said they were go­ing to come to Canada,” Juan said.

The fed­eral Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment couldn’t pro­vide any re­cent sta­tis­tics on peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum af­ter cross­ing the bor­der on foot, but spokes­woman Nancy Caron wrote in an email that “we have not seen a surge in the num­ber of in-land refugee claims in the past few months.”

But refugee ad­vo­cates in Metro Van­cou­ver say oth­er­wise. Al­though the num­bers in B.C. don’t com­pare to the hun­dreds of asy­lum seek­ers who have braved the bit­ter cold at the bor­der near Emer­son, Man., in re­cent weeks, anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests an in­crease here as well.

Sanc­tu­ary Health’s By­ron Cruz, who works with un­doc­u­mented mi­grants, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion knows of five or six groups that have walked across the bor­der in the past two weeks.

“Prob­a­bly in the last three years, the num­ber of refugee claimants from Latin Amer­ica was re­duced tremen­dously. We just didn’t see refugee claimants com­ing,” he said.

“For us, in the last two weeks, see­ing five, six groups of peo­ple is like, wow.”

But af­ter find­ing and cross­ing an iso­lated stretch of the 8,890-kilo­me­tre bor­der into Canada, their fear of de­por­ta­tion may not fade. Cruz wants to warn peo­ple liv­ing in the U.S. not to make any rash de­ci­sions about com­ing north based on the sunny im­ages of Justin Trudeau they see in the Amer­i­can me­dia.

“Our mes­sage to peo­ple in sanc­tu­ary cities in the States is that you are prob­a­bly bet­ter off there,” he said.

Un­doc­u­mented mi­grants of­ten seek one Canada’s three sanc­tu­ary cities, all in On­tario — Toronto, Hamil­ton and Lon­don — which have adopted poli­cies in­tended to pro­tect them from de­por­ta­tion and al­low them get mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices.

Ot­tawa, Regina, Win­nipeg, Saska­toon and Mon­treal are all mulling such poli­cies.

But Van­cou­ver stopped short of be­com­ing a sanc­tu­ary city, in­stead in­tro­duc­ing an “ac­cess with­out fear” pol­icy last April.

The pol­icy only ap­plies to ser­vices pro­vided by the city, and not to civic ser­vices pro­vided by po­lice, parks and li­braries, which are gov­erned by in­di­vid­ual boards. It doesn’t cover agen­cies of other gov­ern­ments ac­tive in the city.

And un­cer­tainty about po­lice co­op­er­a­tion with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties strikes fear into the hearts of those with pre­car­i­ous im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, ad­vo­cates ar­gue. Van­cou­ver po­lice did not re­spond to ques­tions about such co-op­er­a­tion be­fore dead­line.

In Canada, “sanc­tu­ary city” has a much dif­fer­ent mean­ing that in the U.S., said Har­sha Walia, an or­ga­nizer with No One Is Il­le­gal. In a ma­jor­ity of U.S. sanc­tu­ary cities, lo­cal po­lice don’t col­lab­o­rate with im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials. U.S. sanc­tu­ary cities also guar­an­tee ac­cess to a much wider range of pub­lic ser­vices than in Canada, she added.

“I think that dif­fer­ence is vi­tal. I think there will be more sanc­tu­ary cities (in Canada) but the fear is that they will be much more sym­bolic than mean­ing­ful,” said Walia, adding that a “sanc­tu­ary prov­ince” would be more ef­fec­tive by grant­ing broader ac­cess to ser­vices.

Walia said her or­ga­ni­za­tion has also seen an in­crease in peo­ple cross­ing into Canada “ir­reg­u­larly,” in­clud­ing four last week, she said.

“Peo­ple ex­pected that they could de­clare them­selves and re­ceive asy­lum in Canada right away,” she said. “And so al­most ev­ery­body was like, ‘Where can I go to get my pa­pers?’ ”

No One Is Il­le­gal is call­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to re­scind the Canada-U. S. Third Safe Coun­try Agree­ment, which re­quires refugees to claim sta­tus in the first of the two coun­tries in which they land. It al­lows Cana­dian of­fi­cials to turn away refugees who ar­rive from other coun­tries via the U.S.

Im­mi­gra­tion lawyer Zool Sule­man was part of a mayor’s work­ing group that de­vel­oped Van­cou­ver’s ac­cess with­out fear pol­icy.

Sule­man said he rec­og­nizes that it’s not the same as be­com­ing a sanc­tu­ary city, but said it’s use­ful in al­low­ing peo­ple to use ba­sic ser­vices.

“I think there is some de­sire for sev­eral of the larger mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and cities to se­ri­ously con­sider an ac­cess with­out fear pol­icy,” Sule­man said. “The ques­tion be­comes, should there be some kind of Metro Van­cou­ver ac­cess with­out fear pol­icy?”

Laura Track, staff lawyer with the B.C. Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion, said in an email that the as­so­ci­a­tion sup­ports Van­cou­ver’s work to make city ser­vices ac­ces­si­ble for peo­ple with­out le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

The BC­CLA is aware of a ris­ing num­ber of peo­ple cross­ing into Canada to make refugee claims and echoes calls for the sus­pen­sion of the Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment, Track said.

“Some of them have suf­fered se­vere frost­bite dur­ing the long jour­ney, and lost fin­gers as a re­sult of the cold. They are mak­ing this dan­ger­ous jour­ney be­cause they know that un­der the Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment, they will be turned back if they show up at a bor­der cross­ing.”



This stretch of bor­der be­tween Sur­rey and Blaine, Wash. has been crossed on foot by sev­eral groups of asy­lum seek­ers in re­cent weeks.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.