A large number of U.S. citizens sought asylum in Canada in 2017, with about 80 to 85 per cent being of Haitian descent, according to new data from Canadian immigration officials.
A total 2,550 Americans applied for asylum in Canada in 2017, more than six times as many as 2016 and the highest number since Citizenship and Immigration Canada began tracking the data in 1994, news site The Guardian reported.
Haitian Americans made up the largest group of asylum seekers last year (7,785 applicants) followed by Nigerian immigrants (6,005 applicants) and U.S. citizens (2,250).
According to the CNN, there is also a large number of asylum-seekers this year, with 1,215 Americans requesting refuge in Canada as at the end of August.
Many have blamed this development on the tough immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. For the Haitians, most of whom are American-born minors crossing the border with their immigrant parents, the fear of losing their temporary protected status or TPS, in the U.S. is making them flee to Canada in their numbers.
“We left because President Trump said he wanted to deport people,” one Haitian man, Tiroude, told The Guardian.
In November 2017, the Trump administration announced that it was ending a humanitarian programme that enabled some 59,000 Haitians to live and work in the United States since the 2010 earthquake that ravaged their country. The programme made Haiti one of the largest group of foreigners with temporary status.
About 320,000 people now benefit from the TPS programme, which was signed into law by President George Bush in 1990.
According to The New York Times, the protection is extended to people already in the United States who have come from countries destroyed by natural disasters or conflict that prevents their citizens from returning or prevents their country from receiving them.
The government periodically reviews each group’s status and makes decisions on whether to continue the protections. Shortly after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Obama administration granted Haitian immigrants who had already been living in the United States temporary protected status, sparing them, among other things, from deportation.
Under the Obama administration, the programme was renewed several times on the basis that the situation in Haiti was still unstable for people to go back home.
But the Trump administration in 2017 said the programme, which was to provide temporary relief, has turned into a permanent benefit for thousands of Haitians. The Department of Homeland Security officials said there have been improved conditions in Haiti since the earthquake and so the programme should be terminated, asking people to make arrangements to leave by July 2019.
Though Trump’s move to end the TPS programme has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, Haitian Americans are still moving in their numbers across the northern border with fears that they will be deported if they stayed in the U.S.
To make things worse, Trump said in an interview last month that he planned to end birthright citizenship via executive order.
Meanwhile, officials in Canada have said that even though Canada is still open and welcoming, crossing into it is not “a ticket for permanent residence.”
“Coming to Canada, asking for asylum in Canada is not a guarantee for permanent residence in Canada,” Louis Dumas, a spokesman for the immigration ministry, was quoted by CNN.
Canada also has a programme that is almost the same as the TPS for Haitians, but it was terminated in 2016. This implies that the tens of thousands of Haitians in the U.S. that see moving to Canada as one of the only options will face deportation too should their asylum claim be rejected.
But for now, reports by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation state that many of the migrants believe the prospect of living without status is worse than the U.S.
Others have, however, headed for Quebec, where Montreal has a large Haitian community.