President Donald Trump's threat to end protections for those who entered the U.S. illegally as children could spark a new wave of immigration and asylum requests, some analysts warn.
If that happens, they say, Canada's already stressed systems would come under further pressure and potentially intensify a backlash against newcomers.
About 1.7 million illegal migrants to the United States – the vast majority of them Mexicans – are either registered or qualify for registration under a five-year-old policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. The program, which Trump wants ended, allows them to obtain work permits and protects them from deportation.
If even a fraction of those look north, it would still be a significant number of so-called Dreamers who might try to make Canada home.
Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer and policy analyst in Toronto, says he has already started getting calls and emails asking if Canada is an option.
"Now that there is a real question as to whether or not there is a permanent solution for these DACA kids, many of them are going to start to look towards Canada for both legal and possibly illegal entry," Mamann said. "I suspect that we're going to start seeing a real flow at this point because there is so much uncertainty."
Younger Mexicans in the U.S. – those without completed higher education or solid work experience – are unlikely to qualify under Canada's normal immigrant requirements. As a result, some might opt to claim refugee status, a process likely to take several years to play out, even for those whose claims are rejected.
Martha Batiz, an award-winning Mexican-Canadian writer and academic, said Canada would do well to put a system in place to welcome Dreamers, many of whom have grown up in the U.S. and are therefore culturally adapted and speak English as well as Spanish.
Otherwise, she said, they might feel desperate enough to create the kind of risky and uncontrolled influx recently seen with Haitian and African migrants.
"Canada has to step up," Batiz said. "It would be better to have some system in place, even if it's an imperfect system, so that (Dreamers) can apply legally, and Canada can decide who they are going to welcome."
Latest statistics from the Immigration and Refugee Board show a dramatic increase in asylum requests from Mexicans. In 2016, for example, 242 Mexicans applied for refugee status. Almost three times as many – 660 – such claims were recorded in the first seven months of this year alone.
Part of the increase stems from Canada's decision to lift a visa requirement last December, making it easier for Mexicans to come to Canada and claim asylum here. A spokeswoman said the board did not keep data on how many of the claimants had come from the U.S. Nevertheless, roughly six Mexican refugee claims are turned down for each one deemed founded, figures show.
Other reported figures indicate a surge in detentions of Mexican nationals by Canadian border agents this year. Canada Border Service Agency said it could not immediately respond to a request for further information.
For the moment, at least, Dreamers have some breathing room because Trump has given Congress six months to come up with a plan to deal with them. As a result, Mamann said, the real pressure on Canada is likely to grow as the deadline nears, further straining Canada's immigration and refugee systems, and the goodwill of Canadians.
"If we feel that we are being taken advantage of," Mamann said, "we'll shut the door and that will hurt legitimate refugees."
The issue is already a political flashpoint.
For example, the Parti Quebecois blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's tweet welcoming the world's persecuted people for a torrent of asylum seekers – including thousands of Haitians from the U.S. – into Quebec. PQ Leader Jean-Francois Lisee said last week that many were "victims" of false hope given them by the federal government. On the other hand, Ontario Sen. Ratna Omidvar said this week that Canada should put out the welcome mat for 30,000 Dreamers.