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Federal government works to clarify immigration policies for public

An asylum seeker is questioned by an RCMP officer as he crosses the border into Canada from the United States on August 21 near Champlain, N.Y.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is laying the groundwork for an attempt to dissuade more diaspora groups in the United States from fleeing to Canada, replicating a recent outreach effort to dispel rumours that drew thousands of Haitian asylum seekers in recent months.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's office said the Liberal government will target more communities in the United States in an effort to set the record straight about Canada's immigration policies and counter any notion that entering irregularly is a free ticket into the country. The outreach, which will take place over the coming weeks, will also include "multilingual communities" in Canada, spokesman Hursh Jaswal said.

"We are taking a number of pro-active measures – both in Canada and abroad – to counter misinformation that has been circulating and ensure that everyone is aware of the facts about Canada's asylum system," Mr. Jaswal said in a statement on Tuesday.

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It is one of the precautionary measures the government is taking after nearly 8,000 asylum seekers irregularly crossed from the United States into Quebec – many of them in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. – since June. Between 80 per cent and 85 per cent of those who came to Lacolle are Haitians who fear being deported to their home country. The Trump administration is set to end a program in January, 2018, that granted Haitians temporary protected status after the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Last month, the government dispatched Haitian-Canadian MP Emmanuel Dubourg to Miami in a bid to correct "misinformation" on social media suggesting Canada would accept Haitian asylum seekers. Mr. Dubourg met with local elected officials, community leaders and Canadian, Haitian and U.S. media.

Speaking on background, a government official said Ottawa knows it has to do more outreach, adding that it is identifying spokespeople for those efforts.

While it is not yet clear which communities the government plans to target, U.S. temporary protected status for citizens from nine other countries – El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen – is set to expire over the next year.

There is particular concern that Salvadorans may form the next wave of asylum seekers. Temporary protected status for citizens of El Salvador expires on March 9, 2018, meaning 260,000 people could face deportation from the United States.

Angela Ventura of the El Salvador Association of Windsor said she has seen a significant increase in the number of recent calls and e-mails from Salvadorans in the United States inquiring about asylum in Canada. She said the Trump administration's decision on Tuesday to eliminate protection for 800,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children will only amplify anxiety.

"If somebody asks for an inquiry about Canada, I will say that it's not wise just to cross the border the way [Haitians] are crossing right now, because it's risky. Maybe their [asylum] cases aren't strong enough."

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Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said it is important that people looking to come to Canada get accurate information so they can make an informed decision before leaving the United States. She expressed concern about the government's recent messaging on the matter.

"Some of the information that the government officials have been putting out seems to be false in saying that there's no advantage to crossing irregularly," Ms. Dench said. "The fact is that, with the Safe Third Country Agreement in place, it is by coming irregularly that people who don't meet one of the exemptions in the [agreement] can make a refugee claim in Canada."

The Safe Third Country Agreement requires that people be sent back across the border if they claim refugee status after entering Canada through the United States. Since the agreement applies only to those who arrive at an official land border port of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being immediately turned away by entering through irregular routes, such as the crossing area in Lacolle.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Editor’s Note An earlier version of this story included an incorrect quotation by Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. She said: “Some of the information that the government officials have been putting out seems to be false in saying that there's no advantage to crossing irregularly." The word “no” was not included in the initial quote.
Video: Ottawa expanding U.S. outreach efforts on asylum seekers (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Michelle Zilio is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, she was the associate producer of CTV’s Question Period and a political writer for CTVNews.ca. Michelle has also worked as a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics, covering foreign affairs, defence and immigration, and as a city desk reporter at the Ottawa Citizen. More

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