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Latest shift in U.S. immigration policy prompts renewed Liberal outreach

Three RCMP officers walk near the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Que., on March 28, 2017.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Liberal MPs are headed back to the U.S. to fend off a new surge of asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border following the latest move by the U.S. to tighten its immigration policy.

The Trump administration has placed around 5,000 Nicaraguans on notice that their temporary status in the U.S. will be revoked in the next year, while nearly 86,000 Hondurans have been given an extension until July, at which point their status could be revoked.

Upwards of 200,000 Salvadorans are also awaiting a decision on their status, which is expected in the coming weeks.

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Pablo Rodriguez, who represents a Montreal-area riding, said Wednesday he's headed to Texas to reach out to all three communities after myths circulating earlier this year prompted hundreds of people a day to cross illegally into Canada in search of asylum, fearing the end of the temporary status program in the U.S.

"We want to make sure that people have all the facts and what we're telling them is before selling your house, leaving your job, picking up the kids from school, make sure you understand the rules," Rodriguez said.

Temporary protected status spares people from deportation and gives them quasi-legal status in the U.S., so they can work or go to school. It's extended for things like major natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, that can make deporting people a potential violation of humanitarian law. But critics saw it as an overly permissive policy in need of being reined in, something the U.S. began doing last spring.

A decision by U.S. officials in May to only extend protection to Haitian nationals for six more months, rather than the usual 18, was cited as a major factor behind the hundreds of Haitians who daily made the illegal crossing into Canada over the summer to request asylum, rather than face deportation back to Haiti.

Some were motivated by fake social media messages about special immigration programs that would smooth their paths here; in fact, Canada still deports Haitian nationals, and their asylum acceptance rate was only about 50 per cent in 2016.

The Liberals sent MP Emmanuel Dubourg to Miami earlier this year to combat that misinformation, and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Wednesday he's also being sent back the U.S. to continue the work.

Briefing notes prepared by officials at Global Affairs earlier this year said Haitian government officials also believe some of those entering Canada were actually just transiting through the U.S. from Brazil.

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The briefing notes describing the factors driving asylum seekers were obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act. They also suggest the influx of Haitians wasn't connected to any current developments in Haiti, where notwithstanding rampant poverty and poor health conditions, the overall security and stability situation remains "calm and steady."

Rodriguez and other government officials have said so far, there's no sign of a mass migration of Central Americans.

But there could be, the briefing notes suggest.

A lack of economic opportunities, fear of violence and insecurity and climate change are key drivers for illegal migration from the region, and the notes point out the UN refugee agency has recently said migrants themselves are often victims of violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking.

"As a result of an increase in deportation from the United States, the termination of a program that allowed protection to Central American children, and the expected termination of a temporary protected status program in the United States, Canada is likely to become a more popular alternative."

Hussen condemns RCMP questionnaire that singled out Muslim asylum seekers (The Canadian Press)
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