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Too soon to put Canadian price tag on Trump’s immigration overhaul: officials

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 20, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal government is examining whether the fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration will require more cash to be spent north of the border.

But both immigration officials and the federal minister told a House of Commons committee that right now, there's no new money.

Departmental officials say Trump's executive orders are too new for them to be able to estimate how much they could cost Canada and in what ways.

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The Immigration and Refugee Board, however, has been saying for months that a rise in the number of asylum claims is already straining its resources and it has put in a pitch for more cash.

Board officials had been hoping to get an answer in Wednesday's federal budget but Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen wouldn't commit Monday to new funds.

He says the fact that claims have been rising at the IRB since 2015 is proof the problem goes beyond the so-called Trump effect.

The board did receive about $4.5-million to deal with an expected increase in claims from Mexican nationals following a government decision to lift visas for Mexicans last December.

Those numbers are already up over last year – 241 Mexicans lodged asylum claims in all of 2016 and 156 have already done so in 2017.

Many anticipate the U.S. president's executive orders curtailing immigration from certain countries, scaling back refugee admissions and speeding up deportations could push the numbers of people seeking asylum in Canada higher.

Hussen and his officials were pressed Monday by the NDP's immigration critic Jenny Kwan on whether any more money has been earmarked yet to deal with the potential fallout.

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The executive orders are too new and the money currently being requested from Parliament deals with already identified needs, said Daniel Mills, an assistant deputy minister in the Immigration Department.

"We haven't yet estimated the amount that we will need," he said in French.

What might be needed next is under review at least in one area.

"The IRB is already facing a number of pressures and recent events will only give rise to further pressures," Richard Wex, an associate deputy minister in the department, told the committee.

"This matter is under active consideration by the government."

Hussen tried to bolster the case at committee that the so-called Trump effect isn't to blame for the rise in claims.

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Of the 143 people who've who crossed illegally into Manitoba to make an asylum claim in 2017, he said only about 50 had U.S. visas, 97 per cent had been the U.S. less than two months and had not filed an asylum claim there.

"It puts into context the claim made by many that this is as a result of the U.S. administration," he said.

"In fact, the rise in asylum claims through the border . . . there's been a small and steady increase since 2015, most of 2016. This is definitely not specific to the incoming U.S. administration."

Another element that could complicate the IRB's caseload is the upcoming plan to lift the visa requirement people coming from Romania and Bulgaria. Romania in particular was a large source of asylum claims in Canada prior to a visa requirement being imposed and the decision to phase-out the visa later this year is likely to lead to a renewed increase in asylum claims.

No money has been earmarked yet for the IRB to deal with that.

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