Young immigrants to the U.S. who were given a shaky bit of security by the Obama administration now face having it ripped out from under them. They face an unsavoury choice between deportation to countries some last saw as toddlers, and going underground in the country they know as home.
Could Canada be a third option? It may be for older Dreamers, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer says.
The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects from deportation people who had been brought to the U.S. illegally as children. About 800,000 successful applicants, who had to meet certain educational standards and have clean criminal records got work permits and some degree of security.
They range in age from 16 to 35. The vast majority, over 70 per cent, are Mexican.
Many have benefited from the program, being able to pursue higher education or get government-issued ID for the first time,
However, there has been uneasiness since the program began that participants, who have to identify themselves as illegal immigrants, might be vulnerable to deportation in the future. As undocumented immigrants, they had limited job prospects; as DACA participants they have better lives, but are much easier for the U.S. government to find.
That dark scenario seems to be moving closer to reality. On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to the program, saying that “we cannot admit everyone who wants to come” to the United States.
WATCH: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the DACA program is being rescinded, calling it an “unconstitutional exercise” on the part of the previous Obama administration.
Canada could be a workable Plan B for older Dreamers, says Toronto-based immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann.
“Let’s suppose the kid is 22 years old, he’s maybe in the middle of his college or something like that. If he applied to immigrate to Canada using the normal channels, he probably wouldn’t qualify.”
“He would have to have a degree, he would have to have some work experience, he would have to apply under the express entry program that we have. At 22 or so, he wouldn’t have a chance. If he was 26, 27, and he’d finished school, working for a year or two, he’s a full-blown adult, he has a chance there.”
Fluent English would also work in an applicant’s favour; points for age start to fall after 30.
Just over a third of the Dreamers are 25 or older and have at least a bachelor’s degree, a recent survey showed.
Immigration rules under NAFTA might seem to open another door to the Dreamers who are Mexican. Mexican citizens can work in Canada, if they have an occupation on a list of about 60, and have a job offer in Canada.
But that likely isn’t useful to the Dreamers, Mamann says.
“If you have a Mexican citizen in the United States, a 25-year-old kid who graduated and has a degree in computer systems analysis or something, he qualifies for entry to Canada under NAFTA. However, the chance of that kid actually entering Canada is very small.”
“Because these kids are in the United States illegally, and they haven’t been to their country for many years, an officer at the border is going to say ‘Normally you would qualify to come in because you have a degree and a job offer. But I’m concerned that once you come in you’re going to just stay in, and you’re not going to go back to the only country you have, Mexico, because you haven’t lived there since you were two years old.'”
In any case, Canada never had an equivalent program in the first place, Mamann points out.
“We don’t have anything like as generous as DACA, that’s for sure. If you were to come from Mexico, you came to Canada and you were here for five or 10 years, and you brought your young children with you, when you get deported so do your children.”
“There’s no program that we have that allows deferred action for children who are brought to Canada. None at all.”
WATCH: Some 200 people gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Friday to rally against the possible roll back of an Obama-era program that protects immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children.