Border officials are bracing for yet another spike in asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States, an internal government document reveals, with thousands of additional claimants potentially arriving on our doorstep seeking refugee status.
A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) intelligence analysis sheet, obtained this week by Global News, explains that the U.S. could be on the verge of ending Temporary Protection Status for citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras and Syria.
WATCH: How the government plans to accommodate asylum seekers in the winter months
In total, there are an estimated 320,000 people living in the U.S. under Temporary Protection Status (TPS) who are citizens of those five countries.
The TPS designation allows foreign nationals who are already in the U.S. to remain there as long as their home country is deemed unsafe due to temporary factors like armed conflict, natural disaster or epidemic.
They cannot be deported or detained until the status is lifted.
But between January and March of 2018, the Trump administration will be assessing whether TPS should remain in place for various countries. Extensions for Haiti, El Saldavor, Nicaragua and Honduras are now considered “unlikely” by the Canada Border Services Agency, according to the document.
An extension for Syria, where violent conflict continues to rage, is being pegged as “somewhat likely.”
“If TPS designations are not renewed, the number of claims for the impacted countries is likely to spike,” the analysis states.
“Ports of entry in the Quebec, Southern Ontario and Pacific regions will likely be impacted most, with significant increases in claims in the month leading up to and directly after each expiration date.”
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In late August, the RCMP confirmed that more than 3,800 people — the majority from Haiti — crossed the border illegally into Quebec during the two weeks spanning Aug. 1 to Aug. 15.
According to Customs and Immigration Union President Jean-Pierre Fortin, the daily crossings in Lacolle, Que., have since dropped to around 100 per day.
Meanwhile, the government has been engaged in a media blitz and other outreach activities to make it clear that there is no “free pass” into Canada.
But as the expiry of their temporary protection status in the U.S. looms, the CBSA document notes that the number of claimants from Haiti could spike again, and claims from Salvadorans and Syrians could also increase significantly.
Honduras and Nicaragua “are seen as wild cards,” the document adds.
“While the CBSA receives relatively few claims from these countries, the high number of of TPS holders may result in substantial increases should additional push factors arise as they have for Haiti.”
Those “push factors” could include social media being used to spread the word about coming to Canada, increases in gang violence in home countries like El Salvador, the tendency for Central American communities to influence each other’s migration patterns, and positive news of other migrants reaching Canada.
The government says it is continuing to monitor the situation closely and preparing for different possible scenarios this winter.
“Intelligence reports provide useful information to help us understand these movements and potential future trends; however, we only know how many asylum claimants there are when they arrive,” said a statement issued by the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Goodale’s office noted that following Haitian MP Emmanuel Dubourg’s trip to Miami last month, Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez was in Los Angeles last weekend to meet with members of the Hispanic community, including members of the Salvadoran, Honduran and Nicaraguan diaspora.
WATCH: Goodale repeats that irregular crossing into Canada is no free ticket into the country
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel says that’s not enough.
“I think that there’s two things that the government needs to do in this situation that they have not been doing yet,” she said.
“First of all, the prime minister has made no effort to distance himself from his comments and his tweet that he made in January … (that) is perpetuating this problem, which is no longer hypothetical based on this data.”
Second, said Rempel, the government must do more to deter people from coming into Canada, in part by swiftly deporting failed asylum claimants to their country of origin. Currently, it can take months to determine if an asylum claim can even be made.
Rempel said Canadians are compassionate and open, but the asylum system needs to be perceived as fair and must support the world’s most vulnerable.
The CBSA document also points out that Canada has granted some regions in Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen an “Administrative Deferral of Removal,” which is similar to the American TPS. It prevents the Canadian government from deporting people back to those unstable areas, regardless of their immigration status.
A recent report from Reuters indicates deportations to dangerous zones are happening anyway, but the possible shelter of an Administrative Deferral of Removal is being considered another potential “push factor” by the CBSA.
“Obviously we do have some concern (for) the very near future,” said union president Fortin.
“Since 2016, we’re seeing the results of the Conservative government’s (border staffing) cuts. That’s why we kept asking the government — the actual government, the Liberals — to overturn that decision.”
Fortin said that at the height of the crisis in August, border services agents were under “tremendous pressure to speed up the process” and that screening suffered as a result. Ottawa needs to learn from those mistakes, he added.
“Hopefully they will be speaking to (us) and also to the frontline officers that actually had to manage this crisis, because we don’t see a clear direction where right now the government is going with this.”