The End of #TPS for El Salvadoran Nationals Living in the US – Should They Come to Canada?

The Trump Administration has ended TPS for the 200,000 plus individuals from El Salvador.

Will they come to Canada and follow in the footsteps of the thousands of Haitians that crossed the border last year?

My interview with Danielle Smith this last week:




 Danielle Smith: Let’s talk about another influence that the U.S. might have on us with this decision for them to essentially … Let me read some of the background on this because we’ve seen it once before with the decisions regarding Haitians. In the U.S. they have this temporary status, temporary protected status that when something occurs that causes the displacement of people to the United States, then they have a grace period for a period of time until they’re expected to return home. Traditionally what has been happening is that these grace periods have just continued to get extended, and extended, and extended. Well on Monday the Trump administration ended a major immigration program for El Salvadorians leaving nearly 200,000 people in legal limbo.
Now what I find really interesting when I read these is the stories that say oh well it was related to a … Most of the people who came from El Salvador came as a result of an earthquake that happened 17 years ago. Then they always put this line in, “Most people from El Salvador have lived in the U.S. for over 20 years.” See what I mean? You’ve got people who went to the U.S. for completely different reasons than the earthquake, but the earthquake gave them cover so that for the past 17 years they haven’t had to go back. Now the question is what happens. We saw what happened when they removed this protected status to Haitians who also, we had done that back in 2014. We had said that the reason why you left Haiti, the earthquake, is no longer a reason to stay here, and we’d already made this decision. For those of you saying Canada is just so much more compassionate than the U.S., we just made the decision earlier than they did.
I want to get a sense from my next guest about what we should expect with this one. If that resulted in the flood of people coming across into Canada, particularly into Quebec City, as a result of that decision, are we going to have to prepare for a doubling, maybe even a tripling of those numbers? Raj Sharma is my guest. He is a Calgary immigration lawyer of Stewart Sharma Harsanyi Law Firm, and he joins me now. Raj thanks so much for being with me again.
Raj Sharma: My pleasure.
Danielle Smith: Let’s, maybe you can give us an update on what has happened with the number of Haitian migrants. Do we know what the total numbers were? Has the flow stopped? Do we know what has happened with getting them processed? Can you give us a bit of an update on what you’ve witnessed there?
Raj Sharma: Well the flow has slowed, and obviously I think the season has something to do with that. In terms of numbers or processing, as we talked about in the past what’s happened is that our refugee determination system has essentially been broken, or has broken under the weight of the number of irregular border crossers. What you had before was 20,000 processed claims per year. You had the majority of them being processed within a few months actually. Now the current processing time is at least 16 months to get a refugee hearing. Given that massive increase in terms of the processing times, obviously it’s slowed down, the numbers just aren’t in yet as to what happens after they come because those hearings are just not taking place.
If you look at the Haitian crossers, and in terms of the consequences of this, the TPS status that’s now been revoked for Salvadorians, there’s four times more people from El Salvador than from Haiti in the U.S. So you’re looking at around 200,000, perhaps more.
Danielle Smith: So if we had somewhere in the order of let’s call it 20,000 people who came across when the Haitian temporary protection order was lifted. If the numbers hold, we could end up with 80,000 people wanting to cross our border?
Raj Sharma: Well and I’m fairly certain that this number doesn’t include for example their children that might well be U.S. citizens.
Danielle Smith: Oh. Well there’s also this whole discussion about the dreamers in the U.S., and I don’t know if that’s going to have an impact on the number of people who might leave to Canada because the court just overturned the Trump administration’s decision about those 800,000 kids, they call them the dreamer I guess, who had come to the United States really early on. How are we supposed to try to understand how that might impact us as well?
Raj Sharma: Well I think Canada is going to be dealing with these aftershocks and the consequences of what’s happening in the U.S. until there is comprehensive immigration reform. Given the history of that, I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think that in terms of Canadian immigration policy, President Trump may well be the most consequential factor in terms of what we have to now deal with. This is, when we last talked, we talked about this plan for Canada to increase the intake of permanent residents to over 300,000 per year, and the plan of bringing in a million newcomers, new permanent residents to Canada by 2020. I sort of shook my head at that because given the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of individuals that are living in this sort of precarious state in the U.S., I just thought, and given the fact that we have this sort of very, very open border, I thought that that was sort of ludicrous to make those kind of plans.
I know we’re sending people now down in some sort of “preemptive strike” to counter these myths that Canada has immigration laws and regulations, and they shouldn’t make this sort of gamble, but I think forget about closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. There’s no door to close Danielle.
Danielle Smith: Well this is what I’m interested in because the story that I read on this was … The government is certainly getting their spin out because it says in this story, “to counter the potential onslaught, the Canadian government is embarking on an online ad campaign aimed at providing the same information that” … They profile this one El Salvadorian born who says, “Oh I’m not going to go to Canada. It’s too hard to get in,” but they say that immigration isn’t easy or automatic. Canada also has laws, and people are taking a huge gamble if they uproot their lives to try to cross the border. I guess the question I have is there’s so many informal networks where the information has gotten out, go to Canada and here’s how you do it, you have to wonder what kind of advertising campaign would be needed to help counter that impression.
Raj Sharma: It might have been easier if we still had that, our sort of somewhat [inaudible 00:09:14], no-nonsense, Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney in charge instead of our very sort of photogenic and empathetic current prime minister. But I tend to think that people are rational. There was a civil war in El Salvador between 1979 and 1992. There was 70,000 deaths. That’s, we got … A lot of Salvadorians were displaced at that time. Went to the U.S., even Canada even then. There was Hurricane Mitch in 1998. There were earthquakes in 2001. If you look at the situation, so you’re someone, you have a family in the U.S., you’re from El Salvador, you’ve got some kids, going back to El Salvador it’s the highest murder rate in the world, in the world. It’s the highest murder rate for children and adolescents in the world. There’s widespread domestic societal abuse, gangs are running amuck.
So I mean, what’s, you’re not going to listen I think to a Canadian MP Pablo Rodriguez, you’re going to look at your family’s circumstances and you’re going to say okay TPS is done, Trump despite various thoughts and dreams that he might be impeached is likely the president for the next three years, so do I remain in the U.S. illegally and be subject to removal at any time, do I return to El Salvador with the aforementioned highest murder rate in the world, or do I try my luck in Canada when objectively, and let’s put it this way, there was 190 refugee claims finalized, claims against El Salvador, last year in Canada. Out of 190 that were finalized, 119 were accepted.
Danielle Smith: Oh boy, that’s a pretty good success rate.
Raj Sharma: It’s a two to one success rate. It’s 63% acceptance rate. If I was doing the math, I’d be like hmm I cross the border into Canada, I make a refugee claim. It will take 16 months, maybe more because if my compatriots join me it might actually take five or 10 years to get a refugee claim, it’s a 63% acceptance rate right now. I get a work permit, then I’ll work and establish myself until there’s a hearing. Even if I lose, then of course there’s a humanitarian and compassion application, which right now I mean has an acceptance rate of 50% is the humanitarian and compassion application, but that includes single guys from non-hardship struck countries. If you put families I the mix, my own assessment and our own success rate at this office, is that the math is with you. In all likelihood, especially with a family from El Salvador, they will get status in Canada. I don’t know what kind of myths we can counter when the proof is in the pudding.
Danielle Smith: Wow. Okay I want to just get to clarify on that last point that you made because you mentioned it before. As I understood it, if you are sitting in the queue waiting for your refugee application to be filed long enough, and they don’t get to it, you can say hey look I’ve been here, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve put down roots, you can’t kick me out. When does that humanitarian compassionate argument kick in? How long does somebody have to be here with their unprocessed refugee claim before they can switch into that category to try to make their case?
Raj Sharma: They can’t switch. As long as the refugee claim is pending, they can’t switch. That’s part of the changes that were brought in by Jason Kenney in 2012. Normally you wouldn’t want to switch because the H&C or humanitarian and compassion application doesn’t get you a work permit for example, or healthcare coverage, a refugee claim does. So given where you’re coming from, in terms of El Salvador or this fear, you make a refugee claim, it takes as long as it takes. After it’s decided, technically you can’t make a humanitarian and compassion application for 12 months, but there’s exception if you have kids. That 12 month bar doesn’t apply if you have kids. Frankly let’s put it this way, with this number of individuals coming in and the strain of our system, there’s no way that we are going to be removing individuals within 12 months after their refugee claims have been decided.
Danielle Smith: Okay now I need to understand, so what does that mean for Canadian, for the communities that people are going to be coming to? If this is what we have to expect, I think we need to maybe adjust our thinking to we’ve got to stop this to when it happens what are we going to do about it. Let me see if you’ve got some thoughts on that, but I have to take a pause. My guest is Raj Sharma, Calgary immigration lawyer at Stewart Sharma Harsanyi Law Firm. We’ll be right back to continue the discussion right after this on 770 CHQR.
So now what? We know that this is coming. If it’s four times the number of people coming across the border as did when the Haitians had this particular status removed in the U.S., then what are we looking at? Potentially 80,000 people coming here. What are our plans to be able to settle them, to make sure that they are able to support themselves financially? We’re going to have to talk through some of this with my guest. Raj Sharma is my guest. He’s Calgary immigration lawyer of Stewart Sharma Harsanyi Law Firm. Raj, I guess that it what I’m sort of perplexed by. Have we had this kind of movement of people to Canada before? Is there something we can look back on as an example of how we were able to assimilate that many people coming at once?
Raj Sharma: The only examples are sort of historical examples, and I don’t think we can draw a lot of lessons from them. Of course, we took in a large number of Irish nationals many decades ago. Again, pre-World War II we saw hundreds of thousands of individuals coming into Canada per year, and that was when Canada’s population was very small. But again, those individuals were coming in and basically settling, or settling out west for example.
Danielle Smith: Yeah, with our modern refugee claimant process, what would be the most that we’ve ever been able to handle? I mean it was oppressed to get 25,000 Syrians in last year. I think people were questioning whether or not we’d even be able to do that.
Raj Sharma: Yeah, and obviously edges were frayed a bit and it was done. The Vietnamese, under Joe Clark I believe, and Mulroney, I think that was probably about close to 40 years, 35, 40 years ago. But there’s nothing that can compare to the numbers that we’re dealing with here. Now, by the way I just want to update, I said it’s 62%, 63% acceptance rate for 2017. In 2016, out of 205 claims, 143 were accepted. That’s 70% acceptance rate in 2016. Just going back to the math. In term-
Danielle Smith: Do we know anything about where they came from? Did they come to us the same way, via the United States, which is technically illegal? I mean we’re not supposed to be having the acceptance of anybody if they’ve already declare refugee status somewhere else, as I understood the country agreement.
Raj Sharma: There’s exceptions to the third country agreement if they have family here, and I wanted to point something out to you Danielle. There is in fact an El Salvadoran woman that came late last year in 2016, and they tried to bar her because of the safe third country agreement. She’s challenging the safe third country agreement and her lawyers out in Toronto they’re trying to set aside the safe third country agreement. They’re arguing that the U.S. is not safe and that the STCA is unconstitutional.
Danielle Smith: Wow.
Raj Sharma: That’s going to be interesting. If the safe third country agreement is set aside, then really it’s the floodgates.
Danielle Smith: So let me ask you what happens then and how should we be dealing with this? I’m just going to put it out there that someone who’s managed to make a life for themselves for 20 years in the United States, they probably have a job, they’re probably self-supporting, they’re probably a pretty good candidate for regular immigration. Is there any way that you can integrate any of our streams that we accept people in, and maybe it just displaces others who would come here? Maybe we just choose to process some of these candidates through a regular immigration system. Is that even possible to consider?
Raj Sharma: Yes, and I think, again I’ll go back to the humanitarian and compassion application. I think that’s probably the most flexible stream. You’re right, 90% of El Salvadorians in the U.S. are in the labor force, they’re employed. A third of them have mortgages. Of course, if you’re in the TPS, or under the TPS, that also means that you have to [inaudible 00:18:02] that status, and means that you have to stay out of trouble. It’s a pretty good track record, 20 years, no serious criminal records obviously, and solid employment history, and obviously credit history given that some of them have mortgages, or a significant portion of them have mortgages.
Danielle Smith: I guess the question is, is that likely to happen? What I’m envisioning is a repeat of last year where people come across in Quebec, they have to set up these big tent cities to be able to accommodate them, and I don’t even know where everybody went from there. I’m assuming that with winter coming they must have found some way to get temporary housing for everyone, but I just don’t how many cities would be able to absorb this number of people coming across.
Raj Sharma: I don’t want to pat myself on the back or anything, but it’s like deja vu. We spoke about this I think a year ago and we were predicting the numbers of, we were talking about Haitians, we were talking about the other populations that are under TPS status in the U.S. It’s been a sort of slow moving train wreck. We’ve seen this coming for some time now, so one imagined that the government then, its bureaucrats and policy makers, are going to be bracing themselves for it.
Danielle Smith: Well hopefully it will be managed better than last time. Raj, thanks so much for continuing to keep us updated on this. I am quite certain we will talk again.
Raj Sharma: My pleasure.
Danielle Smith: That was Raj Sharma, Calgary immigration lawyer, Stewart Sharma Harsanyi Law Firm. All of the things that you’re reading right now that the government’s got this, they’ve got it handled, they’re getting their message out, what I’m hearing is don’t believe it because the numbers speak for themselves. If you’re going to take a risk, you’re going to take a risk to make sure that you’re improving situation for your family, that means Canada. If you look at friends and neighbors who came through from El Salvador and you see that there’s a 70% success rate, that just reinforces that decision. Do you have any confidence whatsoever that the federal government has any plan to be able to manage 80,000 people coming across the border? I don’t think they do…