The End of TPS for Haitians in the US and What it Means for Canada – Interview with Danielle Smith November 21 2017

Danielle Smith:                  I want to get into this issue, now that we’ve seen more development in the US on the Haitian Temporary Protected Status now being revoked finally, for the final time, so they say. This was supposed to be the final time, given six months, and now it’s been … or, when he extended it this last time … Normally they have been extending it for an 18 month period … they only extended it for a six month period, and that resulted in this influx of Haitians coming across the border, mostly Haitians. I went and looked up the numbers first because you guys have asked me to. 16,992 who came across the border apprehended by the RCMP, meaning they came across illegally, so that is a number that I have no doubt is going to increase. The number of people who are still in the US from Haiti are estimated at between 50 and 60,000.

Now here’s the interesting thing, right? They talk about how cruel it would be after the 2010 earthquake to send these people home, and so on and so forth, but they quote this woman in this one story, saying, “Rony Ponthieux, a 49 year old Haitian nurse with temporary residence who has lived in Miami since 1999 says, ‘This isn’t over. This time, we get to fight for renewal, not pack our bags.'” So you see what’s happened here is there are a lot of people who have been in the United States since well before Haitian earthquake, and they use that as a bit of a pretext I guess to stay there and not be returned home, so what happens with people who have been out of their country for over 20 years? Well, we’re going to see what Raj Sharma has to say about it.

Raj Sharma is an immigration lawyer at Stewart Sharma Harsanyi law firm, and he joins me now. Raj, thanks so much for being with me.

Raj Sharma:                        Good morning, Danielle.

Danielle Smith:                  Well, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to think of this. I don’t get any sense that the number of people coming across the border illegally has slowed in any way, but I also don’t get the sense that the federal government has developed an effective way of dealing with it. What’s your sense of it?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, I think, if they haven’t developed an effective way of dealing with it, they’d better start soon because the total number of TPS, or individuals under this Temporary Protected Status in the United States is about 300,000. Haiti was on this TPS list. We actually have a sort of TPS list of our own. We have something called ADR, which is Administrative Deferral of Removal, and we have this TSR, Temporary Suspension of Removal. We have, of course, countries on these lists like Somalia, Syria, Mali, Libya, Burundi, Iraq, Afghanistan, but we actually don’t have Haiti on the list, so an individual that is subject to an enforceable removal order in Canada who’s from Haiti, Canada would seek to remove that individual back to Haiti. Of course, Haitians have been in the US, and there’s been some form of TPS down there for a variety of reasons, not just the earthquake of 2010, which killed 230,000, and tens of thousands of people are still living in tents, but it’s one of the most impoverished countries, almost cursed, you might be able to say. That’s why Haitians have been in and under that status for close to 20 years.

Danielle Smith:                  What would you say about this woman who was quoted as having been in the United States since 1999? What would have been the factor that would have caused people to flee in that period, 10 years prior to the earthquake?

Raj Sharma:                        I’m not sure. I was a refugee protection officer around that time. There were Haitians even at that time. Haiti’s been rocked in terms of political instability, massive corruption, natural disasters, and if you look at the TPS, TPS has been granted to Haitians since about that time, the end of the 1990s. Obviously, for one reason or another, and under probably both Democratic and Republican leadership, Haiti and the struggles that that country has has been recognized, and obviously that’s now come to an end with the wind down of the TPS for Haitians. Of course, the big number is El Salvadorians, individuals from El Salvador, almost 200,000 in the United States.

Danielle Smith:                  But do we have an expiry on their Temporary Protective Status, or is that still under review?

Raj Sharma:                        It looks like that’s going to be under review in 2018 as well. I think 2018 and the Trump presidency is going to be watershed for Canadian immigration.  I’ve discussed increased immigration levels in terms of Canada, and I think it’s sort of along the lines of “Man plans and God laughs.” I think that we shouldn’t be … Immigration planning, there should be asterisks next to that in terms of Canada because if the US were to eliminate TPS … and of course, they’re eliminating it for Haiti, so you’ve got tens of thousands more, and perhaps hundreds of thousands more, if Salvadorans are, if their status is also going to be eliminated because I simply can’t see individuals returning to Haiti, given the state of affairs in that country, and El Salvador, you’re looking at, again, instability and crime and violence at almost unrecognizable levels.

Danielle Smith:                  The other one is Honduras. 86,000 people as well. I think that one is also under review next year, but what were the conditions that caused them to initially have protected status from Honduras and El Salvador? Was it also natural disasters?

Raj Sharma:                        In terms of Honduras and El Salvador, you have, for example, the Mara Salvatrucha gang that’s down there, just tens of thousands of dead, a murder rate, for example, that’s higher than civil war, Sub-Saharan Africa levels, so just unimaginable levels of violence there in a state that’s simply unable to protect its citizens, so in my opinion, it would probably be the internecine violence. The gang violence is unbelievable.

Danielle Smith:                  In Honduras as well?

Raj Sharma:                        Yes. It’s all across Central America. I think Costa Rica’s probably the one exception.

Danielle Smith:                  Okay, so I guess the question would be is … I think people are sympathetic, but it sounds to me from what you said, these two countries aren’t also on our administrative deferral list, are they?

Raj Sharma:                        No, and I wanted to make that point where, again, we have this sort of holier-than-thou attitude sometimes when it comes to the Americans, and we call them cruel, for example, our cousins to the south, but it should be remembered that none of those countries are on our lists, so certainly the US has been more generous in my opinion, because Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and of course Haiti is not on either one of our lists.

Danielle Smith:                  I want to talk to you about what the solution here is, because I think that’s what we’re all puzzling through, but do you know what the numbers are? When you listed off those … It sounded like a lot of Middle Eastern and African countries that are on our administrative deferral list, do we know how many people we have in our country under that program?

Raj Sharma:                        No. Not to my knowledge. There is a list. For example, the number of people, individuals that need to be deported, that list has been increasing, and obviously, CBSA is saying that some of these countries are reluctant or intransigent in taking back their nationals, so the numbers in terms of people that we would want to remove are growing. That being said, the vast majority, for example, the vast majority of people that come from these countries that we have suspended removals to would probably have a very good shot at winning the refugee claim or succeeding on a Humanitarian and Compassionate application. If they are facing removal, it could be because of criminality, for example.

Danielle Smith:                  Okay. Let me take a pause, and we’ll continue the conversation with Raj Sharma, immigration lawyer at Stewart Sharma Harsanyi law firm. If you’ve got any questions-

Danielle Smith:                  Sharma immigration lawyer, Stewart Sharma Harsanyi law firm and we’re talking about the 16,992 people so far who have come across the border illegally with the potential for, it looks like, I don’t know, 300,000 or more that might be eyeing the Canadian border. What do we do about it?

Raj, I have a question for you because I mentioned this story this morning. Jocelyn Godroy, she’s had 13 years aways from her family. She’s waiting to come to Canada, but an immigration backlog is keeping them from processing her claim. In the meantime that she’s been away, her marriage broke down, her mother passed away, she hasn’t seen her kids, and this sounds like it’s a problem with people who are trying to get through the system legally, properly, following all the rules. I think that’s what people are responding to is the absolute unfairness that we have of those who are trying to do things the right way, and they get punished through the process, and then [inaudible 00:09:18] to come across the border, and there doesn’t seem to be consequences.

Raj Sharma:                        We have a immigration refugee determination system, adjudication system, something like a court, and that’s how we deal with in-Canada refugee claims, or claims made by border crossers, and in some cases, at a port of entry. Now, that system is simply not set up to deal with the numbers that we’re talking about here. Adjudication, let’s say maybe 20,000 a year. Now, we’re already up to 40,000 for 2017. We already have this massive backlog. Hearing times have gone up from two or three months to get a hearing, now at least at 16 months, so the system at a certain point, and I think I said this on your show, our system will break. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when, and we may have to then contemplate a different way of dealing with individuals that are crossing the border in these types of numbers.

Danielle Smith:                  Is there anywhere we can look to that has a good way of dealing with economic migrants who are at the poor end of the income scale? I think we’ve got a system for entrepreneurs. We’ve got a system to be able to bring in investors. We’ve got a system obviously for refugees, but what about just the hardworking guy from Haiti who wants to make a better life for himself? Is there a pathway for them to get to Canada?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, not at present. Certainly, they could do an application under Humanitarian and Compassionate Relief, and that might be the only way. It’s a paper-based application. It seems flexible. Remember, the average Haitian in the US under TPS has been there for about 13 years. To stay under that program, have to keep a relatively clean criminal record. You pay this filing fee to extend it, to apply and extend, for example, so that humanitarian application might be the way, but given these numbers, you may look at perhaps a general amnesty, for example.

Danielle Smith:                  Is it our obligation to do a general amnesty because they haven’t even been here. It seems odd that the Americans are kicking them out, they come here, and then we give them a general amnesty, even though they’ve got no roots in our country.

Raj Sharma:                        Well, I think the amnesty that I’m proposing is because the alternative would be a broken refugee determination system. It would take a decade for a hearing, and that would obviously eliminate the ability to deal with, of course, refugees that we traditionally consider our refugees, not, again, devastating hardship type of conditions.

Again, if we look at the Humanitarian and Compassion application, again, you’re looking at applications, perhaps 15-20,000 per year, again, sometimes countries grant amnesty, not out of the, for example, charitable or goodness of the heart, but a recognition that perhaps there’s nothing else that can be done.

Danielle Smith:                  So then what do we do? Do we then reduce the amount of people we bring in from other categories? The government has set a pretty aggressive target for bringing immigrants in going up to, I think, 330,000 within the next five years. Do we just say, “Okay, fine. We’re going to take 50,000 through this amnesty program and reduce the amount from somewhere else?” There’s got to be some point where we can control the number of people coming in from just a straight integration point of view. You just can’t have whoever wants to come comes, because otherwise, that’s not good for them. It’s not good for us.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right. Ultimately, immigration is half the equation. The other half of the equation is settlement. There’s only so many settlement dollars to go around. There’s some excellent settlement agencies for example, even here in Calgary, and they do a fantastic job of integration for example, but yeah. The pie is only so big. Again, I’m not one of those individuals that believes in unicorns and pixie dust. That’s why, when the minister announced … and again, I felt that the immigration levels was more of a political branding exercise by the government, rather than anything that was tied, for example, to Canada’s demographics or labor market needs.

Again, those plans are a little bit ludicrous when we consider that there’s hundreds of thousands of individuals in the US that may face loss of status and will not willingly go back to their countries of origin, and may look at, for example, the experience of the Haitians and the other border crossers that came into Canada this year with a what? 69% acceptance rate?

Danielle Smith:                  Exactly. Raj Sharma, thanks so much for giving us this context today. Sure appreciate it.

Raj Sharma:                        My pleasure.

Danielle Smith:                  Raj Sharma, immigration lawyer, Stewart Sharma Harsanyi law firm.