Haitians join other refugee groups in fleeing to Canada

To spot the failure of U.S. immigration policy, you don't need to look further than Quebec.

As of 2016, at least 60,000 Haitians still lived in camps around after a massive earthquake hit the country in January 2010 CREDIT: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery
As of 2016, at least 60,000 Haitians still lived in camps around after a massive earthquake hit the country in January 2010 CREDIT: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

Fearing deportation, as many as 150 Haitians have been crossing the border into Canada every day this past week, hoping the United State’s neighbor to the north will have a more lenient stance than that of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Reuters reports that officials in Quebec have opened several sites, including Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, to house Haitians undergoing refugee processing.

Haitians living in the United States are not alone in looking to Canada for sanctuary. Fleeing the Trump administration’s crackdowns and deportations, over 4,300 migrants and asylum seekers from other countries, such as Sudan and Syria, have crossed into Canada from the United States since the start of the year. And what the Trump administration does in January could make things even worse.

That’s when the temporary protected status (TPS) covering roughly 50,000 Haitians who came here before 2011 expires. They were granted the TPS after an earthquake in January 2010 devastated their country, with the most recent extension by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) holding until January 22, 2018.

While Canada has vowed to take in asylum seekers from some countries – notably, Syria – the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could also be on track to deport Haitians.

Trudeau has twice extended the ban on the deportations, but the last moratorium on deporting Haitians expired in August 2016. This, the CBC reports, prompted 3,200 Haitians without legal status in Canada to apply for residency based on humanitarian grounds. Some have received deportation orders, said Jaggi Singh, an organizer and member of the Montreal-based Solidarity Across Borders.

Given the length of time they’ve already been living in the country, Singh said, many have been allowed to access “special procedures” to stay in Canada.

Singh said that the increase in the number of irregular arrivals in Canada “is directly related to the election of Donald Trump.”

He points to the travel ban, which aims to prevent migration from six Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan) and “the demonization of migrants in general” as factors creating a climate of fear and uncertainty for migrants and refugees in the United States.

“If you’re a migrant of Arab origin, of Latin American origin, of Haitian origin, of Muslim origin, your integrity and dignity is directly under attack by the climate created under the Trump administration,” he said, adding that the framework for a lot of the issues facing migrants and refugees in the United States were built by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

When asked who he is seeing cross the border, Singh responded, “Families — mostly families.”

The Safe Third Country Agreement prevents people from applying for refugee status at the border, so once these “irregular” arrivals are processed, they are given access to health care and a work permit. They can also find housing and live there until their refugee claims are processed. If their claims are rejected, they will face deportation.

The deportation of Haitian asylum-seekers and refugees in the United States would seriously impact the development of Haiti. To start with, said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, remittances from these 50,000 people alone support somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people in Haiti.

“It would be a catastrophe – it would be destabilizing Haiti and it would increase desperation in Haiti, causing more sea migration, causing a commitment of U.S. Coast Guard resources,” said Forester.

“Haiti’s stability is in our national interest,” he added.

The argument for deporting Haitians is that seven years after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed at least 46,000 (some estimates peg fatalities at 220,000), followed by a cholera epidemic (caused by U.N. peacekeepers, killing around 10,000), Haiti is now safe and stable.

However, as ThinkProgress reported in May, while DHS says Haiti is safe for Haitians, the State Department feels that it is unsafe for Americans, specifically citing the “security environment and lack of adequate medical facilities and response” as reasons why Americans should reconsider traveling there.

In fact, even the DHS memo outlining the reasons why the TPS should end in January 2018 points out that “Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere” and that 40 percent of the population lacks access to health care.

Still, it reasons, Haiti had problems before the 2010 earthquake and so that particular disaster (nor the cholera epidemic, nor Hurricane Matthew, which further battered the country in 2016) aren’t sufficient reasons to allow Haitians to stay in the United States.

“Haiti is a textbook case for TPS because of the three calamities [the earthquake, cholera and Hurricane Matthew],” said Forester.  “They’re dead wrong about there being enough progress.”

The original version of the article misidentified Jaggi Singh’s organizational affiliation.