Last year, there was a sixfold increase in the number of American citizens applying for asylum in Canada, notably motivated by the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies.
"Most of the Americans applying for refugee status are the children of non-residents. They are U.S. citizens because they were born there, but they come across the border with their parents because they don't want to be separated."
—Stéphane Handfield, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer
According to new data from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada first reported by the Guardian, the jump in American applicants from 2016 to 2017—when some 2,550 U.S. citizens sought asylum in Canada—was largely due to families trying stay together while President Donald Trump and members of his administration have attempted to stem all forms of migration to the United States.
"Most of the Americans applying for refugee status are the children of non-residents," explained Stéphane Handfield, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer. "They are U.S. citizens because they were born there, but they come across the border with their parents because they don't want to be separated."
One Trump administration strategy to curb migration—and deport non-citizens—has been to try to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for foreign nationals whose countries have endured armed conflict, an environmental disaster, an epidemic, or other crises. The program allows citizens from a designated list of places to live and work in the United States as long as it remains unsafe in their home countries.
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Due to ongoing litigation challenging Trump's efforts to end TPS for hundreds of thousands of people, protections remains in effect for beneficiaries from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador who have kept up with the program's requirements, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In a ruling last month, San Francisco-based U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen concluded that evidence suggests racism is a motivating factor in Trump's efforts to revoke protections.
"If I go back to Haiti, I die. It's that simple."
—Gislyne, Haitian asylum-seeker
However, uncertainty over their future ability to reside in the U.S. in the Trump era has sent a flood of TPS holders to the U.S.'s Northern neighbor—so many, in fact, that during the summer of 2017, Canadian officials had to erect temporary housing.
Last year, a total of about 6,000 Haitians fled the U.S. for Canada. The Guardian reported Wednesday that "Americans were the third largest contingent of asylum seekers in 2017, after Haitians and Nigerians. The vast majority are children born to Haitian parents."
One Haitian asylum seeker, identified only by his first name, Tiroude, said his family—including his 18-month-old daughter, born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—"left because President Trump said he wanted to deport people." Tiroude and his wife Gislyne, who fled their home country because she was targeted for her political activism, are now awaiting a decision by the Canadian government. As Gislyne put it, "If I go back to Haiti, I die. It's that simple."