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Salvadorans facing possible deportation from U.S. not looking to Canada: Hussen

A girl looks on as other immigrants and activists protest near the White House on Monday over the ending of temporary protected status for Salvadorean immigrants.

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the nearly 200,000 Salvadorans facing possible deportation from the United States under a recent Trump administration order do not want to come to Canada, playing down concerns of another possible surge in asylum seekers at the border.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, Mr. Hussen said the federal government has reached out to diasporas affected by the decision to end temporary protected status (TPS) for citizens of certain countries. Mr. Hussen said Salvadorans – the largest group of foreigners affected by the policy decision – have not expressed interest in fleeing to Canada, as they want to stay in the United States.

"These are people who have deep roots in communities across the United States. They have children, they have jobs, some of them have mortgages and so on," Mr. Hussen said following a meeting of the federal-provincial task force on irregular migration, which was created following the influx of asylum seekers from the United States last year.

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The minister's remarks come one day after the Trump administration announced the termination of TPS for nearly 200,000 citizens of El Salvador living in the United States. Affected Salvadorans have until Sept., 9, 2019, to leave the United States or seek another legal immigration status. After that date, they could face deportation back to the Central American country.

The announcement could have consequences for Canada, which already saw a significant influx in Haitian asylum seekers crossing at unauthorized points along the Quebec border last year after the United States announced it would end TPS for Haiti. About 46,000 Haitians in the United States benefit from TPS, compared with 195,000 Salvadorans, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The Secretary of Homeland Security can designate citizens of a foreign country to be eligible for TPS if conditions temporarily prevent the country's nationals from returning safely or if the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. The status shields eligible individuals from deportation.

Salvadorans were granted TPS in 2001 after a pair of devastating earthquakes struck their country. In a statement on Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that the "original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist," terminating TPS for Salvadorans.

Angela Ventura of the El Salvador Association of Windsor in Ontario said she has received a number inquiries from concerned Salvadorans in the United States about the possibility of coming to Canada. She said they are interested in entering Canada legally – not through unauthorized entry points along the land border as thousands of Haitian asylum seekers did last year. She hopes the federal government will recognize the skills many Salvadorans have obtained while living in the United States and consider welcoming them as economic immigrants, rather than only seeing them as refugees.

"They are not coming penniless because they have been in the United States since 2001," Ms. Ventura said. "They can come as small-business owners, skilled workers … They have different categories that can apply."

The UN Refugee Agency's representative in Canada, Jean-Nicolas Beuze, said the termination of TPS for El Salvador doesn't necessarily mean Salvadorans will flood the Canada-U.S. border. "Nobody has a crystal ball and we will not want to cry wolf in the sense that it's a very complicated decision that people will have to do if they decide to come to Canada," Mr. Beuze said.

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At the peak of the border crossings last year, 200 to 250 people were crossing into Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. every day. Those numbers have dropped to between 40 and 60 people a day, according to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office.

Despite the decrease in the number of border crossings, the government has contingency plans in place for another possible influx of refugees. It is also continuing outreach efforts with diaspora communities, NGOs, immigrant organizations, the legal community and U.S. government officials to ensure that potential asylum seekers understand that entering Canada irregularly is not a "free ticket" into the country. Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez will head to Los Angeles again next week for another round of outreach work.

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