HALIFAX — A Donald Trump presidency could prompt a flow of politically motivated American emigrants akin to the Vietnam war era, though passionate first impulses to leave may cool as the new leader's agenda unfolds, say political observers and immigration experts.
Donald Savoie — a Canadian political economist who was at his second home in Florida as the vote occurred — says some U.S. citizens may consider applying to move to Canada if Trump follows through on proposed policies such as mass deportations of illegal immigrants or the reopening of international trade agreements.
"There's no question some Americans will say we can't live under these circumstances and we may see what we saw in the ... late 60s during the Vietnam war,'' he said in a telephone interview from Florida.
"I wouldn't take that to the bank right away ... But if he does what he says he wants to do there's no question there will be a bit of chaos and some Americans will say, 'we want out of here.'''
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Florida on Nov. 7, 2016. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Savoie is a political economist at the University of Moncton who has authored one book on Canada's democracy, is working on a separate book that looks at the democratic system in both nations, and has observed multiple U.S. elections from his southern home.
In Nova Scotia, a radio announcer who created the "Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins'' website says he had about 150 emails late last night as the U.S. election results came in, including some from Americans who say they feel fearful about continuing to live in the United States.
"There's no question some Americans will say we can't live under these circumstances."
"People are afraid and it's hard to treat it light heartedly when people are feeling so afraid,'' Rob Calabrese said in a telephone interview.
Calabrese says he will rename his site and expects he'll continue referring inquiries to official websites where would-be Cape Bretoners can pursue work opportunities and apply for immigration status.
Several emails he read out loud were from Americans saying they no longer felt comfortable in states dominated by Republican politicians.
Immigration process isn't easy
However, the process of trying to gain permanent residency in Canada is a tough one for Americans fleeing because of political unease, say immigration lawyers.
Lee Cohen, who specializes in refugee law in Halifax, said Americans shouldn't be deluded into believing that gaining residency status in Canada is easy just because of the two countries' good relations, proximity and similar lifestyles.
"It's a big deal and it's a very onerous process,'' he said. "This notion that's floating around there that all Americans have to do is drive to Canada and buy a farm and live there is just completely wrong and misdirected.''
He said the application and assessment process can drag on for years, be costly and involve various documents, including birth and police certificates, medical records, passports and possibly interviews. He said it's likely anyone fleeing Trump's America would apply under an economic category, but might have to have a job offer, have Canadian work experience or a skilled trade.
"This notion that's floating around there that all Americans have to do is drive to Canada and buy a farm and live there is just completely wrong."
He received a handful of inquiries from anxious Americans over the course of the campaign, with most coming from people in Arizona upset by Trump's pledge to build a wall between the States and Mexico to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. In the end, the state went to Trump.
Same thing happened when Bush was elected
David Rosenblatt, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said he had received up to 30 inquiries early Wednesday from U.S. citizens looking for information about a possible move north. But, he said the phenomenon is a near repeat of what happened when George W. Bush won a second presidential term in 2004, adding that many of the people who contacted him quickly abandoned the idea of trying to emigrate once they realized how complicated it is.
"They just don't qualify,'' he said. "They're afraid, they want to get out. It's the same thing I saw with George W. Bush...But, when they find out how difficult it is, they realize they're stuck where they are.''
The website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada crashed Tuesday night due to heavy traffic, but the agency did not say whether it was due to excessive traffic from would-be U.S. emigrants.
"The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship website (cic.gc.ca) became temporarily inaccessible to users as a result of a significant increase in the volume of traffic,'' said spokesperson Lisa Filipps in an email.
The site had been restored to intermittent service by Wednesday afternoon.
A large immigration consultant based in Jersey said in a news release on Tuesday that it had a sharp increase in the number of Americans inquiring about alternative residence and citizenship programs after the election results.
Eric Major, chief executive of Henley and Partners, also said the firm saw a similar spike after the Bush victory in 2004.
"In contrast to 12 years ago though, there are now many more residence and citizenship-by-investment programs available to choose from worldwide,'' says the consultant's release.
However, Calabrese said the reality for those who have responded to his website and made attempts to immigrate to Canada to date is that they experience a challenging immigration system that doesn't fast-track many applicants.
Savoie says that if the situation deteriorates to the point where wealthy and well-educated Americans wish to move to underpopulated parts of Canada, he thinks the benefits would likely be outweighed by the political and economic problems driving such a migration.
"It will be nothing to celebrate,'' he said.
Adding another potential, but unlikely wrinkle to the emigration puzzle is whether a refugee claim could be made if Trump proceeds with some on his campaign promises concerning reproductive rights, same-sex unions, health care and any other issues that could open the door to a human rights challenge.
"The notion of making a successful refugee claim from America under any previous American administration? Unthinkable,'' Cohen said. "But in a Trump world, if he does what he says he's going to do it opens up that discussion and it would be very interesting.''
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