OTTAWA — An internal government analysis of U.S. immigration policy suggests significant implications for Canada if a program offering protections for people who came to the U.S. illegally as children is allowed to end.
In September, President Donald Trump moved to end the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, known as DACA, which gives work permits and reprieve from deportation to hundreds of thousands of high school graduates or military personnel under the age of 31 who came to the U.S. illegally as kids.
The potential for the program's demise set off shock waves in the U.S. that radiated all the way into the Privy Council Office in Ottawa.
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The same day, the office, which supports the prime minister, asked Global Affairs whether they had analysis ready and in turn, the Canadian embassy in Washington sent in its observations, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws.
Why such a rush for analysis wasn't specified, but the DACA announcement came after a summer when hundreds of people a day were showing up at the Canada-U.S. border to seek asylum thanks to another pending change in U.S. policy — the end of a stay on deportation to certain countries, known as temporary protected status.
That influx sent officials scrambling to spool up immigration and public safety resources and mount an extensive outreach campaign to stem the flow.
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"Any additional pressures as a result of changes the U.S. government may take with regard to the DACA program will need to be considered in light of current operational demands," the briefing note says.
The temporary protected status changes could affect about 400,000 people.
Meanwhile, 1.7 million could be eligible for DACA and close to 800,000 are enrolled. While Trump delayed the end of the program by six months for Congress to come up with a legislative fix for those already part of the program, the briefing note points out that over 600,000 permits will expire at that deadline and won't be renewed.
"With respect to Canada, the implications could also be significant," the analysis said.
On Thursday, nearly two dozen Republicans said they would lend their support to a legislative effort, but Speaker Paul Ryan, also a Republican, said he saw no need to act before Trump's deadline.
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Meanwhile, hundreds of immigrants walked out from nine schools in the Washington, D.C. area and rallied in front of Congress demanding quick legislation.
"How are we supposed to celebrate the holidays being afraid of being deported?," Bruna Bouhid said.
Large numbers of what are known as the "Dreamers" don't have strong ties to their birth countries, given they've lived in the U.S. for years, so Canada could be a draw, the analysis said.
Which isn't entirely a negative proposition, the analysis suggested. Many recipients work in white-collar jobs and since the program only applies to those who at least have finished high school, they are more educated than other unauthorized migrant populations.
"For Canada, a sizable portion (of the) DACA-eligible population could be considered more through the lens of economic immigration as opposed to humanitarian protection," the analysis notes.
There's a caveat — with current immigration levels, Canada's economic programs might not leave much room for them.
"The ability for Canada to receive large numbers of DACA-eligible persons would be modest, at best."
The Immigration Department is trying to pull together new policies to address uncertainty created by the ongoing changes to the U.S. system.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Bar Association provided some suggestions, including lifting restrictions in provincial immigration programs that bar DACA recipients from applying.
"Barriers against refugee claimants, or individuals who do not have status in the country where they reside, do not exist in federal economic immigration programs," their briefing paper points out.
"The result is that individuals who would otherwise qualify for provincial immigration programs are forced to claim refugee protection in Canada to immigrate to Canada, or continue their claim and contribute to the current backlog, as they cannot access other immigration programs."
With files from the Associated Press