Following a recent, long-awaited decision by the U.S. government to end temporary protected status for Haitians in mid-2019, Quebec authorities are monitoring the situation but don't foresee an imminent wave of new asylum seekers.
Immigration Minister David Heurtel told reporters that while the end of a temporary residency permit (TRP) program that has allowed nearly 60,000 Haitians to live and work in the United States may cause issues in the future, the situation isn't expected to reach the unprecedented levels it did last summer — at least not anytime soon.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department announced late Monday the program would be terminated.
Haitians living in the U.S. with TRPs, many of whom arrived following the 2010 earthquake, have 18 months to apply for citizenship, or they will be deported.
The threat of that program's termination precipitated the waves of people who crossed illegally into Canada from the U.S. to claim asylum last summer, catching Canadian authorities off guard when the crowds began to number more than 200 people a day.
The RCMP has intercepted more than 15,000 asylum seekers crossing illegally between official ports of entry since January, the bulk of them in Quebec during the months of July through September.
And of those crossing into Quebec, the majority were Haitian.
Heurtel said the possibility the U.S. will soon end TRP programs for people from El Salvador and Honduras may create a problem, but right now, that isn't the case.
He said the provincial government has created a committee, including representatives of the Immigration, Justice, Public Security, Health and Education Ministries, to ensure it is ready for another influx.
He will be going to Ottawa to co-ordinate with federal ministers on the work being done now and what may need to happen if there is another wave of migrants.
18 months to prepare
Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents border agents, agrees that the influx may not be imminent.
But he doubts those who want to make the trip to Canada will wait until the last minute.
"Now they have 18 months to get prepared, so hopefully [the government] will be hiring more resources than we had over the last summer," he said.
Right now, there are still 60 to 70 asylum seekers crossing illegally into Canada every day, he said.
Fortin expects to see those numbers start to increase again next summer.
He said any surge in the number of people seeking asylum could create a ripple effect on wait times at the border right across the country, because agents are being sent to Lacolle, Que., to help out their colleagues there.
Decision is 'catastrophe,' radio host says
One Haitian Montrealer is choosing to see it as a glass half full, glass half empty situation.
Pierre Emmanuel, morning show host at Montreal's Haitian community radio station CPAM, welcomes the fact that Haitians have been given until July 2019 to prepare for their return to their native country instead of January 2018, as many expected.
Emmanuel said this will give them a chance to get their affairs in order before they have to go.
On the other hand, he said, the decision is a "catastrophe."
"These are people who have lived in the U.S. for years, have built lives in the U.S., children born in the U.S.," Emmanuel said.
"It's a reality that will be difficult to manage, difficult to live."
Emmanuel said the 2019 deadline may help Canadian authorities better manage the asylum requests.
He said he believes this time around, Haitians in the U.S. are being given correct information — that there are rules associated with immigrating to Canada, and there are no guarantees they will be able to stay.
Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg is in New York City Tuesday to continue efforts to clear up misconceptions.
Flow has slowed, not stopped
Marjorie Villefranche, the director general of la Maison d'Haiti, an organization that works with Montreal's Haitian community, said she believes most of the people who were going to come to Canada already have.
She said the flow has slowed down, but it never stopped.
"There are a lot of Haitian organizations [in the U.S.], too, working on a solution, and we on the Canadian side have to work, too … to know how we're going to help those people who will keep coming," she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
Villefranche said Haitians living in the U.S. are afraid to lose their temporary protected status, ending their rights to work legally or send their children to school.
Villefranche said she believes the decision to end the TPS program amounts to pandering by U.S. President Donald Trump to the anti-immigration rump.