The federal government is preparing for a potential surge in Mexican migrants coming to Canada after Donald Trump's election victory, CBC News has learned.
Sources confirm high level meetings took place this week with officials at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and in other departments.
The news comes as Canada prepares to loosen rules for Mexicans to enter the country by lifting a visa requirement on Dec. 1. That restriction has been in place since 2009.
Talks on a plan to cope with a possible spike in asylum-seekers have been ongoing for some time, but were accelerated this week after Trump's surprise win.
Trump campaigned on promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to swiftly deport undocumented workers and illegal residents.
Lawyer predicts 'significant impact'
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman expects an increase in refugee claims from Mexicans once the visa requirement is lifted. He also predicts a "significant impact" from Trump's election.
"The government was very concerned about the potential for a large number of new claims coming from Mexico, and that's why they hesitated for so long before announcing that they were going to remove the visa," he said.
"And that announcement was made before anyone knew that Donald Trump, with his very different immigration policies from those of the current administration, won the election."
But Waldman cautioned it's too early to tell exactly how the situation may unfold, saying it will depend on whether Trump follows through on his campaign pledges.
When Trump first launched his presidential bid in June 2015, he took sharp aim at Mexico, suggesting the country was unleashing criminals in to the country.
"They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing their problems," he said. "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists and some I assume are good people, but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting."
In August last year, he released an eight-page policy paper on immigration that outlined plans to build a multi-billion-dollar wall along the Mexican border, but force Mexico to pay for it. He also vowed to detain and deport undocumented migrants and triple the number of U.S. immigration officers.
And just this September, he reiterated his hard-line commitment to remove illegal migrants en masse.
"There will be no amnesty," Trump said at an Arizona rally. "Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country."
Potential abuse flagged
The possible Trump effect is on top of what some have flagged as a potential for immigration system abuse with the lifting of the visa requirement.
Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the Stephen Harper government imposed the restriction in 2009 after ballooning numbers of bogus refugee claims from Mexico.
She accused the Liberals of making an "arbitrary" decision to lift the restriction without doing a formal study of the potential impact, or establishing new measures to prevent abuse.
"You don't impose a visa on a nation that's close to us in terms of trade unless there's a serious, discernible problem. And there was," she said.
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If there is suddenly a dramatic rise in asylum claims, that will "give pause" for the American government and for Canadians, she said.
Once in Canada, refugee claimants are entitled to a suite of benefits, including health care, until a decision is rendered in their case.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan to lift the requirement during a visit by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on June 28. During that meeting, Mexico announced it would fully reopen its market to Canadian beef in October.
A senior official in the office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum confirmed the government is sticking with the Dec. 1 date to lift the visa.
"Our officials are working with Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Mexican officials to lay the groundwork for the visa lift, including measures to identify and deter irregular migration. And we'll continue to monitor migration patterns post-lift," the official said.
CBSA said a potential spike in migrants is speculative at this time.
"It is business as usual at our designated ports of entry, this includes processing any refugee claimants," said spokeswoman Esme Bailey. "The CBSA processes over 90 million travellers a year and routinely monitors its operations to ensure proper resources."
Asylum claims way down
The number of Mexican claims referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board was climbing dramatically until it peaked at 9,511 in 2009. After the visa requirement was imposed, it dropped to 1,349, then continued to shrink to only 120 in 2015. Between January and June this year, there were only 60 cases, according to the most recent figures available.
Government officials had suggested the visa requirement could be reinstated if the number of asylum claims from Mexico reaches 3,500 in any given year. But a news release announcing the policy did not mention any conditions attached to the change.
Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland called that cap a "close the barn door after the horse has bolted" policy. He said the government should carefully track weekly intake and "flip the switch" if it exceeds, for example, 100 cases.
"It is foolish to know claims will exceed 3,500 in a year, and do nothing during the year," he said. "We have the technology to be more nimble."