Local organizations brace for influx of migrants fleeing Trump's hardline policies

Daysi Alas is one of many Central American immigrants who are making their way from the U.S. to Toronto, and local organizations like the FCJ Refugee Centre are bracing for an influx of people just like her.

Coalition of Spanish-speaking organizations are advocating for easier immigration process at federal level

President Donald Trump's hardline stance on immigration has made many immigrants like Daysi Alas anxious they would be deported. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Daysi Alas says making Toronto her new home was her only option after the U.S. government suddenly terminated a program that protected 57,000 American-Hondurans from being deported.

Alas and her family felt the brunt of it. She says her neighborhood in Atlanta, Ga. became a trap for anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

"It was scary, scary, scary," she said. "My son, he needed to go to his job, and my husband, too."

Even though her family had been in the U.S. for 13 years, with so many immigration officers around, she was worried they'd be sent back to Honduras at any moment.

Bracing for influx of immigrants

Alas is one of many Central American immigrants who are making their way from the U.S. to Toronto, and local organizations like the FCJ Refugee Centre are bracing for an influx of people just like her.

Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director at FCJ, is part of a coalition of Spanish-speaking organizations in Toronto that is advocating for an easier immigration process at the federal level.

"The idea was to open more possibilities for people that are in a very difficult situation," said Martinez.

Since forming in January, the group — named El Puente or The Bridge — is made up of 10 Toronto organizations.

So far, the group has forwarded a proposal to the federal government calling for immigration policies to be relaxed. These include easing language requirements and creating a sponsorship program for incoming migrants.

Central American migrants who spent weeks travelling across Mexico walk to the U.S. side of the border to ask authorities for asylum on April 29, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Eusebio Garcia of the Salvadorean Association of Canada worries that if Canada doesn't prepare itself, Central American immigrants could come illegally. Garcia says many of them will enter the country thinking they qualify for immigration status when they do not.

Since filing the report to the federal government in February, the group has yet to hear from Ottawa.

"They've been challenged now," said Garcia. "Let's wait and see."

Why the influx is happening

Recently, the White House terminated a program that protected 57,000 American-Hondurans from being deported back to their country. 

Dubbed Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, it was designed to provide lawful status and work authorization to people already in the U.S. It was created in 1990 to help people whose home countries have been wracked by natural disasters, armed conflict or other strife. 

In 1998, a hurricane swept through Honduras — killing approximately 10,000 people. In 2001, an earthquake devastated El Salvador, taking 1,000 lives and wrecking hundreds of thousands of homes. In the following years since those disasters, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have extended TPS for Honduras and El Salvador — until now. 

American-Hondurans and American-Salvadorans have until 2020 and 2019 to get their affairs in order. After that, they will either have to leave the U.S. risk being deported. 

Canada's response

Earlier this year, when U. S. President Donald Trump first announced the repeal of TPS, the Canadian government responded by launching a campaign in the U.S. to try to discourage the flow of migrants.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen speaks to reporters prior to taking part in a citizenship ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"Canadians can be reassured that governments at all levels will continue to work together to protect our communities and maintain the integrity of our immigration system, all while respecting our international obligations to protect vulnerable persons fleeing war, terror and persecution," Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told CBC News in January.

Both Spanish-speaking and Creole-speaking MPs accompanied Hussen to Florida, New York, Texas, California, and Minnesota in a campaign to try to stop affected people from coming to Canada.

As for Alas, she just hopes she can bring her family to Canada. She says her daughter is still living in the U.S. and risks being deported by police every day.

"It's difficult," she said. "I miss my daughter. But she has family. She has four children and a husband."