February 06, 2018

Will DACA kids wind up in Canada?

If there is no deal to save DACA recipients in the United States, the Dreamers who face deportation might find a new home in Canada – but that could require a special act of Parliament.

A Canadian immigration expert made that prediction Saturday at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver. It came during a panel discussion comparing the U.S. and Canadian immigration systems, featuring experts from both countries.

An expert panel at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver compares and contrasts U.S. and Canadian immigration systems


DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – was on everyone’s minds.  It provides temporary protection for nearly 800,000 young people, called Dreamers, who were brought to the United States without authorization by their parents. In September, President Donald Trump revoked the program, effective March 5.A federal judge has temporarily blocked Trump’s action while a court challenge is pending.

Meanwhile, Congress is working on a deal to address the issue. If their efforts fail, what will come of the 800,000 Dreamers? Will they be deported, or could they flee to Canada?

“So DACA -- deal or no deal?” asked panelist Andres Pelenur, an immigration lawyer from Toronto. “Some wise people have told me there will not be a deal. That actually all these people will be really in a bad situation. So what happens if that is the case? Obviously, Canada is on their radar. What are their chances of actually settling in this country?”

Pelenur said it is unlikely that DACA recipients could get study or work permits through the usual channels because they have no legal status in the United States. “Their chances are virtually zero,” he said.

Some DACA recipients might qualify as skilled workers, but that number is very small, Pelenur said. Potential immigrants applying from outside Canada – like DACA recipients – could qualify if they are young (age 20 to 29) and have bachelor’s or master’s degrees with some work experience. Only about 5 percent of DACA recipients fit that definition.

Another, “very risky” option for DACA recipients, Pelenur said, would be crossing into Canada at unguarded spots, then applying for asylum. Those immigrants would have to prove they have a reasonable fear of persecution in their home country – not the United States – and that would be difficult, Pelenur said.

“Probably one of their best hopes is a special measure from the government,” Pelenur said. One member of Parliament has already proposed a special category for DACA recipients.

There is precedence. During the Vietnam War, Canada welcomed draft resisters from the United States by creating a special category for them, said panelist Gordon Maynard, an immigration lawyer from Vancouver.

Currently, 60 percent of Canada’s immigrants are skilled workers. Canada awards points to potential immigrants based on their age, education, language ability, Canadian work experience and other factors. And it works, Maynard said.

By comparison, the United States system is largely based on employers supporting applicants with skills they can’t find in American workers, said panelist David Ware, a Louisiana immigration lawyer. “The funny thing is the two systems approach things from vastly different directions but they end up choosing very, very similar immigrants,” he said.

Panelist Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer from Alaska, said she found it amusing that Trump wants to shift the U.S. system away from family immigration toward a merit-based system. Canada tried that, “but ultimately I think you end up with exactly the same people. You’re just putting them in different boxes.”

Ware said the United States is losing the immigration war. “Canada is eating our breakfast in terms of stealing our talent, especially IT (information technology) talent,” he said. “If we don’t reform our system, you’re going to see going forward IT moving largely to Canada because of their welcoming system.”

The program was co-sponsored by the ABA Commission on Immigration and the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities.