Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages promising safe haven in Canada claim to have the blessing of the Canadian government, or so the stories go. The disinformation spread via the web is causing a massive exodus of Haitian immigrants from the U.S. to Canada.
MIAMI — The Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages promising safe haven in Canada claim to have the blessing of the Canadian government. Creole-language radio stations offer up consultants giving free and paid consultations for Haitians seeking residency across the U.S. border. Border cities such as Montreal are welcoming immigrants with open arms, or so the stories go.
Haitians in the U.S. — fearful of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants but unwilling to return to the grinding poverty of their homeland — have responded by the thousands. They’ve quit their jobs, sold their possessions and taken planes, Greyhound buses and even taxis to the U.S.-Canada border.
The number of migrants illegally crossing into French-speaking Quebec more than tripled in July, with another 3,800-plus entering in just the first half of this month. And now Canada is aggressively trying to stem the flow and dispel the myths that have triggered an unprecedented exodus of mostly Haitian asylum-seekers.
Public-service announcements have been drawn up in English, French and Creole. Canadian consulates across the U.S. have been mobilized. And on Aug. 24, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dispatched his nation’s only Haiti-born parliamentarian, Emmanuel Dubourg, to Miami, home to the largest concentration of Haitians in the U.S.
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Armed with the Creole language and his own personal tale of migrating to Canada from Haiti four decades earlier, Dubourg was clear everywhere he went: There is no new immigration program for Haitians in Canada.
“It’s not true that Canada is wide open,” Dubourg said, as he visited Miami’s Little Haiti Cultural Center Complex before a closed-door meeting with nearly two dozen Haitian community leaders and immigration advocates at nearby Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church. “Crossing the border … is no free pass.”
Some asylum-seekers have cited Temporary Protected Status, the special humanitarian program for Haitians that the Trump administration has signaled may end in January, as their reason for fleeing north. But Dubourg blamed “misinformation circulating” on social media for the influx.
“People are looking for ways to help themselves and their families,” he said, “so they are, I would say, kind of desperate (and) are willing to accept that information.”
One such message in French circulated among Haitians last month on WhatsApp. It read: “The Consul of Canada in the USA held a meeting in New Jersey for more than two hours. It invites and even encourages all Haitians (with or without TPS) to apply for a Canadian residence.”
It even provided a phone number to someone purporting to be a Creole-speaking attorney, Max L. Jean-Louis, along with a line: “The fees will be reduced by the Canadian government. Inform yourself and good luck.”
But the number doesn’t work.
Claudia Roger, a Haitian national who lives in Alpharetta, Georgia, said she shared the message on a WhatsApp group because she believed it was a legitimate answer to many people’s prayers. She was surprised to learn otherwise.
Even Dubourg, in Miami to tell Haitians that the rumors aren’t true, was startled to see a Facebook post advertising a Sept. 9 meeting at the Evangelical Crusade Christian Church in Brooklyn, New York. The post claims in Creole that a “Canadian Border, Canadian immigration lawyer” will lead a talk on immigration.
“No one has been mandated to leave Canada to come discuss how someone can enter the country,” Dubourg said. “This is truly a racket.”
The church’s pastor did not return a phone call from The Miami Herald seeking information about the meeting.
Dubourg said the Canadian government has launched an investigation to uncover who is behind the push to send Haitians north. Haitian leaders in Miami and New York believe there’s a profit motive.
“I have Haitian people in New York in my district stopping me on the streets, coming to my office to share with me their decision to go to Montreal, Canada, because they believe that Canada has opened the door for them,” said New York City Councilman Mathieu Eugene, who visited Montreal two weeks ago to meet with Haitian leaders about the influx.
Eugene said he tells them the fight for a renewal of TPS beyond the January expiration date is continuing. “They don’t want to hear it,” he said. “It’s very difficult to change their minds.”
When he visited Haitian asylum-seekers at a shelter in Montreal, Eugene said it became clear that many had made a rash decision.
The steady stream of asylum-seekers — 10,000 since the beginning of the year — sweeping into Quebec has strained government resources, with the military being called out earlier this month to build a tent city along the official border crossing of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle after Montreal’s gigantic Olympic Stadium was opened to shelter refugees.
With some Canadians now questioning the integrity of their immigration system in the wake of the surge, Trudeau signaled a slightly tougher immigration stance than he had earlier.
Canada, he said, remains a “welcoming and open” society to those fleeing persecution and in need of protection but “we are also a country of laws. Entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage.”