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How Trump's Anti-Muslim Immigration Crackdown Will Test Canada's Acceptance of Refugees

Among many things, Canada is likely going to see a huge influx of people seeking refugee status.

It has been less than week since his inauguration, and President Donald Trump has wasted no time signing a smorgasbord of controversial executive orders: rolling back Obamacare, killing federal aid for any NGO that even mentions "abortion" in their policies, pulling the US out of the TPP, and approving the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Today, however, just three working days into his new job, he is set to sign a swath of orders relating to his most acidic and xenophobic campaign promises: banning travelers from countries with high populations of Muslim citizens, enforcing an aggressive deportation strategy, and, of course, kickstarting the construction of his infamous Mexican border wall (which he claims Mexico will pay for).

Contrary to popular belief, immigration policies in the US don't only affect Americans. Earlier this month, a pair of Ghanian refugees, ordered to be deported back to Ghana by US authorities, barely survived a perilous trek across the Canadian border near Emerson, Manitoba.

Seidu Mohammad and Razak Iyal walked to Canada in -18 weather after their asylum requests were denied in the US. Photo by Caroline Wintoniw/VICE News

The two men men, after trudging through waist-high snow for several hours in sub-zero temperatures, sustained serious damage due to exposure to the elements. One of the men, Seidu Mohammad—afraid his sexual orientation would result in execution upon deportation to Ghana—is now expected to lose both his fingers and toes to frostbite.

"These are troubling times," Raj Sharma, a high-profile immigration lawyer located in Calgary, Alberta, told VICE Wednesday. "There's going to be a lot of deportations. We should get ready to see many, many more [similar] cases to the one we saw in Manitoba."

Sharma says that there are a number of major concerns in terms of how Canada will handle an influx in refugees, but he notes that the Safe Third Countries Agreement (STCA)—part of the US-Canada Smart Border Action Plan—will be one of the biggest obstacles for those who are fleeing from the US, regardless of what that reason may be.

The STCA, drafted shortly after 9/11, prevents anyone traveling from the US from seeking refugee status in Canada at border crossings and airports. This is done by making it so that a refugee claimant must seek refugee status in their "first safe country."

Effectively, this means that anyone fleeing from the US—whether that be undocumented immigrants under the threat of deportation, or Muslim Americans who fear for their safety—would first need to find a way to get into Canada illegally (and, like the case of the Ghanaian men earlier this month, likely dangerously.)

On Wednesday, Stats Canada published a new study that found almost half of Canada's population is expected to be immigrants by the year 2036—a number that hasn't been as high since 1871. It also noted that most working-age Canadians will be of a visible minority, jumping from under 20 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in 2036.

Saima Jamal, co-founder the Syrian Refugee Support Group in Calgary, says that Trump's move to become more aggressive on immigration is so surprise to those arriving here. Citing the story of one Syrian man she worked to resettle recently, Jamal says many refugees are choosing Canada or death—mostly due to fear of an increased nationalist sentiment coming out of places like the US and Western Europe.

"This man, with three little, little children, was told he could go to Germany in three days. He said no, and waited six months to come to Canada, because of what we offer here, because he didn't want to live in fear," Jamal told VICE Wednesday.

Both Jamal and Sharma agree that, going forward, the long-held notion of Canadian acceptance of immigrants will be tested as more and more refugee claims come from countries like Iran and Iraq, which are on the list of countries that Trump's travel ban will affect.

In Canada, politicians like Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch have already proposed a "values test," which many have criticized as xenophobic and which Sharma jokes is just a "brown person polygraph." Jamal argues how dangerous this is, and told VICE that there needs to be increased pressure on the Canadian government to find ways that will allow US refugees to apply for asylum without forcing them to risk their safety via dangerous, DIY border crossings.

"I cannot fathom it's 2017 and that we have arrived at such a point…We need to be prepared to make the border crossing process for those seeking asylum a humane process. We cannot let our belief in people from other places falter."

Sharma also says that he expects a lot of IT companies to begin setting up satellite offices in Canada if the Trump administration goes through with a crackdown on the H1Bs. Sharma says that a visa chokehold, coupled with restricted immigration from Middle Eastern countries, will "seriously" skew the number of skilled workers applying to Canada versus the US.

Regardless of the economics or social reaction, the ultimate problem with all of these policies will fall on whether those applying for refugee status can make a claim that shows "personalized risk," Sharma tells me.

"This is actually very similar to what happened after September 11th, 2001," Sharma told VICE, describing his time as a Canadian refugee protection officer from 2002 to 2004. "There was about 30,000 Pakistani folk basically emptied from [urban centres] and began applying for claims in Canada."

"A lot of these kids—[students] for the most part—couldn't go back to Pakistan. You know, they were born there and grew up in the US, their Urdu was shit, but that's not a great argument for a claim. So, yeah, we could have people fleeing [the US] in large numbers, and immigration officials might have to start denying them because it's not what many see as dangerous."

Follow Jake Kivanc on Twitter.