Canada puts out the welcome mat for refugees from the US

The moment is seared by heartache in Jesus Soriano. His daughter Zafiro had just run 15 times around the track to raise money for her school in Redlands, Calif., and was skipping excitedly toward center field to pick up her first-prize award. A man approached.

“You should get out of the country,” the man snarled at her, Mr. Soriano recalls. “Trump will fix this.”

The father leaped in defense of his bright-eyed girl with shimmering black hair that had never been cut since she was born – an American citizen – in California seven years earlier. More words followed; there was pushing. Zafiro began crying. They left without the prize.

In May, Mr. Soriano and his two children and his pregnant wife walked from the United States into Canada to request refugee asylum. 

“I feared that they would send me back to Mexico, and take away our kids,” says Soriano, who had worked illegally in the US since 2005. He had left Mexico after he was kidnapped for ransom from his small business. But there was little solace in the US. Coworkers at a print shop were swept up in a raid and deported on a day Soriano was off work. His boss told him not to come back. “In the US, I was treated as a criminal.”


In a small, welcoming office in Vancouver, the Reyes family listened to Soriano’s story and nodded. They knew it well. They, too, had arrived at this building, the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia, from the United States.

Here, they passed inlaid stones offering welcome in 15 languages. Inside they found a warren of social services agencies and nonprofit groups that would help them live in Canada while their cases worked through the system.

There were 18 dorm rooms where refugees can shelter for a while. A health clinic for their families. Trauma counseling, translators, youth programs, English classes, a day-care program. Even a program to introduce Royal Canadian Mounted Police as agents of help, not fear. The center is unique in the world for providing refugees the services they need without sending them scurrying from one government office to another, says Chris Friesen, director of settlement services. 

Since the election of President Trump, he says, the center has seen a sharp uptick in cases coming across the US border. An average of about 100 a month are coming from the US to Vancouver, he says; last year it was about 60 a month and in 2013 it was about 31 a month. They are from all over: Iraqis and Kurds and Turks and…

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