| REYNOSA, Mexico/TORONTO, March 16
REYNOSA, Mexico/TORONTO, March 16 Shortly after
crossing the Rio Grande into the gang-infested border city of
Reynosa, dozens of Mexicans deported during U.S President Donald
Trump's first days in office said they would soon try to head
north again - but this time to Canada.
In a Reynosa migrant shelter, just yards from the U.S.
border, 26-year-old Cenobio Rita said he had earned about $3,000
a month installing playgrounds in Richmond, Virginia, before he
was deported on Feb. 15 after police found marijuana in his car.
Having left Mexico as a 14-year-old, he fretted about
returning to his violent home state of Michoacan. With Trump
taking a tough stance on undocumented immigrants, he ruled out
a common path for many deportees - back into the United States.
"I want to go to Canada with my passport," he said. "For
those without documents, I think (the United States) is over.
Now it's Canada's turn."
As Trump seeks to crack down on undocumented immigrants in
the United States, about half of whom are Mexican, there are
some nascent signs that more Mexican migrants see a future in
Canada, which in December eased travel for visitors from Mexico.
Canadian government data shows a tripling of Mexicans
seeking to travel to Canada in the three months since the visa
requirement was shelved.
It is not a firm indicator as many people could be genuine
tourists. But tie it to a surge in calls and emails to
immigration lawyers from recently arrived Mexicans looking for
work permits, as well as the accounts of deportees like Rita and
Mexicans already in Canada, and it suggests a new migration
pattern may be emerging.
Seven immigration lawyers, consultants and activists told
Reuters that requests for legal advice from Mexicans who had
entered Canada since Dec. 1 had roughly tripled compared with
the same period in 2015-2016.
Between December and late February, Canada has granted more
than 61,500 eTAs (Electronic Travel Authorization forms) to
Mexicans, about triple the number of quarterly tourist
applications received in the year before the visa requirement
was scrapped, official Canadian data shows. The true scale of
Mexican immigration will only become fully apparent in June,
when early arrivals on these eTAs are due to leave.
Flight bookings from Mexico to Canada also swelled 90
percent in January and February versus the same period in 2016,
according to travel analysis company ForwardKeys, which reviews
all major travel agency bookings. It is unclear what percentage
of those bookings were made by people looking to work illegally
Marcela Gonzalez's telephone and Facebook page may be a good
indicator. The immigration paralegal in Toronto used to receive
four calls a month from Mexicans in Canada, before Trump's
election and the new visa-free travel.
"Now I get four in less than 10 minutes," from people
wanting to know how to get work permits and permanent residency,
Gonzalez said 200 Mexicans looking for immigration advice
wrote to her on Facebook on a recent day, including parents
already in Canada asking her how to enroll their children in
The Mexican government did not respond to requests for
comment for this story. The Mexican embassy in Canada said both
countries would work together to "promote secure and lawful
travel between our two nations."
"We will carefully monitor migration trends regarding
Mexican travelers to Canada, including asylum claim rates," said
Camielle Edwards, spokeswoman for Immigration and Refugee
Minister Ahmed Hussen, when asked if Canada had noted a rise in
Reuters spoke to about 30 Mexicans in Reynosa who had been
deported the previous night. More than half said they wanted to
head to Canada. While it is unclear how many will succeed,
almost nobody envisaged a future in the United States.
But tough border checks, hard-to-find jobs and fine-tuned
enforcement policies mean it can be hard to enter and harder to
In 2015, Victor Avila, a 37-year-old architect from Oaxaca,
returned home voluntarily from the United States after five
years working illegally in Freehold, New Jersey. Shocked by the
low wages in Mexico and traumatized by the local murder of his
brother, he applied for an eTA.
Avila arrived in Toronto a few weeks ago and found work in a
restaurant. He was in the process of applying for a work visa,
but said he would stay on illegally for a year if it wasn't
"I think for many of us in Canada, there's no other option
but to stay and work illegally," he said.
Many Mexicans believe the eTA is all they need to set up in
Canada, but in almost all cases they are wrong, immigration
lawyers said. The eTA does not even guarantee entry.
Even if they get past the airport, many low-skilled Mexicans
hoping to work illegally are likely to be disappointed, lawyers
said, noting that it's difficult for those entering on tourist
visas to get work permits without an employer's sponsorship.
Some Mexican visitors told Reuters that Canadian immigration
officials went through their phones and asked tough questions
designed to trip up those seeking to stay and work illegally.
While some got through, others were sent home.
Canada says those convicted of crimes, as well as gang
members, are inadmissible, making it hard for criminally
convicted Mexicans deported from the United States to enter.
Some 313 Mexicans with eTAs were denied access to Canada in
January, according to official Canadian data obtained by
Reuters, more than the total number rejected each year in 2012,
2013 and 2014. (For a graphic on the number of Mexicans blocked
from entering Canada see tmsnrt.rs/2n5egvh)
Alejandro Becerra's experience is a cautionary tale for
Mexicans dreaming of a new life in Canada.
The 30-year-old former bankteller from Mexico City got a job
offer to work in construction in Toronto and flew to the city on
Feb. 7 on an eTA.
Becerra told a border official at the airport that he was
coming as a tourist and showed him his return flight. The
official didn't believe him and examined his phone, where he
found messages discussing Becerra's job in Toronto.
Becerra spent the night in a detention center, and the next
morning he was taken in handcuffs to a plane that would return
him to Mexico.
($1 = 19.6240 Mexican pesos)
(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Additional reporting by
Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel
and Ross Colvin)