Canada frets over possible huge surge in asylum-seekers: sources

OTTAWA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Canada fears a huge surge in asylum seekers crossing the border from the United States, putting political pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of a 2019 election, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The number of migrants illegally entering Canada more than tripled in July and August, hitting nearly 7,000. Haitians, who face looming deportation from the United States when their temporary protected status expires in January 2018, accounted for much of the inflow.

Two sources familiar with Canadian government thinking said citizens from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, who are slated to lose their U.S. protected status in early 2018, may also head north.

"There is concern we'll see a huge increase, mostly from Central America," said one source.

"The question is, which group is next, and how are we going to deal with it, and what is the impact on Canadians?" added the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

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US-Canadian border and border patrol
NIAGARA FALLS, NY - JUNE 04: The Rainbow Bridge crosses from the United States (L), into Canada near the Niagara Falls on June 4, 2013 at Niagara Falls, New York. The falls, which have a combined highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, straddle the U.S.-Canada border, on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The falls, visited by millions of tourists on each side of the border, are also a major source of hydroelectric power for the region. The aerial view was seen from a helicopter flown by the U.S. Office of Air and Marine, (OAM), which monitors and patrols the U.S. northern border with Canada. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
LAKE METIGOSHE, ND - SEPTEMBER 8: A sign warns about the potential consequences of illegal entry into the United States or Canada on September 8, 2006 at Lake Metigoshe, North Dakota. The lake lies on the border between the two nations. (Photo by: Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
COLUMBIA VALLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA - JUNE 18: Obelisks mark the border between the United States and Canada in Columbia Valley, British Columbia, Canada, on June 18, 2006. (Photo by: Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
BLACK ROCK, NY - JUNE 04: U.S. Border Patrol agent John Stanko walks along a rail bridge connecting the U.S. with Canada on June 4, 2013 near Black Rock, New York. U.S. Border Patrol agents monitor the bridge for undocumented immigrants trying to cross either into or out of the United States illegally on the bridge. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
August 1, 2008 - CHAMPLAIN, NEW YORK - The fence which marks the property line, and the property line of a house on the Canadian side, also represents the international border. The Canada-US border where New York and Vermont meet with Quebec, is part of the northern frontier for US Border Patrol agents. Increased staffing and increased budgets have led to better enforcement across the region. Toronto Star/Rick Madonik (Photo by Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
DEPEW, NY - JUNE 05: U.S. Border Patrol agents check passenger identifications aboard an Amtrak train from Chicago to New York City on June 5, 2013 in Depew, New York. The agents set up a 24 hour check of transportation hubs in and around Buffalo. They said they received intelligence of undocumented immigrants passing through the area. The Border Patrol also monitors cross along the northern border between the United States and Canada. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
DEPEW, NY - JUNE 05: A U.S. Border Patrol agent checks passenger identifications aboard an Amtrak train from Chicago to New York City on June 5, 2013 in Depew, New York. The agents set up a 24 hour check of transportation hubs in and around Buffalo. They said they received intelligence of undocumented immigrants passing through the area. The Border Patrol also monitors cross along the northern border between the United States and Canada. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
DEPEW, NY - JUNE 05: U.S. Border Patrol agents check passenger identifications at a train station on June 5, 2013 in Depew, New York. The agents set up a 24 hour check of transportation hubs in and around Buffalo. They said they received intelligence of undocumented immigrants passing through the area. The Border Patrol also monitors cross border traffic along the northern border between the United States and Canada. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
August 1, 2008 - CHAMPLAIN, NEW YORK - The Bush Road (must check proper name), looking back to the US from the Canadian side of the fence. Formerly a valid entry point to the US, with an agricultural inspection centre, it is no longer in use and monitored. The Canada-US border where New York and Vermont meet with Quebec, is part of the northern frontier for US Border Patrol agents. Increased staffing and increased budgets have led to better enforcement across the region. Toronto Star/Rick Madonik (Photo by Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
LEWISTON, NY - JUNE 04: The Niagara River emerges from the Niagara Gorge on June 4, 2013 at Lewiston, New York. The river forms the border between the United States (L), and Canada and drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The river is a major source of hydroelectric power for the region. The aerial view was seen from a helicopter flown by the U.S. Office of Air and Marine, (OAM), which monitors and patrols the U.S. northern border with Canana. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
SWEETGRASS, MONTANA-March 3, 2005-This border marker sits on a gravel road that goes between Montana and Alberta, Canada. It is between the border crossing of Sweetgrass, MT to Coutts, Alberta and Whitlash, MT. to Aden, Alberta, Canada (THE DENVER POST PHOTO BY LYN ALWEIS) NOTE: WE MAY NOT WANT TO TELL WHERE THESE ROADS ARE (Photo By Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 03: A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks over Lake Erie near the U.S.-Canada border on June 3, 2013 in Buffalo, New York. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, monitors the 5,525 mile long border, including Alaska, forming the longest international border between two countries in the world. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Oroville, Washington-March 2, 2005- Richard M. Graham, Jr. steps out of his truck on the U.S. side of the border. The Border Patrol know that people have entered the U.S. in this area because they can see footprints in the snow. The border betweeen the U.S. and Canada can be seen behind him as a rancher's fence caught snow and held it there on the Canadian side. (THE DENVER POST PHOTO BY LYN ALWEIS) Yes, that is the border up on those hills. (Photo By Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
NORTON, VT - MARCH 22: U.S. Border Patrol Agents Paul Mulcahy (L) and Andrew Mayer ride snowmobiles as they look for signs of illegal aliens as they cross a frozen lake that is split between the Canadian territory to the right and the U.S. March 22, 2006 near Norton, Vermont. As American politicians continue to debate immigration reform, Border Patrol agents work the northern border to prevent illegal entry. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
BEECHER FALLS, VT - MARCH 23: A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands along the boundary marker cut into the forest marking the line between Canadian territory on the right and the United States March 23, 2006 near Beecher Falls, Vermont. As American politicians continue to debate immigration reform, Border Patrol agents work the northern border to prevent illegal entry. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SUMAS, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA - JUNE 18: Canada is on the left side of the ditch and the United States is on the right near Sumas, British Columbia, Canada, on June 18, 2006. The road is under video surveillance and Border Patrol agents make frequent passes on the roadway. The amount of traffic on the Canadian roadway is much greater. (Photo by Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
NIAGARA FALLS, NY - OCTOBER 18: On a windy day, mist partially obscures the huge waterfalls and creates a rainbow, on October 18, 2013 in Niagara Falls, New York. Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United States. The combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet. The falls are renowned both for their beauty - drawing tourists from around the world - and as a valuable source of hydroelectric power. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
BLACK ROCK, NY - JUNE 03: A U.S. Border Patrol boat patrols the Niagara River forming the U.S.-Canada border on June 3, 2013 near Black Rock, New York. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, monitors the 5,525 mile long border, including Alaska, forming the longest international border between two countries in the world. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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Most new arrivals are going to the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, sparking protests from opposition politicians and anti-immigrant groups.

Trudeau's Liberals need to gain support in Quebec to offset expected losses elsewhere ahead of an October 2019 election.

Asked whether the Liberals were worried about losing popularity in Quebec, the source said: "Absolutely. That's a concern."

But if Trudeau clamps down too far, he risks tarnishing a long-cultivated reputation for openness and tolerance. He pointedly tweeted Canada's welcome of refugees after U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled a travel ban in January.

"The government is in a real quandary over this," said a third source familiar with official thinking.

Ottawa has hardened its tone in recent days, warning people not to cross the border since they could well be deported.

Trudeau said Canada was enforcing immigration rules.

"We are an open and welcoming country because citizens have confidence in our immigration and refugee system and we have been able to continue to defend and protect the integrity of that system," he told reporters in Montreal on Wednesday.

He also said Ottawa might accelerate the process of issuing work permits for asylum seekers rather than make them wait for refugee claims to be processed, which now takes several months.

Leger Marketing pollster Christian Bourque said there were no immediate signs that support in Quebec for Trudeau was weakening.

"I think that changes if people do not perceive the government is taking a strong stand," he said.

A Reuters poll in March found nearly half of Canadians want to deport people who are illegally crossing from the United States.

A Haitian-Canadian Liberal legislator is due to visit Miami on Thursday, home to a large expatriate community, in a bid to persuade people to stay put. Officials complain false stories are circulating about how easy it is to be granted permission to stay in Canada.

Some of the Haitians are in temporary housing, including Montreal's Olympic Stadium and at least two tent camps near the border.

Critics accuse Trudeau of encouraging would-be refugees to come to Canada without thinking through the consequences. (Additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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