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  • A sign giving directions is seen in the parking lot of the United States-Canada border in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, Feb. 16, 2017.

    A sign giving directions is seen in the parking lot of the United States-Canada border in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, Feb. 16, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

"How do you establish yourself when your status is unknown?" said Toronto-based lawyer Aadil Mangalji.

Due to U.S. President Donald Trump's attack on unauthorized migrant communities, thousands who fled to Canada have found themselves trapped in a precarious position, unable to find work, permanent housing or even enroll their children in schools.

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Because of a refugee system ill-equipped to handle such a massive cascade of applicants, refugee claims are taking longer to be completed than at any time in the past five years, according to previously unpublished Immigration and Refugee Board data provided to Reuters. The system was already buckling under the pressure of thousands of applicants prior to the 3,500 asylum-seekers who crossed the U.S. border on foot at the beginning of 2017, with the board lacking the staff to vet applicants, decide cases or provide interpreters.

Wait times are set to expand after the IRB allocated “up to half” of its 127 tribunal members to focus on old cases in April. Delayed hearings skyrocketed from 2015 to 2016, more than doubling, and further increases this year are expected based on trends. In the first four months of 2017, 4,500 cases were canceled.

Without such hearings, claimants are unable to establish their legal status in the country, making it nearly impossible to find employment or find landlords willing to rent out a home to them. Likewise, claimants are unable to access student financial aid or loans or update their credentials in line with Canadian standards.

Mohamed Daud left his family and a pending refugee claim in the United States and walked across to Canada in February after hearing rumors of U.S. immigration raids. Daud, originally from Somalia, had been living and working legally in Nebraska but feared he would be detained and then deported at an upcoming check-in with immigration officials.

His May 8 hearing with a Canadian refugee tribunal was canceled three days beforehand, with no new date set.

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"I don’t know when they will call me. I can’t work. It isn’t easy," said Daud, who gets approximately $453 a month in government social assistance while waiting for a work permit, and shares a room in an apartment with six other asylum seekers.

"How do you establish yourself when your status is unknown?" said Toronto-based lawyer Aadil Mangalji. Lawyers say that even for asylum-seekers who carry work permits and temporary social insurance numbers, finding work is difficult due to employers' reluctance to offer jobs to those whose future is yet to be determined.

Asylum cases are already taking longer to finalize, on average, than at any other time since Canada introduced a statutory two-month time limit in 2012. This year, it has been taking 5.6 months on average, compared to 3.6 months in 2013. According to statistics, 2017 is already on track to be the highest year for refugee claims since 2011.

Honduran Raul Contreras, walked across the Quebec border in March and has had his hearing postponed indefinitely while staying in a government-subsidized Toronto hotel with his mother, stepfather and uncle. Contreras said he has been repeatedly rejected by landlords.

"They just said that they didn't rent places to refugee claimants," he said. "(They) said that refugees don't have jobs and probably wouldn't pay."

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