Shootings, abortion, Trump: are fed-up Americans getting serious about getting out?

·7 min read

WASHINGTON — It's not just the relentless parade of deadly mass shootings, the draconian assault on abortion rights or even the prospect of a Donald Trump comeback that has Mackenzie Fresquez exploring a move to Canada.

Rather, it's the abiding sense that in the United States, a country that's supposed to revere Abraham Lincoln's government of, by and for the people, she's powerless to do anything about it.

"It really just feels kind of hopeless," said Fresquez, 29, who lives in the Denver suburb of Lakewood with her husband, Isaac.

Both are keen outdoor enthusiasts who work as land surveyors in Colorado, where Fresquez moved from Ohio so she could frolic in the shadows of her beloved Rocky Mountains and one day start a family.

But sending children to school in the U.S. no longer seems like a good idea, she said — and there's no reason to think that's going to change.

"Even if we elect all the right people — which, even that takes a lot in a country that's so divided — it's just how our government is set up and how it's running right now," Fresquez said.

"It just feels like there's nothing really I can do, even if I do go full-bore activist and get everyone to go vote — I don't really know if it would change that much."

Her adopted home has a dark history of mass shootings: Littleton, home to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, is nearby, as is Aurora, where a gunman killed 12 people at a midnight movie premiere a decade ago.

Since May, three mass shootings — Buffalo, N.Y., Uvalde, Tex., and Highland Park, Ill. — have killed 36 people in the space of two months, including 19 children in a Texas elementary school classroom.

Just last year, Fresquez said, a friend left a grocery store in Boulder just 20 minutes before a gunman walked in and killed 10 people. "It's things like that that just remind me it can really happen anywhere."

Statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show a fairly steady increase in the number of people from the U.S. who were granted permanent residence in Canada each year since 2015.

After a sharp decline during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the number of successful U.S. applicants reached 11,950 in 2021, up from just 7,655 in 2015 and the highest annual total since at least 1980.

So far, 2022 is shaping up to be another banner year: 3,235 applications were approved in the first quarter, the highest total for that three-month period in the last eight years.

In total, 70,330 applications from the U.S. have been approved since the end of 2014, including 5,040 in the first five months of 2022 alone.

Progressive-minded Americans aren't lacking for motivation.

Top of mind for many is the Supreme Court's decision last month to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that for nearly 50 years had effectively guaranteed a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion.

Fresquez, whose husband is Hispanic, said she fears a collapsing separation between church and state in a country where a conservative Supreme Court is dramatically reshaping America's social and cultural contours.

The couple is exploring a move to Alberta, getting work permits under a section of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that streamlines the approval process for some 60 different professional occupations.

"There are other precedents based off the same precedent that they negated when they overturned Roe, one of them being interracial marriage,"she said.

"This is maybe thinking a little extreme, but what if something like that was overturned? Is our marriage going to be affected?"

Jo Kreyling, a video game developer who runs Pillow Fight Games out of her northern Virginia home with husband Conrad, said she's actively planning to move her family to Vancouver Island.

Kreyling wants to have another child. But her family vacations each year in North Carolina, one of roughly two dozen states where a post-Roe crackdown on abortion is either already in place or well underway.

"If I get an ectopic pregnancy in the Outer Banks in two years, is that going to be safe for me?" she wonders aloud.

"From the big things like Roe vs. Wade to the extremely local thing, it's all impacting the number 1 idea of, 'It's unsafe to have a family here.'"

A vivid illustration of the U.S. hysteria surrounding abortion has been playing out this week in Indiana, where the shocking case of a 10-year-old rape victim has become a volatile political flashpoint.

The girl, unable to get an abortion in her home state of Ohio, travelled to Indiana for the procedure, which was reported in accordance with state laws that ban abortions after 22 weeks except in medical emergencies.

But that hasn't stopped the state's attorney general from vowing to investigate the doctor who performed it, and certain right-wing lawmakers and media outlets from initially doubting the reports were even true.

Pulling up stakes and moving to Canada, of course, is harder than it might sound.

While the federal government has a variety of different channels and programs designed to attract certain would-be migrants, immigration experts say it's important to understand that not everyone qualifies.

"There are routes that can be taken, but not by everybody, and knowing how to navigate them requires some planning," said lawyer Henry Chang, a Toronto-based partner in the Employment and Labour group at Dentons who specializes in Canada-U.S. business immigration.

"In Canada, certain skills and attributes are given priority over others. As a result, not everyone will be able to qualify for Canadian permanent residence."

There are three main categories for those interested in migrating permanently to Canada, and all of them have rigid criteria.

Applicants to the Federal Skilled Worker program must meet minimum standards for work experience, language skills and education level before being scored on a variety of factors.

A passing grade — 67 out of 100 — adds applicants to the pool of candidates known as Express Entry, where they are evaluated a second time; the highest-ranking among them are invited to apply for permanent residence.

Would-be migrants with at least a year's worth of recent skilled work experience in Canada under a valid work permit can qualify under the Canadian Experience Class and be added to the Express Entry pool on that basis.

The Federal Skilled Trades program is reserved for those with at least two years' recent work experience in a variety of disciplines, from industrial work and construction to chefs, butchers and bakers.

Most experts agree that the best strategy for those seeking permanent residence is a long-term one. For example, they can seek a study permit to obtain a degree in Canada, which can lead to a work permit, which would make the Experience Class an option at a later date.

In Canada, where abortion is decriminalized, the federal Liberal government has vowed to defend a woman's right to choose, although they've offered little in the way of detail.

"This decision does not just impact Americans, and Canada is not immune to the potential repercussions," said Cid Cabillan, issues manager for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

"Canada is in regular contact with the U.S. government on issues related to our shared border and immigration. We will continue working with our U.S. counterparts while ensuring we remain fair and compassionate regarding immigration between our two countries."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2022.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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