U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to dismantle a program that protected hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation may prompt many of them to seek a new life in Canada, some immigration experts say.

Repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program will affect 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or whose families overstayed their visas.

If the U.S. Congress, now tasked with deciding what to do with the so-called “Dreamers,” does not come up with a solution to put those affected on the path to American citizenship, many of them will likely try to come to Canada, said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

“We’ve tasted the effect of the Trump trampoline with the Haitian refugee arrivals at our Quebec borders,” Kurland told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

The U.S. “Dreamers,” who have jobs, go to school and pay taxes in America, do not have an “urgent need to seek sanctuary in Canada,” Kurland said. But many of them can be expected to apply for express entry under Canada’s economic immigration program if they run out of options in the U.S., he added. 

“Oddly, Canada stands to gain from what I’m starting to call the Trump dividend, in terms of the acquisition of human capital,” Kurland said.

He said “Dreamers” have the qualifications and job experiences Ottawa looks for when it selects economic immigrants from a pool of applications every year.

If the U.S. government pursues the dismantling of the DACA program, it will be “giving away the cream of the cream in human capital to countries like Canada,” Kurland said.

“We’re going to experience…a jolt in the number of applications entering our system.”

‘I am American’

Maria Praeli is among the educated and gainfully employed “Dreamers” who’ve spent most of their lives in the U.S. and now once again fear deportation to countries they barely know.

Praeli, an immigration policy associate with FWD.us, a group seeking to reform U.S. immigration laws, was just five years old when her family came to America from Peru and stayed in the U.S. illegally.

Growing up in Connecticut, Praeli didn’t realize what being an undocumented immigrant meant until she turned 16 and realized she couldn’t get her driver’s licence or get a job, like most of her peers. When it was time to fill out her college applications, she didn’t qualify for any government loans.

On Praeli’s last day of high school, in June 2012, then-President Barack Obama introduced the DACA program and “drastically changed” her life.

The DACA program granted a two-year reprieve from deportation  to applicants who met several requirements, including having no criminal record. The recipients were also issued work permits and a Social Security number, and could re-apply to have them renewed every two years.

“The program allowed me to get a licence, it allowed me to work, and it gave me the confidence that I won’t be deported,” Praeli told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

“It’s really hard to have to imagine being deported back to a country that, at this point, I haven’t been to in nearly 20 years,” she said.

In 2014, Praeli and a number of other “Dreamers” met with Obama at the White House to discuss the success of the DACA program.  She remembers the meeting as “something really special.”

Praeli said she was hurt by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement ending the DACA program on Tuesday, but feels “ready for this moment” and the mounting fight against the decision.

“I firmly believe that I am American,” she said.

With files from The Associated Press