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Municipalities must support undocumented immigrants

By Aisha Sajid, February 28 2017 —

Last week, Montreal city council passed a motion declaring Montreal a sanctuary city — the fourth in Canada. According to Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, the move was in direct response to the attempted Donald Trump executive order travel ban in the United States. Sanctuary cities are cities that implement policies and procedures to protect and provide services to illegal immigrants.

Since January, there have been many reports of immigrants illegally crossing the Canadian border. Many faced dire circumstances, travelling for days and losing fingers or toes to frostbite in the Manitoba and Saskatchewan cold. Sanctuary cities by themselves do not do enough to protect these border crossers. While Trump’s executive order has ignited responses from cities and other organizations, we must do more to address these issues.

Immigration is hard enough — waiting for an extended period to receive a green card or immigrant status and passing the citizenship test while constantly trying to prove your ‘Canadian-ness.’ Members of the federal Conservative party like Tony Clement are calling on the government to crack down on these illegal border crossings, claiming Canada no longer has the resources or ability to take in more people into an already “overloaded system.”

People like Clement have legitimate concerns, as there is no extensive approach to tracking individuals that cross the border to seek asylum — a border simply marked with a yellow tape distinguishing Canadian and American land. But if security is the main issue, the conversations should be about improving the immigration system. Blaming the system is more productive and pragmatic than blaming the people who had the — as some would say — audacity to cross the border illegally, then seek refugee status through legal conventions.

Despite the promise of sanctuary cities, crossing into Canada does not promise a safe haven. The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S details that refugees claimants must seek asylum in the first country they land in, meaning that even if they came to Canada, they might not be welcome. However, this only applies to those that have attempted to seek asylum in the U.S., and is the case for many crossing the U.S.-Canada border into Manitoba. Many have told the CBC that they did not apply for refugee status in the U.S. out of fear. A recent petition has started for the Canadian government to suspend the agreement.

But even if these refugees are granted the right to live in Canada, an undocumented status makes it extremely difficult to be granted access to services such as housing and food banks. Sanctuary cities help these immigrants, but the declaration should be more than just a symbolic gesture. Though immigrants fall under federal jurisdiction in terms of allowing or denying their entry, the facilitation of their activities is the duty of the municipalities. Being free from persecution requires municipalities to work closely with police and border services.

In the past, minor infractions and petty crimes like speeding have resulted in people being deported. Many cities such as Toronto have instituted a ‘don’t ask’ policy if a crime is committed. While these policies are positive steps, more needs to be done by all levels of governments to protect refugees.

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