Time for amnesty?

Emotional protests have broken out in Arizona after the state passed a law requiring police officers to stop and question anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Residents of the state are now required to have proof of their legal status with them at all times. Given the large Mexican population in Arizona, some 30 per cent, there is now heightened concern about racial profiling since it is generally accepted that the law is aimed at what is believed to be a large number of Mexicans in the state illegally.

The debate in the U.S. over illegal immigrants has been simmering for years, and when then Senator Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, reforming immigration policy was one of the planks in his platform. Facing other pressing issues, however, the Obama Administration has moved immigration down the list of priorities.

Northern Mexico has become a crime hotspot of drugs and gangs and people there are fleeing to safety across the border into the United States. A similar, if smaller, flood of Mexicans began traveling over the Canadian border after the U.S. made changes to its rules regarding illegal immigrants in 2007.

In Ontario, for the past seven years, the organization No One is Illegal has been the advocate for people living here without immigrant status. The organization, endorsed by more than 60 social service and community groups, will hold its annual march through St. Jamestown on Saturday afternoon to again bring attention to the plight of the estimated half-million people living illegally in Canada.

These are the people who earn their keep at low wages doing piecework or in the construction industry. They are the ones certain industries rely on to keep down the costs of production. They live in fear of detection and eventual deportation, and are vulnerable to abuses, even fearing to seek medical attention when needed. There have been cases where women who have no status here have been assaulted yet have been afraid to come forward to the police because they fear deportation. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada Border Service agents used children as bait to draw their non-status parents out so that the parents could be deported.

Although the federal government has made announcements recently regarding changes to the processing of refugee applications, nothing has changed for people who are here illegally also seeking refuge.

Yet, as long as the standard of living is seen as attractive and Canada maintains an international profile as a humanitarian nation, people desperate for safety, security and a better life will keep coming.

As is the prerogative of any country, Canada’s immigration policy has a history of making a distinction regarding who is considered “desirable”. One of the distinctions between this country and the U.S. regarding the admission of immigrants is that Canada selects immigrants ostensibly in response to the needs of the Canadian job market, so there are more skilled immigrants allowed into the country for permanent residence. It doesn’t seem to matter that when they get here they can’t find jobs. The U.S., on the other hand, has had a policy based on family reunification, so there is a higher population of unskilled immigrants entering legally. Illegal residents in Canada are more likely to be low-skilled workers.

Those who are against allowing non-status immigrants to become “legal” express concern about “terrorists” or people involved in the illegal drug trade. However, most of those who are here illegally, are not criminals but, instead, just as the other refugee claimants, folks seeking a better life, the kind this country has offered to so many others for generations.

As part of the recent overhaul of the refuge system by the federal government, couldn’t an effort be made to offer amnesty to people living here for years without status? And isn’t it also time to coordinate communication between various government departments including the Refugee Board and Citizenship and Immigration Canada so that those attempting to follow the rules once they are here, do not end up in a Catch-22 while in the process of trying to become part of the “Canadian Dream”?






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