February 22, 2017 4:31 pm
Updated: February 22, 2017 5:05 pm

Fredericton open to becoming a ‘sanctuary city’ for asylum seekers: Mayor

WATCH ABOVE: It's a dilemma faced across the country as immigrants in the United States seek asylum in Canada. As Global’s Jeremy Keefe reports, many in New Brunswickers say they'd welcome those breaking the law with open arms.

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The mayor of Fredericton, New Brunswick is considering declaring his city a “sanctuary city,” meaning the doors would be open to those seeking refuge in Canada.

“What it theoretically means is we’re an open city for any refugee, undocumented refugee that hasn’t got citizenship status,” Mayor Mike O’Brien said Wednesday.

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READ MORE: Montreal declared a ‘sanctuary city:’ What does that mean?

Despite O’Brien insisting it’s “more sensible” that the entire province be declared a “sanctuary province,” and that the burden might be too much for a city on its own, the premier’s office declined Global News’ requests for comment on the possibility.

“Health is a provincial responsibility, education is a provincial responsibility so we can’t guarantee even if we said it as a municipality that we can provide those type of services that would need them,” O’Brien said.

The number of refugee claimants that illegally crossed into the province from the United States increased significantly last year, according to numbers from the Canadian Border Services Agency.

READ MORE: New Brunswick saw spike in refugee claimants at U.S. border in 2016

There were 23 refugee claimants at the border in 2016, which accounts for more than the four previous years combined.

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The situation is increasing at an alarming rate in provinces across Canada, as immigrants in the U.S. seek refuge in the country.

Quebec and Manitoba have been the most popular crossing points, with dozens making the trek into those provinces by foot across the borders.

“If they present themselves where Canadian Border Services is located, they’ll be turned back to the U.S., so they’re crossing at places where there aren’t established border crossings,” New Brunswick Multicultural Association executive director Alex LeBlanc said.

“People are at a very real risk of deportation, and so risking literally life and limb to cross the border into Canada, for many, is a safer prospect than being deported to a country where they may face persecution or unsafe, inhospitable environments.”

READ MORE: Another 22 asylum seekers cross over in to Emerson, Manitoba Sunday morning

Declaring itself a sanctuary city means Fredericton will welcome any asylum seeker without persecution, even if they are an illegal immigrant.

According to the Multicultural Association, the city welcomed more Syrian refugees per capita than any other Canadian city, and because of that, O’Brien says he’s welcome to helping more in need.

It’s a big job, O’Brien admits, and would require a lot of details to be ironed out, including whether police would be told they can’t inform immigration officials should they detain an illegal immigrant.

“It’s not for us to dictate to a police department that they would not interact with some of their other provincial or federal counterparts on some issues.” O’Brien said.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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