Edmonton city council to start on ‘sanctuary city’ idea for immigrants without documents

Edmonton city council on Jan. 23, 2017. Global News

Edmonton city councillors have agreed to start looking at ways to make it so people who are here with out immigration status can still access city services.

As many as 25,000 people live without proper documentation in Edmonton. The word to describe those individuals during Monday’s meeting of community and public services committee was “precarious.”

“Every aspect of their life becomes a challenge and becomes uncertain. That’s what we mean by precarious,” Athabasca University’s Jason Foster said.

“In the interviews we have done with them, they try to keep their heads down, which means they don’t get engaged in community events because they never know which community event exposes them.”

Councillors instructed city staff to make sure city services are available. They also expressed the need to work with other agencies like the school boards to show more compassion. Students have said, at times, they find they are no longer welcome in the classroom.

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“They are pulled out of school,” confirmed Marco Luciano of Migrante Alberta. “They have a system of flagging the children of migrant workers that have work permits. So if those work permits expire suddenly their children get flagged at school and, ultimately, they get pulled out if the parent can not produce a new work permit.

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The problem accelerated when the Stephen Harper government changed the rules for Temporary Foreign Workers in 2011. A four-and-four rule was put in, meaning they had their permits end after four years, and it would take another four years to become eligible again.

Mayor Don Iveson is in favour of rule changes to show more compassion to these people.

“For the most part these are people who have either been victimized through human trafficking or caught up in rule changes around temporary foreign workers,” he said. “These are not bad people. They’re not criminals and, if they are, then law enforcement will deal with those issues. But by and large these are people who are just trying to figure out how to become Canadians and stay here and contribute.”

What complicates things is the approach Edmonton police have to take. Information is passed along to the Canadian Border Services, as required by law.

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“I can tell you our systems in Canada aren’t ‘when you’re caught, you’re out,’ no,” deputy police chief Brian Simpson said. “There’s process in place to allow for full information to be garnered and opportunity for those individuals to deal with their particular situation and it’s a Canadian way, and I think it’s a good way.”

All agreed, it’s complicated.

Councillor Ben Henderson told reporters one solution they’ll investigate is making sure names are kept confidential whenever possible.

“I think those are the kinds of questions we have to sort out. I think it’s about ID. I think it might be about income testing and things like that that are very dependent on information that they’re just not able to provide given the kind of situations they’re in right now.”

Mayor Iveson expects some policies to come back to the new city council early in the new year.


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