Edmonton city council has voted in favour of a new policy intended to make it easier for undocumented immigrants to gain access to municipal services and programs.
The new Access without Fear to Municipal Services policy allows immigrants without proper documentation – regarded as “precarious” or “undocumented” – to apply for city services such as transit or recreation passes and library cards, without fear of being deported.
“We’ve said ‘just because you might be undocumented right now and doing your best to get your documentation in order, we’re not going to turn you away from using the bus, we’re not going to turn you away from a city recreation centre,'” Mayor Don Iveson said.
“If someone can’t get a driver’s license and we also said ‘you can’t use the bus,’ how do we expect them to get to their immigration lawyer appointment to get their paper work sorted out?”
Iveson noted those who benefit from the new policy will still have to pay for the services they acquire.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Ward 3 Coun. Jon Dziadyk voted against the policy. He said the city’s resources would be better used helping undocumented Edmontonians attain legal status.
“Those without documentation are living underground and without resolving their legal status these people live with significant risk,” Dziadyk said.
“I cannot support a policy that drives vulnerable people further underground. These people need help and we should be tackling the underlying issue head-on.”
Ward 5 Coun. Sarah Hamilton passionately responded to the new policy at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“This is fundamentally, fundamentally about affording people the right to live in the city without fear,” Hamilton said. “It’s about safety and security. And to grandstand on dignity, basic human dignity is appalling. I’m absolutely furious about this.”
Watch below: City councillor Sarah Hamilton joins Global News at Noon to discuss the program.
On social media, some users have argued the new policy makes Edmonton a so-called “sanctuary city” such as those in the United States, but the mayor said that is not the case.
“Sanctuary city in the U.S. has to do with instructions to police forces on how they comply with immigration authorities, our city council has left that for the police to determine what’s the right thing to do,” he said.
City administration said the majority of those having issues accessing city services are former temporary foreign workers who are now undocumented.
The Stephen Harper government changed the rules for temporary foreign workers in 2011. A four-and-four rule was put in, meaning their permits would end after four years, and it would take another four years to become eligible again.