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article imageVancouver, among other cities, could be sanctuary to migrants

By Ryan Hite     May 31, 2014 in Politics
Vancouver - Advocates are pushing for Vancouver to become a "sanctuary city" for undocumented immigrants in North America. It would prevent the Vancouver Police Department from reporting a person's legal status to the authorities unless a crime was committed.
This is a concept that has already been implemented in dozens of cities across North America, including cities like Toronto, Hamilton, Portland, Seattle and Chicago. Activists argue undocumented immigrants should be able to feel safe enough to access the basic services that they need without fear.
"We don't want someone to be afraid to go to a food bank because of their migration status," says Tasha Nijjer, who has been pushing for Vancouver to adopt a sanctuary city policy.
"We don't want someone to stay in an abusive relationship because she's worried if she calls the police that they're going to ask her about her migration status and she might be deported," Nijjer says.
"We've heard stories from people who are giving birth in their apartments and worried about making too much noise and not wanting the ambulance to be called. It's just not a situation you want anyone to be in."
City officials have already met with the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Coastal Health to discuss how it would work. The mayor's group on immigration is planning to release a report on the issue later this summer.
Unlike Toronto and other cities on the list, many immigrant communities find homes outside the City of Vancouver in the area and the move to be a sanctuary city is mainly symbolic without the support of Translink or other jurisdictions such as Abbotsford and Surrey.
Furthermore, many health and social services fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial and federal governments or rely on upper levels of government for funding. Any real effort to improve access to basic services for undocumented immigrants needs to involve these levels of government and the city should develop a legal strategy, says one local professor.
"Just because the Vancouver Police Department are not actively referring migrants for removal doesn't change the fact the Harper government will assert its territorial authority over border security."
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