The city of Edmonton has announced that they are looking into becoming a sanctuary city. It is estimated that there are 10,000 to 25,000 undocumented immigrants in the city who live in fear of having their illegal status discovered and being detained or deported. These undocumented immigrants often feel isolated from their communities and fear using local services including police. Becoming a sanctuary city would protect these undocumented immigrants from having their information used against them, giving them access to the services that other residents use without fear.
A santuary city designation, according to the Canadian Labour website, means that the city ‘provides access to municipal services without fear of detection, detention or deportation, for residents without full immigration status and/or without full status documents from the federal government.’
The city becomes a safe space where the municipality will not pass off incriminating documentation provided to them by individuals to the federal government to assist in enforcing immigration law. It also prohibits local police and city employees from questioning individuals about their immigration status so that they feel more comfortable approaching police, using health and social services and enrolling their children in school.
As of now, Canada has five official sanctuary cities: Toronto, Hamilton, Vancouver, London and Montreal. Edmonton is one of a few more who are considering the designation including Calgary, Ottawa, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. The United States has over 300 such cities including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The mentality that accompanies this designation is that the municipal government exists to make the city better and provide services to all its residents, not just those who are there legally. It comes from a place of compassion for all who seek to live a life in Canada.
There is still great opposition to the establishment of sanctuary cities. Opponents argue that federal jurisdiction should trump the municipal government and that cities should have to cooperate with immigration law. It also raises questions about if Canada’s compassionate offerings of asylum for refugees and non-status migrants is sustainable.
Justin Trudeau has been very welcoming of refugees and asylum-seekers during his tenure as Prime Minister. The number of border-crossers coming into Quebec from the United States proves that his warm messages are encouraging people to seek a life in Canada. The problem is that at some point our generosity may be too much for our immigration and refugee system to bear.