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Canada must dare to help the ‘DREAMers’: Senator Omidvar
Canada must dare to help the ‘DREAMers’: Senator Omidvar
September 18, 2017
OPINION
image Ratna Omidvar
Ratna Omidvar
ISG - (Ontario)

In February, Irene Bloemraad and I wrote a piece for The Globe and Mail concerning the role Canada should play if the Trump administration opted to forcibly deport its undocumented population from the United States. At the time, the piece was met with relative silence. Many understood the grim dynamic between these migrants and the state, but few could imagine protections being stripped from hundreds of thousands of people, let alone how Canada could respond to such a prospect.

On Tuesday, however, this prospect became a reality. The White House officially announced its phase-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program over the next two years. Work permits for 800,000 undocumented young people will no longer be renewed and their protection from deportation could be stripped in six months. It is likely that some will turn their attention to Canada.

Canada's response cannot be naively idealistic, nor should it be fuelled by cynicism. We cannot welcome each and every one of these so-called DREAMers, but at the same time we shouldn't refuse their entry into Canada altogether.

Canada has well-established immigration streams where each and every application is reviewed on its merits. The economic stream could be particularly well-suited to this cohort. Their English is impeccable and, because of the DACA program, many have graduated or are in the process of completing a university or college education. DACA recipients are skilled, relatively young and have North American job experiences that are in demand in Canada.

Some will want to apply through other immigration streams (such as through our family-reunification programs if they have family in Canada or through our humanitarian-and-compassionate-grounds stream). In every case, the minister has the capacity to waive requirements (such as legal residency in the last country of residence). These could get in the way of candidates meeting application criteria, especially once their DACA status expires and they no longer have any legal status in the United States.

But it is not only governments that can rise to the challenge. Many DREAMers are currently employed in the United States. At least 250 work at Apple. Already, a number of corporate leaders, including Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, have voiced their concerns about how the Trump administration's decision will affect their staff. These executives could exercise leadership by working with the federal and provincial governments to relocate their DACA employees to their Canadian locations as legal residents and tax-paying employees.

Canadian universities and community colleges could also reach across the border to those who are midstream in their education. Many of the undocumented students could continue their postsecondary education in Canadian institutions, but may face challenges affording international tuition fees. There are models that universities can deploy to help deal with this, such as the youth-to-youth partnership developed by World University Service of Canada.

Ordinary citizens also have a role. I have already received e-mails from those who would like to start a "Canadian Friends of DREAMers" organization to help individuals navigate the Canadian immigration system. While I believe that their settlement needs will be much simpler than other cohorts, I also think that we will need to work on building their trust in government and institutions. And who better to do that than other Canadians.

And finally, the federal government should consider how it plans for situations such as this. A Canadian initiative to welcome displaced DACA recipients would not require a new immigration stream. It would simply require the Minister of Immigration to give flexibility to undocumented applicants on a case-by-case basis – something that is well within the means of our immigration system. Currently, our system is fuelled by annual targets that limit both short- and long-term planning. By expanding these targets to a three-year horizon, Canada's compassionate and informed response to urgent situations such as these could be much more flexible and immediate.

Ratna Omidvar is a senator representing Ontario. She is a member of the Senate Committee on Human Rights and the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

This article appeared in the September 7, 2017 edition of the Globe and Mail.