Local advocate deplores immigration changes

A national conversation on immigration is required says Maytree report, local Friends of Burma advocate.

Immigration law has been going through a series of changes  in the past four years. In fact a new report published by the Maytree Foundation, says that from 2008 to July 1, 2012, the federal government has made changes to every aspect of immigration policy, including the way in which reform is undertaken, and more changes are proposed.

The report’s authors, Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl, are urging a national conversation on immigration saying all these changes could have a dramatic impact on both the social and economic fabric of Canada and how the country is perceived by potential immigrants from around the world.

Shauna Jimenez who has worked with the group Friends of Burma sponsoring many immigrants to the East Kootenay and Kimberley, and has also worked in refugee camps in Asia, agrees with the Maytree report and says Canada is losing its reputation as a welcoming and compassionate country.

Jimenez says the recent changes to federal immigration and refugee policy are horrendously heartless, cruel and callous, from a social justice perspective.

“It is true that the changes have been coming so fast that it is difficulty for the average citizen to keep up and understand all the implications.  We must be mindful that all of us, except for First Nations People, come from a long line of immigrants and refugees to Canada.”

Jimenez outlined some of the changes causing her the greatest concern.

“It is now proposed that to be eligible for the Canadian citizenship test, a newcomer must have level 4 benchmark of English.

“The new citizenship test is very difficult and results in many failed attempts. Many of our new families will never be able to attain level 4, with the current level of ESL instruction available to them.  This will prevent them from ever becoming Citizens of Canada. Although they will work, buy groceries, send their children to school and contribute to this country for their entire lives, they will likely never have citizenship.

“It is now proposed that permanent residents (those who do not have level 4 English, or cannot pass the increasingly difficult citizenship tests) be deported for minor crimes, such as shop-lifting.  Imagine living and working in Canada for twenty or thirty years, only to be deported if your child takes a candy bar one day..

“Health care for privately sponsored refugees was recently cut, transferring the cost of their health care to the private citizens of Canada, or denying newcomers access to the medicines, treatments and prosthetics they desperately need.

“The new super-visa for parents to visit Canada only works for the rich.  Immigration is focused on bringing rich, educated immigrants to Canada while attempting to limit our compassion and commitment to refugees by putting caps on the number of refugees through the private sponsorship of refugees program.  Churches across the nation have spoken out strongly against this control mechanism as it denies communities the right to determine how many refugees they chose to support and welcome.  Physicians across the nation have spoken out strongly against the cuts to medical care for refugees.”

And the question is, Jimenez says, with all the changes would your grandparents have been eligible to enter Canada?

“I urge people to listen to the concerns of the physicians, the sponsors, the families and the churches of Canada. We need to support them when they speak out against these changes to immigration and refugee policy. How many of our Grandparents would get in to Canada today with these new regulations?  How many arrived with perfect English or French and fat wallets?  If we are grateful that our relatives were allowed into Canada, we are obliged to pay attention to what is going on with Immigration and Refugee policy today and speak up against these changes. Once again, thanks to all the dedicated volunteers and kind residents of the East Kootenay who provide welcoming, inclusive communities for newcomers, despite the increasing difficulties due to policy changes and funding cuts.”

Kootenay Columbia MP David Wilks (C) was contacted for comment on his government’s immigration policy but at press time had not responded.