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Is It Time For An Amnesty?

There are more than 200,000 undocumented individuals, more commonly known as illegal immigrants, currently residing in Canada.

Most have integrated in Canadian society and contribute to our economy by working at jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. The problem is that they did not play by the rules in getting to Canada or if they did enter legally, they have since overstayed the date by which they should have left.

What should be done with these individuals? More to the point, should they be granted some sort of amnesty and be "officially" allowed to remain in Canada?

These questions have no easy answers and they have been bandied about by successive Canadian governments for more than a decade. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the amnesty issue. Those in favour of amnesty contend that, for a host of reasons, it makes sense to regularize the status of these people and, in any event, we lack the resources to effectively remove them from Canada. Those opposed to amnesty retort that we make a mockery of the immigration processing system by rewarding individuals who chose to ignore its rules.

Both camps make valid points. While I respect the position of those against amnesty, I am in favour of Canada granting amnesty to undocumented individuals for the reasons that follow:

- Most undocumented individuals in Canada have been in the country for many years. It used to be relatively easy to enter Canada but that is no longer the case. In the last few years Canadian immigration authorities and border service personnel have become much more vigilant in preventing unauthorized individuals from entering the country. So we can expect that there will be fewer and fewer new undocumented people in Canada in the future. Now that our borders are less penetrable it makes sense to regularize the status of everyone within those borders.

- Many of the current undocumented people in Canada are former refugee seekers, whose claims were denied. They simply went "underground" rather than leave Canada. Perhaps, with good reason. The Canadian refugee determination process in horribly flawed. Safeguards were put in the enacting legislation that were meant to protect the system's integrity but the government never implemented them. Within the last few months one Refugee Board member was convicted of accepting bribes and another has been charged by the RCMP with accepting sexual favours from a woman in return for "help" in her refugee claim. One can only imagine how many worthy asylum seekers had their claims rejected because they refused to pay bribes or provide sexual favours.

- There is already a shortage of workers in Canada. In the Toronto area alone, thousands of construction jobs are being filled by undocumented workers, who probably do not report their incomes to the taxing authorities. Remove them from their jobs and the economy will suffer. It makes more sense to "legitimize" them and at least begin collecting income tax from them. Yes, it would be better to replace undocumented workers with temporary foreign workers on Work Permits but Canada's Foreign Worker Program is relatively slow and somewhat clumsy. Canadian employees, in general, are reluctant to jump through the required hoops to recruit foreign workers.

- Finally, provincial health and social services departments need to know how many people really live in their jurisdictions. From the hiring of teachers and law enforcement personnel, to the building of schools and hospitals - all of this is based on having an accurate head count.

For these reasons, I feel it is time to bring undocumented individuals in Canada into the system.

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