Will government create further hardship for families, immigrants and refugees?

People often ask me if I have encountered any big surprises since starting the work of an MP. Of course, I knew that the job of an MP is hard work.  I also knew that a large proportion of it is focused on delivering assistance to people who need help in the riding.  And I knew that the bulk of those issues would relate to immigration problems.

What I had not been expecting was the callous, Kafka-esque nature of recent immigration decisions.   Here are a few examples of cases we are working on at the moment. (Names and nationalities removed to respect privacy).

  • A young pregnant woman applied to come to Canada, sponsored by other relatives from her country of origin.  At the time, she was told she could not apply for an unborn child.  When the child was three, her immigration approval came through, but then she was told she had not applied for the child so could not bring him. She headed to Canada, leaving the boy with relatives, under the belief she could sponsor her child once she established residency.  Two years later, Immigration officials have rejected the application to allow her 5 year old son to join her, and have written him:   “Dear Mr. XX…. You do not fit any acceptable classification of sponsored person…” – as if he could read.  Maybe it is just as well he cannot.
  • A Canadian citizen has had her 97 year old mother living with her from the UK while her mother applies for permanent residency, which has been in process since 2008. The mother has no living relatives in the UK anymore, and the family expends enormous sums for health care insurance.  The most recent letter from Immigration Canada has told her the process to determine whether her 97 year old mother can stay will take another 47 months.
  • A refugee from political strife who, at the tender age of six, had seen his entire family slaughtered in his country of origin has applied to come to Canada.  He is being sponsored by a Canadian citizen, another refugee from the same turmoil, whose family adopted the younger boy in the refugee camp.  The sponsor, his older brother, is now in our military and has served overseas.  He started the sponsorship process seven years ago.   Immigration Canada has told the younger brother, now in his twenties, that his country of origin is fine and he should go back.

I could go on and on.  There are married couples who cannot reunite as the Immigration process drags on.  There are family members who only want a visa to make a short visit to see sisters, parents, etc, who are refused.  There are heart-wrenching compassionate grounds that are ignored.  The individual heartbreaks should be no surprise.  Here are some statistics on the Harper government’s immigration record:

Since the Conservative Party took power, the processing time of visa applications for parents and grandparents has increased dramatically.  The number of parent and grandparent visas issued in 2006, based on the 2005 targets, was 20,005. The number of visas for parents and grandparents that will be issued this year is 11,200, a reduction of almost 9,000 or close to 44 per cent. 

The total processing time of a sponsorship of a parent application including the time for the processing of the sponsorship in Canada and the processing of the application overseas has increased between nine and thirty months depending on the visa post.

Moreover, given that the number of visas issued is being reduced, the backlogs will increase and the processing times will increase. The failure of the government to address this issue is creating immense hardship on immigrant families.

(April 20, 2011 press release from Lawyers practicing Immigration Law)

In the House in June, Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party, read the text of an email from an immigration official to one of the Liberal caucus to the effect that they were under political orders that family reunification was not a priority.  Should instructions change, the email concluded, the process would be improved.

There are legitimate debates to be had about immigration policy.  Some environmentalists believe Canada should reduce immigration on ecological grounds.  But this government is bringing in immigrants with marketable skills, while leaving families in desperate emotional turmoil.  The basic principles of family reunification are being thwarted by stealth; not by principle.

Meanwhile, the so-called Human Smuggling Bill will be re-introduced.  This bill panders to xenophobia prompted by the sight of boatloads of refugees on our shores.  Of course, we wish we had accepted boatloads of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, but we didn’t.  Strangely, this bill, marketed as a way to prevent the unscrupulous from preying on the desperate, will target people arriving by boat for special treatment.  Those refugee applicants will be placed under mandatory arrest and detention for one year.  This applies to men, women and children who arrive by boat.  Most refugee claimants in Canada arrive at our airports.  When I asked Immigration Minister Jason Kenney about this discrepancy, he told me he can designate entry anywhere to meet the terms of this act.  I pointed out to him that it was wrong to talk about refugees “jumping the queue,” as political refugees, by definition, are not able, due to fear of persecution or death, to stay in their country of origin to apply to leave.  Mr. Kenney says the queue is to go to a U.N. refugee camp and wait there. 

Canada’s policy toward immigration and refugees has changed dramatically while the Conservatives had a minority government.   We need to discuss these issues and protect human rights now that Mr. Harper has his majority.

[NOTE to Canadian citizens born in the U.S.:  My office is working hard to sort out what is and is not required for IRS filings.  I have written the PM on this issue and am meeting soon with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.  If this applies to you, please contact my Constituency office to be placed on an information update list so I can keep you informed. 250-657-2000].