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The Many reasons for legalizing undocumented workers

By March 17, 2024No Comments

Lorne Waldman
Law360 Canada (March 7, 2024, 9:32 AM EST) —
In his December 2021Mandate letter, Prime Minister Trudeau wrote to the then minister ofCitizenship and Immigration and instructed him to “build on existing pilot programs to further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.” The PM’s reference to “existing pilot projects” was a recognition of the very successful program whereby undocumented construction workers inToronto and the GTA can regularize their status.
The program is supported and administered by the Canadian LaborCongress. Under the guidelines, undocumented construction workers are able to apply for permanent residence if they can establish that they have a good civic record, have worked in the construction industry for five years and have close relatives in Canada. The program has resulted in the regularization of hundredsof undocumented construction workers and could be a model for other similar programs.
This is not the first time a Liberal government has considered regularization for undocumented individuals. During the Liberals government’s first mandate following the 2015 election, theimmigration minister considered proposals to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for status inCanada. But there was resistance within the government over fears that any such program would actas a magnet to attract others who would remain in Canada without status. These concerns, however, are unfounded because the circumstances that impel individuals to abandon their homes and risktheir lives to get to Canada — often relying on unscrupulous smugglers who charge exorbitant fees —are so strong that those motivated to flee will continue to seek entry to Canada, irrespective of governmental efforts to deter them.
Non-governmental organizations have been pressing the government to go ahead with the regularization program promised in 2021. As a result, when in December 2023, the currentImmigration minister, Marc Miller, again announced that Canada is planning a broad and comprehensive program that would enable many undocumented people to apply for permanent residency, there was a renewed hope that something would be done.
There are many reasons for allowing the undocumented to obtain legal status. Illegal immigrants are often exploited by employers who pay them less than the salaries paid to citizens and persons with status, sometimes paying less than the minimum wage. Undocumented migrants contribute toCanada’s economy but are nevertheless denied the benefits they should receive given their efforts.They do not have access to healthcare, and this exposes them to risks to their well-being.
Undocumented children are particularly affected by the precarious situation in which their lack of status places them. Medical issues often go untreated; they have difficulty accessing education; andthey live under a constant threat of deportation. If the families are apprehended the children, who will have often lived almost all their lives in Canada, will find their world is turned upside down. They may face deportation to a country they do not know and be forced into an education system taught in an unfamiliar language. Having grown up in Canada, they may have limited ability to speak the dominant language(s) spoken in their country of removal; and their Canadian education may not be recognized. Children also face the prospect of abrupt separation from their social networks, causing irreparable damage to their psychological well-being.

In addition to these compelling humanitarian concerns, there are also sound economic reasons forCanada to implement a broad regularization program. Most undocumented workers pay no income taxes — not because they are unable or unwilling, but because their lack of status makes this impossible. Regularization could lift hundreds of thousands of workers out of the underground economy so that they can contribute to society and fulfill their obligations as citizens of this country.Legalization would yield hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenues each year; and itwould also end the exploitation of undocumented individuals, a practice which has allowed employers to keep wages down.
Canadians today have legitimate concerns over our government’s immigration policy. The significant growth in temporary workers and students has placed considerable strain on our social services and housing stock and these issues need to be addressed. However, a regularization program would not exacerbate that problem because it would not authorize more people to come into Canada; rather, it would empower those who are already living here to lead a productive life.
The program should be broad and generous and should cover all persons without status except forthose who pose a danger to our society or security. The millions of enforcement dollars that are now being allocated toward apprehending and deporting the undocumented individuals could be redirected to more useful projects to support the immigrants who have just arrived and need help in adjusting to life in Canada.