Thursday, April 30, 2009


This situation is pretty typical. The article is very much on point, however it does not mention another aspect of the problem, posed by marriages of convenience originating from India, Pakistan and other countries where "arranged marriages" are the norm rather than the exception. Since spousal sponsorships are the fastest way by far for obtaining Canadian residency, they have become the preferred route in most countries. Also, Canada does not require that the sponsor be a citizen, a resident can sponsor, and there are no longer any minimum income requirements in spousal sponsorships. In summary: this is a target of choice for fraud, both by sponsors and by those sponsored, and a huge problem for the economy, as the sponsored spouses become a burden to society, lack essential language and labour market skills, and account for a significant percentage of immigrants.

I do ... and I'm gone

Many Canadians who sponsor a foreign spouse find themselves jilted and on the hook financially - sometimes within a few weeks


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

April 30, 2009 at 6:36 AM EDT

Cindy Green met her husband in the lobby of a Dominican Republic hotel: She was on vacation, he was on shift. There was chemistry, and the two would go dancing at a local discotheque. Ms. Green, a Toronto child-care worker, returned home single but soon racked up a hefty Visa bill, visiting the man every three months. After 19 months of long-distance dating, they wed in October, 2004, in the Dominican.

He landed in Toronto that December, securing permanent-resident status, as well as a social-insurance number and a health card through his marriage.

Shortly after he got his cards, Ms. Green says, her husband started picking fights. She wrote it off as an adjustment phase. He was experiencing his first Canadian winter, after all. But after she refused to send money to a family minding his apartment in the Dominican, her husband grew abnormally angry.

Several days later, he disappeared.

"The only thing he left was the key on the dresser," she recalls.

In the weeks that followed, Ms. Green says, she called her husband's cellphone frantically, but he would hang up or speak only in Spanish, which she does not understand. Increasingly agitated, Ms. Green hired a private investigator in the Dominican. She learned that the family her husband so desperately wanted her to send her earnings to was his own: a common-law wife and four children.

Ms. Green is just one of 1,500 Canadians who fall victim to marriage fraud each year, according to an advocacy group called Canadians Against Immigration Fraud. Falling in love with foreigners, they are jilted weeks - if not days - after the vows are exchanged.

Commenting on this issue last week, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said: "I would say it's one of the most frequent forms of immigration fraud."

Victims say such marriages of convenience stigmatize and humiliate them before their family, friends and peers. Worse still is the depression that follows the sudden marital abandonment. And there is a financial burden: Sponsors are on the hook financially for any social assistance their spouses might receive for three years - 10 years if they've also sponsored children.

Now, defrauded sponsors are fighting back. Canadians Against Immigration Fraud recently set in motion a federal class-action suit: They want errant spouses stripped of permanent-residence status and deported within a reasonable amount of time. In documents recently filed in Federal Court, Mr. Kenney stated that waiting nearly two years to open an investigation is "a short time period."

Last week, Ottawa performance artist Lainie Towell drew attention to the issue by putting on her wedding gown, strapping a full-size red door to her back and marching on Parliament Hill.

"The door was red, my dress was white - the colours echoed the Canadian flag," Ms. Towell says.

She said the door was supposed to represent the burden she bears for giving her husband, a musician named Fodé Mohamed Soumah (nicknamed Akra), entry into Canada on New Year's Eve, 2007.

The two met in Guinea in 2004; he was the drummer in a dance troupe she performed with. They married in the spring of 2007. Not two weeks after Mr. Soumah arrived in Ottawa, Ms. Towell discovered e-mails on her laptop that revealed he had fathered a baby with a 15-year-old girl in Africa. Two weeks later, Mr. Soumah disappeared, leaving only his wedding ring behind.

"That was probably the worst day of my life," Ms. Towell says.

It was difficult to accept that her husband had meticulously conned her, but when reality set in days later, Ms. Towell did not hesitate to call immigration and border officials.

"On one hand, you love this person, you married this person. And on the other hand, you're picking up the phone and you're turning them in. It's a very strange place to be in."

Last month, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada found that her husband misrepresented himself when he claimed he was single and childless. Mr. Soumah was issued a removal order, which he has appealed, a process that could take years. In the meantime, Ms. Towell remains his sponsor, which leaves her financially responsible if he claims social assistance.

As in other cases, Ms. Towell's claim that her husband committed marriage fraud was more difficult to prove. Mr. Soumah insists he married Ms. Towell in good faith, but that the relationship disintegrated after she became controlling.

The government has cited this "he said, she said" element as one reason the cases take so long to process: Public servants are charged with deciding whether breakups are evidence of fraud or simply a romantic falling out.

Because of this inherent complexity, critics are agitating the government to adopt conditional residency laws such as those found in the United States and Australia, which require immigrant spouses to live with their husbands or wives for two years before they get full permanent residency.

"Isn't it easier to set up legislation that prevents the fraud in the first place?" asks Julie Taub, the Ottawa lawyer leading the class action. "We obviously can't deal with the fraud afterward."

Ms. Taub argues that those who cynically say Canadians marrying foreigners deserve their ordeals are missing the point. "When fraudsters become permanent residents, then they too have the right to sponsor family members. They're entitled to health care, social assistance, housing and all the benefits that Canadians are entitled to. ... The investigation trying to stem this fraud, it's not borne by the victim: that's all borne by Canadian taxpayers."

Ms. Green did not encounter such cynicism from her friends and family, who were supportive. "They thought he was a great guy. He was a good actor."

Even so, she says it has taken her years to recover from the experience, especially since her husband still lives somewhere in Toronto, his permanent-resident status intact.

"Even a year and a half after he left, I was just consumed with that. I would leave the house and get panic attacks, afraid that I would see him," Ms. Green said.

"I'm not going to forget what he did, and I won't forgive what he did, but in order for me to find peace, I don't think about those things any more."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Canada will monitor, not bar Mexican farm workers

Doctors to help border authorities process migrant workers during flu outbreak

Last Updated: Monday, April 27, 2009 2:14 PM CT
CBC News

Thousands of Mexican workers needed for Canada's growing season will have their temperature taken before being allowed to enter the country, in light of the swine flu outbreak, Canadian officials indicated Monday.
It's mandatory for seasonal or temporary workers from Mexico to undergo a physical examination before travelling to Canada, but now "they will have to have two doctors take their temperature, and all of this has to be done before they leave Mexico," Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship and immigration, said during Question Period Monday afternoon.
Kenney's comments in Parliament echoed earlier assertions from the Canadian government concerning safety precautions for Mexican migrant farm workers.
MDs to take workers' temperature
The minister of state for agriculture, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, said Monday that Canada has assigned two physicians to assist in the process of delivering permits to temporary farm workers and "to make sure that people who enter Canada don't have the disease.
"It's in that context that we will move forward, always with the objective of protecting public health," Blackburn said Monday at a French news conference in Quebec.
Authorities are closely monitoring the outbreak's evolution, while keeping things "in perspective," he added. "What is important for us is to ensure public health. At the same time, agricultural workers are important."
But the government has not ruled out the possibility of barring workers if the outbreak spreads, said Quebec Agriculture Minister Laurent Lessard.
"If the risk level evolves, necessarily, we will have to take appropriate measures," said Lessard, who accompanied Blackburn at the news conference.
Quebec farms depend on Mexican workers
Migrant farm workers from Mexico provide key labour to Canada's farming industry — especially in Quebec and Manitoba.
The Quebec industry was concerned workers may be blocked at the border given the risks of exposure and contamination in light of the swine flu outbreak.
More than 15,000 farm workers from Central America and the Caribbean eligible to work on Canadian fruit, vegetable and dairy farms are due here in the next few weeks, in time for the growing season's busiest period.
If they are delayed or eventually prevented from coming in, Quebec farms may be in trouble, said René Mantha, director of recruiting company FERME (Fondation des entreprises en recrutement de main-d'oeuvre étrangère).
"Without them, it's impossible to have the same production," Mantha said.
There has been a chronic shortage of agriculture help since at least 1974, since Canadians first started turning away from rural minimum-wage seasonal work, he explained.
Workers from Central America have consistently stepped in to fill that void, with the majority coming from Mexico. "We can recruit from other countries, but it could take months, and it would be too late," Mantha said.
"We already recruit workers from Guatemala, but we can't ask the Guatemalans to replace the Mexicans."
Hundreds of Mexican workers are already in Quebec, after arriving in January to work in flower and vegetable greenhouses. Mantha said they are very concerned about the flu reports, and many are speaking to their families at home every day for updates.
Recruiters ponder a contingency plan
Given the wave of layoffs across Canada, there may be an opportunity for the unemployed, Mantha suggested. "It's always the first option, to recruit Canadians before foreign workers," he said. Canadians are "already welcome on all … farms. If they are searching for temporary jobs, yes, we have jobs for them."
Farm workers earn between $9 per hour — to work on a vegetable farm — to $11.78 per hour on dairy farms, he said.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The Obama Administration view of Canada was the subject-mater of this cartoon in Thursday's Globe and Mail newspaper...quite fitting.

Friday, April 24, 2009


This is what happens when a group of people abuse the system: the innocent pays the piper. This is unfortunate, but necessary.Very time Canada lifts visa requirement on the Czech Republic, its Roma citizens flock to Canada in ever-increasing numbers to make refugee claims, and both the Canadian and the Czech governments are powerless to stem the flow. Imposing a visa is the only solution. The article below appeared in The Prague Post.

Canada rethinks Czech visa law

Minister blames fraud for influx of Roma asylum seekers

Posted: April 23, 2009

By Benjamin Cunningham - Staff Writer

An influx of Roma refugees has sparked a diplomatic row between the Czech Republic and Canada, with the Canadian government hinting at reinstituting visa requirements for Czechs, before back-peddling.

"We are obviously concerned about the number of false refugee claimants," said Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic dispute Kenney's claim, citing the high number of Roma that succeed in obtaining refugee status under Canadian law as proof they are a persecuted minority.

"[Kenney] is talking through his hat. Their applications are accepted," said Paul St. Clair, executive director of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto. "Are they consistently able to fool the entire refugee board?"

The Canadian threat to again require a visa for Czech citizens has precedence. In 1997, about 1,500 Czechs applied for asylum in Canada, which prompted the Canadians to reinstitute visa restrictions after lifting them for one year. Between 1996 and 2000, 1677 Czechs sought asylum in Canada with 962 approved.

It was not until October 2007 that Canada again removed visa obligations for Czech citizens. By July 2008, Canada was again threatening to require visas in response to increased refugee applications.

In 2008, Czech citizens ranked seventh on Canada's list of asylum seekers. Last year, 853 Czech nationals sought refugee status in Canada, compared with 8,069 from Mexico, 4,936 from Haiti, 3,132 from Colombia and 1,711 from China. On April 20, Canada approved 84 Czech asylum applications.

Contrary to other media reports, Canadian Immigration Ministry Spokesman Nicolas Fortier said, "As we do not collect data on specific groups, we are unable to determine how many claims might be made by Roma."

It is widely assumed that the bulk of applicants coming from the Czech Republic are Roma.

Kenney said profiteers may be to blame for the increase in asylum applications. "If indeed there are commercial operations, I would hope the Czech authorities are able to identify those and crack down on them," he told the Vancouver Sun.

Fortier declined to clarify that statement or cite evidence that prompted Kenney's speculation. "There is no evidence of [commercial influence]," said Petr Koubek, a spokesman for the Czech Human Rights and Minorities Ministry.

Prague-based Roma rights activist Gwendolyn Albert calls Kenney's statement "very strange."

"I don't know where that is coming from," she said. "Perhaps he got his wires crossed with reports about the Czech government program to send migrant workers back to their home countries."

Meanwhile, Czech daily Lidové noviny cited an anonymous study in an April 20 article, saying Roma based in Canada - specifically Paul St. Clair - are assisting others to attain refugee status for profit.

"It's just not true," St. Clair said, adding he would respond directly to the paper about the claim.

Albert gives a straightforward explanation for the increased applications: the "low-level, persistent, psychological warfare" Roma endure in the Czech Republic. She also cited increased activities by right-wing extremist groups.

"It is well documented what the Roma face, especially in the past two years or so," she said, speaking from the UN International Conference on Racism in Geneva.

St. Clair cited similar rationale for Czech asylum-seeking Roma. "A democracy is not always a democracy for everyone," he said. "This is a European problem that nobody wants to deal with."

Albert said the Roma are a "close-knit family community in which information travels. They get to Canada, and they tell their relatives about how they can walk down the street without being stared at."

Fortier said "each [asylum] case is assessed on its own merits." Asked to clarify what Kenney meant by "false refugee claimants," Fortier declined comment and pointed to the government Web site for clarification on refugee policy.

Koubek said a Canadian delegation came to Prague to discuss the asylum issue three times, most recently in March. Roma asylum seekers are expected to be a major topic of discussion when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits Prague May 6 for the Canada-EU summit.

"What the Canadian government doesn't want to admit is that it has a problem with these people coming from the Czech Republic," said Albert. "Despite all of the evidence, they refuse to acknowledge the wave of violent attacks and the completely untenable living situation they have in this country."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Jilted bride takes immigration protest to Parliament

Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration says marriage fraud investigations take back seat to crime, security


April 20, 2009

OTTAWA -- Lainie Towell is putting on her white wedding dress on Thursday and heading to Parliament Hill.

In front of what are sure to be befuddled MPs walking into the Centre Block, Ms. Towell will protest her unusual battle with Canada's immigration system in the way that comes most naturally for the Ottawa dancer: performance art.

Ms. Towell is one of a growing number of people going public with their stories of marriage fraud in the immigration system. These are Canadians who married a foreigner only to see their husband or wife leave them within weeks or even days of landing on Canadian soil.

But when these self-described victims alert the federal government to the trick they say has been played on them and the country, they often wait years for their file to be investigated.

Meanwhile, the jilted spouse risks being on the hook financially should the new arrival file for social assistance.

"I think the image itself is going to be extremely powerful," said Ms. Towell of her protest, during which she intends to strap a heavy red door on her back. She said the door symbolizes the weight she bears for giving her husband entry into Canada.

"I hope that some MP comes forward and recognizes this is a problem," she said.

There has been little public response from Ottawa on the issue. However, in documents recently filed in Federal Court, the Minister of Citizenship and the Minister for Public Safety state that a nearly two-year wait for a fraud investigation is a "short time period" that is not unreasonable.

The government also says immigration investigators are short of staff, that marriage fraud investigations involve a complicated weighing of both sides in the dispute, and that such cases must take a back seat to those involving alleged criminals or security threats.

Ottawa's position comes in response to a proposed class-action suit on behalf of alleged victims of marriage fraud. The suit aims to force the federal government to investigate allegations of marriage fraud within a reasonable period.

It is based on the case of Saranjeet Singh Benet, a Brampton, Ont., man who says his wife left him just a month after he sponsored her immigration from India. If the court grants the class action status, his lawyer said hundreds of others could join the suit.

An affidavit filed by Ottawa from immigration officer Wendy Seunath states that the office in Mississauga that handles such cases has a staff of just eight officers and four counsellor assistants, yet is responsible for more that 650 files annually.

"I can understand and appreciate Mr. Benet's frustration, impatience and concern," Ms. Seunath said in her affidavit. "However, Mr. Benet's case is one among many."

Ms. Towell got her case investigated last year after she went public with her situation. The Canada Border Services Agency supported her view that her husband, a Guinean musician named Fodé Mohamed Soumah, entered the marriage in bad faith and lied to immigration officers about the fact that he had a dependent child.

The Immigration and Refugee Board heard the case, ruling that marriage fraud could not be proven but that Mr. Soumah should be deported for lying about his child. Mr. Soumah intends to appeal, arguing he did not lie and that the child is not his.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the minister is aware of the issues based on his consultations with various ethnic communities across the country. The spokesman said that beginning in late summer, the government will roll out "a number of initiatives" to address immigration fraud.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Canada flooded with Czech Roma refugee claims

2008 saw 993% increase from year before

By Peter O'Neil, Canwest News ServiceApril 15, 2009

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called Wednesday on the Czech government to crack down on unscrupulous operators believed to be behind a massive surge in the number of refugee claimants arriving at Canadian airports from that country.

The increase, believed to emanate from the minority Roma community, began in late 2007 when Canada lifted the visa requirement for Czech visitors to Canada.

There were 78 claims during the last two months of 2007, compared to none a year earlier.

In 2008, there were 853 Czech nationals seeking Canadian protection from alleged persecution in a European democracy, a staggering 993 per cent increase.

The Czech Republic has suddenly become one of Canada's top seven sources of refugees, ahead of war-and violence-stricken countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

"This is obviously a concern," Kenney told Canwest News Service, noting the Czech Republic must comply with human-rights requirements as a member of the European Union.

"Although, like every other democracy, it has its challenges and its shortcomings, it's hard to believe that the Czech Republic is an island of persecution in Europe."

Kenney said the Canadian government has no immediate plans to re-impose the visa requirement — a move almost certain to infuriate Czech authorities and citizens.

"We would like to maintain our visa exemption with the Czech Republic. At the same time, we are obviously concerned about the numbers of false refugee claimants."

He said he hopes Czech authorities, who are also anxious to retain visa-free status, do their part.

"If indeed there are commercial operations, I would hope the Czech authorities are able to identify those and crack down on them."

He also said Canada and the Czech Republic are looking at ways "to prevent people from abusing our very generous refugee determination system."

He noted that seven other eastern European and Baltic countries had their visa requirements waived in the 2007-08 period, and in no other case was there a refugee spike.

Several of those countries, including Slovakia and Hungary, have large Roma minorities.

The Roma, also known as Romany or Gypsies, face systemic discrimination and racist attacks from far-right groups, according to numerous human-rights reports. Critics, however, question whether their situation fits the United Nations definition of persecuted refugees.

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent tribunal that assesses refugee claims, sent a fact-finding mission to the Czech Republic last month to help the board assess living conditions for Roma.

The matter represents one of the touchiest bilateral issues to be discussed when Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Czech leaders in Prague on May 6 for the Canada-European Union summit.

The Czech Republic holds the rotating EU presidency and is therefore hosting the summit at which Canada-EU free-trade talks are expected to be launched.

Many claimants are settling in the Greater Toronto Area, according to news coverage that has included a report in France's Le Monde newspaper earlier this week.

The Czech refugee claimants have so far had a 40 per cent success rate, with 84 claims being accepted last year, compared to five that were rejected, 11 abandoned, and 95 claims withdrawn.

The huge 2008 increase made the Czech Republic the seventh-largest source of refugee claimants in a year, in which 34,800 claims were filed.

Mexico, at 8,069, was far and away the top source country, followed by Haiti (4,936), Colombia (3,132) and China (1,711).

The board defines refugees as "people who have left their home country and have a well-founded fear of persecution" based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Canada has shown in the past it's prepared to take firm action, lifting in the mid-1990s and then re-imposing the visa requirement a year later, after a flood of more than 4,000 Czechs, again mostly Roma, showed up during the visa-free period. At the time, a documentary appeared on Czech television, touting Canada as a promised land for Roma because of alleged easy access into the country and generous social programs after arrival.

A Czech government official said in an e-mail exchange Wednesday that there is "no reason to consider them refugees."

Foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova noted the government has a special office responsible for minority rights. The head of that office is in "permanent contact" with Canadian officials.

There have been a number of neo-Nazi and skinhead marches into Roma ghettos, including one earlier this month, and there have been reports of unauthorized sterilizations of Roma woman as recently as last year. Roma children are routinely segregated in classrooms and often put in schools for developmentally challenged children, a fate that ensures difficulty in the job market, and shuts the door on post-secondary education.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


The article below from Embassy is a very good summary of what is wrong with the current refugee determination system: the problem is on the DEMAND side of the equation, and recent experience has shown that the larger the system gets, the larger the abuses an increase in demand. The number of refugee claims has tripled since the early 1990s and quadrupled since the 1980s due to a several factors which include a policy of not detaining claimants even though their identity may be in question; allowing them to collect social assistance and enjoy medical coverage; failing to enforce deportations after they exhaust their legal remedies; allowing them to make "humanitarian and compassionate grounds" applications after they lose their claims; allowing them to file spousal sponsorship applications for marriages that take place after they make or even lose a claim for refugee status; and failing to enforce deportation orders quickly, losing sight of the claimants whereabouts for years after they lose their claims. Also, allowing claims from countries such as the EU member states (i.e Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, etc) and even from the US is ludicrous, we need to get away from the notion that Canada is the beacon of all those who have a complaint against their country, even if it is not persecution as defined by the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees. There should be a "Safe Third Country Treaty" with the EU, and Mexicans should be required to obtain a visitors visa to enter Canada to cut the influx of bogus refugees. Finally, inland claims should be abolished, save for extreme circumstances that should be set by government policy as the need arises, such as a military coup in certain country. Able-bodied refugees should be required to work in exchange for welfare, and language classes should be mandatory for them. Finally, refugee protection should be temporary for a probationary period before e residency is granted, and those who commit crimes in Canad during their probation or after landing should be deported despite their refugee status. In summary: the refugee system should not be used to achieve an alternative path to residency.

Apr. 8, 2009 -

Refugee Funding Shortfalls Could Lead to Two-Tier System

by Lee Berthiaume

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refuted suggestions the government is inviting such abuse by refusing to increase funding for the IRB to meet increased demand.
Standing in the House of Commons on April 1, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney proudly refuted allegations the government was undermining Canada's immigration and refugee system.

The previous day, Auditor General Sheila Fraser had released a report calling attention to the government's failure to fill the Immigration and Refugee Board with new members and retain old ones.

The result has been a growing backlog of refugee cases—estimated at 65,000 this year—and processing times of up to two years, during which applicants can receive social and medical benefits as they await a decision.

In response, Mr. Kenney noted in the House that the government has been making numerous appointments over the past few months and the IRB is now operating at 95 per cent capacity.

But despite the minister's confidence, IRB documents show the refugee system is in serious trouble.

At current funding levels, even at 100 per cent capacity, the refugee application backlog is expected to continue growing by at least 25,000 applications each year. In fact, Mr. Kenney has confirmed the IRB would need to triple in size to keep up with demand.

Yet the government has no plans to increase the IRB's size or funding and is instead looking to reform the refugee system in ways some believe could be dangerous and immoral.

Policies, Not Money

In 2003, Canada's refugee system was in trouble. The number of unprocessed claims stood at almost 40,000 and the Liberal government was under pressure to act. The following year, however, the controversial Safe Third Country Agreement came into effect, which helped cut in half the number of cases referred to it.

Over the next few years, the backlog started shrinking, reaching a low of about 20,000 cases by the time the Conservatives came to power in January 2006. During that time, the Liberals had started cutting positions at the IRB, a trend that continued under the Tories. The number of members—IRB officials who hear and pass judgment on refugee applications and immigration appeals—dropped from almost 220 in January 2004 to the current 164.

At the same time, the IRB's budget was cut from $136.6 million in 2004/05 to $113.4 for this year, a figure that the government plans to keep constant through 2011/12. Of that, roughly $60 million will go to the Refugee Protection Division, which is responsible for accepting or rejecting refugee applications made within Canada.

The Conservatives' decision in 2007 to revamp the way IRB members are selected. While the reforms were underway, a large number of members saw their terms expire, while new appointments were practically non-existent. In her report, the auditor general noted the vacancy rate was 35 per cent in March 2008, and still at 23 per cent in September.

However, according to the IRB Report on Plans and Priorities, even with all vacancies filled, the board will only be able to finalize 25,000 refugee applications per year.

Yet, it is expecting 50,000 this year, and has made a conservative estimate that rate will remain constant, despite a 25 per cent annual increase in previous years. As a result, the current backlog of 65,000 is expected to grow to 140,000 by 2011/12.

"If intake levels and resource levels remain constant, it is expected that the inventory will continue to grow, even with a full complement of decision-makers," the IRB report reads. "While the IRB will continue to seek opportunities to further increase its productivity, workload pressures...are such that changes to resource levels will be required to return the pending inventory to normal operating levels."

At the same time, processing times are expected to increase, from 14 months in 2007/08 to 22.5 months in 2011/12, during which time applicants will be eligible for social and medical benefits.

In her report, the auditor general wrote: "To prevent abuse of our immigration system, it is important that a refugee claim not be perceived as providing an automatic stay in Canada for a significant period of time.

"Lengthy delays in rendering decisions on unsupported claims therefore have significant cost implications for all levels of government."

Late last month, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made headlines when he said there was "wide-scale and almost systematic abuse" of the country's refugee system.

In an interview with Embassy last week, he refuted suggestions the government is inviting such abuse by refusing to increase funding for the IRB to meet increased demand. Rather, he said the government is fighting a battle that cannot be won with more money or, more importantly, board members.

"The chairman of the IRB tells me that it would require tripling the size of the IRB to deal with the current backlog," Mr. Kenney said. "That's clearly not an option, particularly during tight fiscal times.

"Let's say we triple the size of the IRB and we process cases faster, but the demand continues to grow, the number of claims continues to grow. That's not a sustainable solution."

At the same time, Mr. Kenney questioned why the government should be dedicating more resources when the number of fraudulent claims is increasing. In the last three years, 55 per cent of refugee claims were rejected or withdrawn.

"Should the Canadian taxpayer be forced to have unlimited increases in funding for processing when the majority of claimants are abusing our system and our generosity," he said. "Or should we find more expeditious ways to process false claims and to remove people from the country. I think the latter is the more responsible solution."

The minister has ordered his staff to come up with new policies and other options to reform the refugee system and "disincentivize" false claimants. He points to the UK as proof such measures can work. After a number of measures were adopted—measures Mr. Kenney says are compliant with British Common and European human rights law—the UK saw claims drop by 300 per cent.

The minister said the review is still at the early stages, and it's too early to rule anything in or out. However, he has shed light on some options he is looking at.

In a speech to the Canadian Council for Refugees in Toronto in November, Mr. Kenney raised the possibility of a two-tier system where applicants from what he called "liberal democracies" like Mexico, Britain and the Czech Republic are treated differently than those from conflict zones or totalitarian societies.

Speaking to Embassy, Mr. Kenney said other countries like the UK have adopted measures that make distinctions between countries of origin. For example, applicants from some countries cannot appeal a rejection.

In addition, there has been word the government is considering detaining applicants until a decision is rendered. Mr. Kenney said there is increased use of detention in the British system, but would not comment further.

No matter what it decides, Mr. Kenney said the government will fulfil its domestic and international obligations, and adhere to decisions made in past court decisions.

"Obviously anything we propose would be compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our international obligations," he said, "which would mean we give people a chance to make a claim in Canada, and to consider it in accordance with due process and natural justice."

Resources Desperately Needed

While acknowledging major problems with Canada's refugee system, opposition critics and refugee advocates say the government needs to add resources to have any hope of getting it under control

In addition, they questioned suggestions Canada could treat asylum seekers from some countries differently than others.

"I don't think we want to get into a system where people's rights are not being protected," said Liberal Immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua. "There's a right balance. Ninety per cent of Mexicans are rejected. That means 10 per cent are accepted.... If you paint everybody with the same stroke from one country, that's a danger."

Mr. Bevilacqua said improving the system and streamlining it is important, but "we have a government that actually believes the system can be fixed with no further funding. That's highly unlikely.

"The message that the world needs to get from Canada is we are running a very efficient, effective immigration system. Not one that is flawed and weak and full of loopholes."

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said it's no surprise to those who work with the system that it is heavily under-resourced and in desperate need of help.

She said the only smart thing to do is increase the number of IRB members and resources for the short-term to get the growing backlog under control—and cut down on fraudulent claims as people try to take advantage of the long processing time.

"We know there are people out there...who say 'This is a good way to go to Canada, work for a few years, even if you don't have a refugee claim,'" she said. "Then you multiply the problem."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


McGuinty says parents want income, immigration data on each public school

The Canadian Press

8 hours ago

TORONTO — Parents want to know how many students attending a school weren't born in Canada and how many of them come from low-income families, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday as he launched a spirited defence of a new Education Ministry website.

The opposition parties and the advocacy group People for Education have raised concerns about the demographic information on the School Information Finder website, which was launched last Friday, and even convinced the government to remove a function that compares schools.

However, McGuinty said the information about immigration, income levels and even such things as the number of special-needs students in a school would continue to be posted by the Education Ministry.

"From time to time I think it's important we recognize parents' interests in these things," he said.

"I know we heard from the stakeholders yesterday, but if you were to ask parents whether or not they want this information, I know what their answer is: yes, they want this information."

The New Democrats said the only reason parents would need information on the number of new Canadians or family income levels is to hunt for the best schools instead of going to the nearest one in their neighbourhood.

"That kind of information simply makes it easier for parents to say, 'Oh-oh - I'm not sending my kids here,"' said NDP education critic Rosario Marchese.

"It allows parents to choose the best schools with the best results so their kids will do better. That's the way they look at these things."

McGuinty said he knows some education groups also oppose the use of demographic data on the website, but insisted the government had a duty to provide the information, especially when there are private websites that rank schools based on little data.

"Parents want this information," he said. "We've got a responsibility to make it available in an intelligent, understandable and comprehensive way."

McGuinty made it clear the government was not ranking public schools, which he said was being done on websites by two right-wing think-tanks, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Fraser Institute.

The Education Ministry site does give "apples to apples" comparisons of schools with families with similar income levels, said McGuinty, who noted they aren't necessarily the poorest-performing schools academically.

"There are some really great stories about schools that, given the levels of parental education and household income and the number of new Canadians, that you think those schools shouldn't be performing well," he said.

"In fact, there are a number of those schools that are performing extraordinarily well."

After meeting Monday with various educators and parents who regularly give her advice, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne agreed to temporarily remove a "shopping bag" feature on the website that allowed parents to compare up to three schools at a time.

"There was a strong concern about that particular function ... that there was a desire to rank schools, and that is exactly what we're not doing," Wynne said.

"I listened to them. I'm taking it down while we have that discussion at the working table."

The Progressive Conservatives accused Wynne of "a massive flip-flop" for removing the comparison function from the website.

"For the minister to put a tool on the website and then reverse herself and take the tool away from the website, but not eliminate the information, is nonsense," said Opposition critic Peter Shurman.

"The government doesn't know what it wants to do."

The School Information Finder website can be found at

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


This is an interesting article which has been publicised by the Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA):

Canada and the Mexican War on Drugs: Lack of Involvement But Not of Interest -

Although increasingly affected from afar by the fight against the cartels, Canada is curiously detached from the Mexican war on drugs
- Canada has numerous economic and political involvements in the Mexican status quo and multilateral and bilateral initiatives could be eyed for their implementation
- Canadian “me-tooism” towards the U.S. eliminates drug de-criminalization as a credible alternative for Ottawa even though 56 percent of Canadian respondents to a poll favor the legalization of marijuana.

As the war on drugs rages on in Mexico, the United States is beginning to seriously suffer from the consequences of its heightened violence. U.S. authorities increasingly have been trying to address the problem in collaboration with Mexican authorities, as underlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement of some financial aid for the purchase of military equipment – including two Blackhawk helicopters – to help the Mexican government in its life and death fight against the cartels.

Somewhat after the fact, Mexico’s other northern neighbor, Canada, is also starting to suffer from the ramifications of the Mexican war on drugs. Vancouver, the city host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and once one of the safest places in Canada, has been dubbed the Canadian gang capital. So far in 2009, more than 30 shootings – which is unprecedented – have taken place in British Columbia’s largest city, compared to 48 shootings in all of 2008.

There is, in fact, an increasingly ominous connection between the fight against the cartels in Mexico and the growing insecurity in a number of areas in Canada. Recent gang-related violence in British Columbia and elsewhere in the country is “directly related to this Mexican war,” said Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) superintendent Pat Fogarty in a televised interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The war on drugs in Mexico has only made things worse in Canada. “When the supply of cocaine is hampered by crackdowns in Mexico or in the United States and the price goes up”, says Fogarty, “competition for the remaining kilos gets tense in Canada.” As in any market, when the offer is lower than the demand, the prices go up. According to the RCMP, the price of cocaine on the Canadian market has doubled in the last six months, skyrocketing to $50 000 per kilo. Consequently, suppliers will go to great lengths to get their hands on the product. This in turn can lead to increased violence, with gangs currently competing amongst themselves to find scarce sources of cocaine and other illegal drugs.

Canada’s Nonchalance
While the U.S. has designated Mexico as the venue of one of its top security threats, just behind Iran and Pakistan, and certainly among the top security priority in the hemisphere, the situation is not as grave in Canada. Presently, Canadian officials have been very discreet about expressing such concerns towards Mexico, unlike the United States, Canada has not put out an official travel warning its nationals traveling to Mexico and they certainly respect U.S. sensibilities by refraining from even any mention of the strategy of the decriminalization of drugs, which would take the violence and crime out of the drug trade. Ottawa’s timorous is rather curious given the fact that a poll indicates that 56 percent of all Canadians support the legalization of marijuana. On its official website, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the Ottawa agency responsible for such determining, simply stated that “Canadians should be particularly vigilant in northern Mexico and all cities bordering the United States, particularly when traveling to the cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, as firefights between the military and drug cartels can occur without warning at any time.”

Canada presently is facing similar problems as is the United States in its relation with Mexico. Although the two countries are not geographically as close, the Mexican plight, including the fight against the cartels, is becoming a Canadian problem, as well. Interrelated issues such as drug trafficking, gun smuggling, border security and illegal immigration all have had an impact on North America as a whole. For instance, although illegal immigration from Mexico is not a ranking issue in Canada, immigration still constitutes an important complication of the Mexican crisis. Mexico has been Canada’s number one source for asylum seekers coming north during the past three years, some applicants now claim that they have to leave their country because their security is threatened by the drug cartels.

During the past year alone, a record 9,456 Mexican refugee claimants have arrived in Canada, a third of the total 36,895 for all of Canada’s refugee claimants for 2008. According to Ottawa officials, it is clear that this number is somehow linked to the Mexican cartels’ bloody war. This sharp rise in refugee claims from Mexico coincides with the intensification of the drug-related violence in that country. In 2008, 5,300 people were murdered as a result of the war on drugs in Mexico. So far, in 2009, more than a 1000 deaths related to drug violence occurred, which means that the flow of asylum seekers from Mexico is not about to soon dry up.

Canada, however, is reacting very slowly to the worsening situation in Mexico. Strangely enough, it seems to be apathetic, or at least complacent, when it comes to the problems Mexico is now facing. There is obviously a lack of involvement, even though the problem is there to be vividly seen. Those alert to the severity of the situation strongly feel that Canada needs to engage in President Felipe Calderón’s struggle to win the war against drugs. Not only because the precarious conditions in Mexico could be about to have a dire spillover effects on certain areas in Canada but, perhaps more importantly, because Canada should also be willing to put its words into action. Since Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, was elected in 2006, he has vowed to make the Americas a foreign policy priority within a framework of strengthened multilateralism and cooperation. One of the three key objectives of the Harper government’s “Americas strategy” is to meet new security challenges in the hemisphere. Despite this allegedly concrete strategy for engagement, little has been done by Ottawa to alleviate the migrant situation in Mexico.

Why Canada Should Care
Canada has to come to understand that relations with Mexico are very important to the country, and thus that the nation has a real and tangible interest in any solution to Mexico’s present crisis of recurring crime, violence, poverty and corruption. For instance, economic ties are growing stronger between the two countries, not only within the NAFTA framework, but also increasingly so, bilaterally. Trade between Canada and Mexico has increased steadily during the past decade, amounting to $21 billion in 2007. This figure is admittedly small in comparison to the $166 billion of trade between Canada and the U.S., but it is not insignificant by any means. Furthermore, over 2,000 Canadian companies are operating in Mexico. Bombardier opened an aerospace factory in Queretaro in 2007, while Scotiabank is Mexico’s seventh-biggest bank, employing almost 10,000 of its nationals.

Moreover, Canada is seen throughout the Americas, and particularly in the United States and Mexico, as a reliable friend and ally. Failure to get involved in Mexico’s current concerns would undermine Canada’s credibility as a hemispheric actor. Those persuaded by the argument maintain that Canada should stay true to the spirit of multilateralism and to its honest-broker’s tradition and get involved with its North American neighbors to tackle Mexico’s extremely delicate present situation.

In an interview with the Toronto newspaper, The National Post, Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, underlined the importance for Canada to get involved in the fight against the cartels: “I think we all share that concern within North America. We are quite familiar with the fact that Mexico is a transshipment spot to Canada. There is a direct impact from the level of organized crime there to the level of organized crime here.”

Multilateral and Bilateral Cooperation Possibilities
So far, little, if anything, has been undertaken by Canada to put into force existing resources that could be described as representing a serious act of North-American cooperation regarding the Mexican drug issue. One important tool at Canada’s disposal would be a decision by Ottawa to play a meaningful role in aiding Mexico’s fight against the cartels. This would be by means of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), responsible for strengthening the human and institutional capabilities of the hemisphere in order to reduce the production, trafficking and abuse of drugs in the Americas. Oddly enough, the Commission has not been addressing the Mexican war on drugs, with some calling on Canada to add this issue to CICAD’s agenda in order to deal, on an emergency basis, with the worsening Mexican situation.

A Bilateral Approach
Also, bilateral initiatives cannot be ignored. One of the first steps would be to enhance collaboration among all of the police forces of North America. On March 23, the Attorney General of British Columbia, Wally Oppal, and his Mexican counterpart from Baja California, signed a statement of intent concerning an information-sharing agreement regarding transnational organized crime groups. Critics suggest that this approach should have been taken years ago and that it is far from being sufficient to unilaterally tackle the growing drug-related problems faced by British Columbia. However, technical assistance programs coming from local Canadian police forces and the RCMP, should be implemented shortly.

According to the U.S. State Department, Canada has strong anti-corruption controls in place and holds its officials and law enforcement personnel to a high standard of conduct. This valuable expertise could well be put to good use in the training of Mexican police forces and in the reforming of Mexican institutions. At the moment, paradoxically, Canadian security and intelligence agencies are not involved in Mexico at all. Canadian officers are beginning to argue that the time has now arrived for Canada to provide financial assistance and training expertise to Mexico’s struggle against organized crime. Compared to the U.S. and its admittedly meager Merida Initiative ($400 million), Canada looks like an indifferent neighbor, unable or unwilling to help.

Two other very important aspects of bilateral cooperation on the drug issue are to slash the demand for drugs and to halt arms trafficking. Canada has to work with the U.S. on reducing domestic drug demand, because although the U.S. is by far the largest market for drugs transiting through Mexico, Canada is not exactly a negligible actor. Canadian officials say that more than 90% of all the drugs consumed in Canada originates from, or are transported through Mexico. Additionally, Canada has a serious stake in working with the U.S. to reduce illegal arms traffic. Toronto police reported that over half of the guns involved in homicides in Canada’s largest city come from the U.S.

Canada is sure to come to play a bigger role in the Mexican war on drugs. As an ally and trade partner to Mexico, Canada has to realize the gravity of the situation now being faced by Mexico City and that it cannot content itself by merely watching from the sidelines while the rest of North America faces a serious crisis. Some would argue that it is not only a question of Canada’s own security, which is increasingly being jeopardized by the events going on in the south, but also of being able to retain its credibility as a major hemispheric factor, which perhaps is bilaterally prepared to do its part to advance the well-being of its own region.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Mylene Bruneau
April 6th, 2009


Here is another example of the incredible stupidity and naivete that permeates every aspect of the Immigration and Refugee Broad decision making. I argued over 1,000 cases before the Board in my years of practice, and I can say with confidence that I could never understand why the Board has been so naive when it comes to Tamil cases. Also, a quick perusal of case law reveals the frustration of police authorities when it comes to take gang members off the street: the IRB does not order their deportations quickly. What does it take to keep criminal element off Canada? A miracle?

Sri Lankan gang member wins release

Refugee Claimant

Stewart Bell, National Post

The Immigration and Refugee Board approved the release yesterday of a high-ranking Sri Lankan gang member who was deported in 2005 but then brought back to Canada at taxpayers' expense.

Nagalingam Panchalingam, a former enforcer in the AK Kannan gang, has been held in custody since his arrival in Toronto in late February but the IRB said it was prepared to free him under strict conditions.

Two relatives must post $50,000 and Mr. Nagalingam must live under virtual house arrest in Brampton. He is not allowed to visit Scarborough, where his gang fought a bloody turf war. The IRB also said he "must not attend any rallies in support of Tamil causes."

"Basically the member found that the sureties were sufficient [together with a long list of strict conditions] to neutralize the public safety risk and to offset the appearance concerns," said Charles Hawkins, an IRB spokesman.

Mr. Nagalingam is at the centre of a highly unusual refugee case that has angered police, immigration officials and the Conservative government. After coming to Canada as a refugee from Sri Lanka in 1994, Mr. Nagalingam joined AK Kannan, a Toronto street gang responsible for a wave of gun violence in Toronto.

Toronto police have implicated Mr. Nagalingam in the fatal shooting of two teenagers in Scarborough, a meat cleaver attack, the trashing of a Tamil community centre, threats, assaults and credit-card theft.

He was deported four years ago but six weeks ago, the Canadian government flew him back to Toronto. The reason: before he was deported, the government had promised to bring him back if he won a court appeal.

Long after he was deported, his lawyers continued to argue his case and last year they won; the Federal Court ruled that immigration officials had not followed proper procedure when they determined Mr. Nagalingam was a danger to Canadians.

"Unfortunately, we wouldn't even be in this situation if the previous Liberal government hadn't made a sweetheart deal with Nagalingam to bring him back to Canada," said Alykhan Velshi, spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

The government is now attempting to deport Mr. Nagalingam a second time, but Liberal MPs have been pushing for a halt to all deportations to Sri Lanka, which is in the final stage of a lengthy civil war.

In the meantime, the IRB said Mr. Nagalingam can be released if he meets the conditions set out in the order. Although under house arrest, he may still leave home for medical and legal appointments.

"We are outraged by the IRB's decision to release Nagalingam from custody," Mr. Velshi said.

"Our government has consistently argued before the IRB that Nagalingam should remain in custody because of the threat he poses to the Canadian public. This is a very problematic decision and we are currently reviewing what options are available to the government."

At an earlier hearing, Mr. Nagalingam said he had decided to start his life over. "Won't I get a chance for me to reform, to start my life again? That's all I am asking for. "

Monday, April 6, 2009


The continuing battle over marriage fraud, particularly originating from countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Guyana and others, appears to have reached a bolling point. A class action law suit has been field against Citizenship and Immigration Canada over its failure to stop marriage fraud. While it remains to be seen whether this law suit only seeks compensation for what is essentially a private arrangement between the parties, or if it is motivated by a genuine desire to prompt politicians who have so far refused to act, to enact measures to police the system better, I find it somewhat ironic that people now complain aout marriage fraud, when it is common folklore in many ethnic communities that marriage fraud is rampant, and marrying a resident or citizen of Canada is a ticket out of poverty in developing nations. Also, those same groups often lobby the government strenuously to force immigration authorities to expedite spousal sponsorship applications, often complaining that "it takes too long" to bring a spouse to Canada, a myth perpetuated by lack of good legal advice. Over the last few years, average processing times ranged anywhere from five to twelve months, depending on the country of origin, and spousal interviews are routinely , if not always waived. This is what makes spousal sponsorships so attractive to fraudsters: their speed and extremely high chances of success.

I think it is time that we in Canada stop being so naive and return to the practice of interviewing spouses from many countries of the world where marriage fraud is suspected. In addition, I agree with the contention that spousal visas should be conditional upon a minimum marriage duration, and would also add that we should no longer allow people to land as "single" and immediately tun around to "go back home" to get married and bring a spouse, without having contributed to Canada for a minimum period of time, paid taxes and worked in Canada to ensure that they do not take advantage of the system. The current system is a recipe for disaster, as more and more people use it to their advantage, to the detriment of society at large.

Marriage Fraud Targeted

Lawsuit Filed; Group seeks immigration changes

John Ivison, National Post

Reena Bhandari, a psychiatric nurse from Ottawa, feels she's been let down by Canada's immigration system.

She married an Indian widower called Manjeet Singh Bagga in August, 2001, after meeting him through a Sikh match-making Web site. Mr. Bagga and his daughter from his previous marriage arrived in Canada the following July, having been sponsored by Ms. Bhandari. But Ms. Bhandari said it was a marriage of convenience for Mr. Bagga, who was only interested in her money and the opportunity to gain Canadian citizenship.

She is part of a 100-member class-action lawsuit filed by an organization called Canadians Against Immigration Fraud that has been lodged against the federal government for failing to deport foreigners who misrepresent themselves and lure Canadians into marriage.

A lawyer for the case that has commenced at Federal Court, Julie Taub, wants the government to tighten up the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act so that it more closely mirrors laws in countries such as Australia and the United States. In Canada, there are no conditions that state the spouses even have to live together, while in other countries the authorities follow up to see if the marriage is genuine.

In Australia, permanent visas are not issued until a waiting period of two years and the spouses have to have been in a relationship for a year before lodging an application. The United States issues conditional permanent residence status, which requires spouses to prove that they did not get married to evade immigration laws after a two-year period. "It highlights a problem in the legislation that would be so easy to remedy to prevent a non-stop infusion of fraudsters," said Ms. Taub.

The government claims in its defence that it has 600 files involving immigration fraud and only a limited number of officers to process them.

In Ms. Bhandari's case, the marriage quickly descended into acrimony -- "I felt like I was being used as a bank machine. He was not interested in me -- money was his only priority," she said. The relationship eventually ended in April 2004, when Mr. Bagga said he had to return to India to deal with a court case. He had told Ms. Bhandari that his first wife had died in a car accident but she said she subsequently found Indian court papers that showed Mr. Bagga and three members of his family were charged, and later acquitted, of attacking his wife with acid, causing injuries from which she died.

Mr. Bagga said that he and his family were all cleared after a thorough investigation. "There was no conviction," he said late last week from Ottawa. However, Ms. Bhandari said that Mr. Bagga did not disclose that there were charges pending against him when he applied for permanent resident status, answering "no" to the question that asked him if he'd been charged with any crime in any country.

Ms. Bhandari said she tried to bring this to the attention of the Immigration department before Mr. Bagga was able to get full Canadian citizenship but that her efforts were ignored.

Mr. Bagga said Ms. Bhandari filled in the form for him. "I wasn't used to filling in these forms and so signed whatever she put in," he said. He denied that he had entered into the marriage in bad faith just to get into Canada. "My marriage was never a fraud. I never wanted to come here--it was her idea. I had a good life and good job in India," he said.

The two have divorced. Mr. Bagga has since been granted Canadian citizenship.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


This is a great article from today's New York Times. Although it relates specifically to US immigration, it illustrates how years of complacency and inaction make problems grow bigger, and the solutions are elusive. What I find interesting is that there seems to be so much common ground amongst all parties that the current situation is untenable.

April 5, 2009

Texas Mayor Caught in Deportation Furor


IRVING, Tex. — Just after sunrise one morning last summer, as his two sons hurried out the door to school, Oscar Urbina might have presented a portrait of domestic stability in this Dallas suburb, a 35-year-old man with a nice home, a thriving family and a steady contracting job.

But a few weeks earlier, after buying a Dodge Ram truck at a local dealership, he had been summoned back to deal with some paperwork problems. And shortly after he arrived, so did the police, who arrested him on charges of using a false Social Security number.

Mr. Urbina does not deny it; he has been living illegally in the Dallas area since coming to the country from Mexico in 1993. But the turn of events stunned him in a once-welcoming place where people had never paid much attention to Social Security numbers.

If the arrest had come earlier, it might have had little effect on his life. But two years ago, Irving made a decision, championed by its first-term mayor, Herbert A. Gears, to conduct immigration checks on everyone booked into the local jail. So Mr. Urbina was automatically referred to the federal authorities and now faces possible deportation, becoming one of more than 4,000 illegal immigrants here who have ended up in similar circumstances.

As battles over illegal immigration rage around the country, Irving’s crackdown is not unusual in itself. What makes it striking is that it happened with the blessing of a mayor like Mr. Gears, an immigrant-friendly Democrat with deep political ties to the city’s Hispanic leaders, a man who likes to preach that adapting to immigration — especially in a city like his, now almost half-Hispanic — is not a burden but an opportunity, or as he says, it’s “not a have-to, it’s a get-to.”

But as a wave of sentiment against illegal immigration built around Dallas and the nation, Mr. Gears came to realize that his city would be unable to remain on the sidelines — and that his own political future would depend on how he navigated newly treacherous terrain.

Irving is one of a growing number of cities across America where immigration control, a federal prerogative, is reshaping politics at the other end of the spectrum, the local level, in the absence of a national policy overhaul. To watch its experiment play out over the better part of the past year in City Hall and in its residents’ lives is to see how difficult political moderation has become in the debate over what to do with the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

Irving’s jail program was started by the city’s police chief as an experiment with federal immigration officials. But Mr. Gears saw in it a kind of release valve for the political pressure building around him, which had been energized by much more aggressive measures to force out illegal immigrants in Farmers Branch, a smaller suburb next door.

“I let my instincts rule the moment in that instance,” he said. “What weighed heavily in my thoughts is that if we didn’t do something, a lot more immigrants were going to be hurt.”

“And now,” Mr. Gears added ruefully, “I’m the hero of every redneck in America.”

Nationally, most of the attention in the immigration fight has centered on smaller cities that have taken a hard line on illegal immigration, like Farmers Branch and Hazleton, Pa., or on cities that have moved to protect illegal immigrants, like San Francisco and New Haven.

Irving is one of the places with a growing percentage of illegal immigrants that has tried to take — Mr. Gears’s critics say has stumbled upon — a much less explored middle road.

As a first-ring suburb whose non-Hispanic white population has slipped from the majority in the last few years, Irving describes itself as a multicultural community. Under Mr. Gears, it recently opened a hospital clinic that caters to low-income patients, many of them Hispanic, and gave $100,000 to support its fledgling Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

But even as it was doing so, its policy on immigration checks prompted the Mexican consul in Dallas to issue an unusual warning to Mexican immigrants to stay clear of Irving. And businesses both Hispanic-owned and not, including Wal-Mart, began howling to the mayor that fear was driving away Hispanic customers.

Mr. Gears, 46, is a big, gregarious, politically agile Texan who won re-election last May against an opponent whose campaign promised much tougher immigration measures. The mayor describes the rise of such sentiment around him as disturbing, a manifestation of “domestic extremism,” and he derides its adherents as “the crankies.”

“We defeated the crankies, and no one thought we could,” Mr. Gears said of his re-election. “We’ve defined what our responsibility is, and that’s only to allow the federal government to do its job. It’s not our responsibility to evaluate it or assess whether it’s good or not.”

Mr. Gears happened to be making these points in a booth at his favorite local bar, where he was being served by his favorite waitress, a friendly mother of five — in the country illegally — whom he has known for years and tips lavishly to help her make ends meet.

He acknowledges that Irving’s policy, whose chief goal is to get rid of dangerous criminals who are in the country illegally, has resulted in “casualties,” with many people deported as a result of lesser, nonviolent offenses like driving without a license or insurance.

The police chief, Larry Boyd, said he believed that the city’s enviable crime rate (last year was its lowest on record) is at least partly due to the deportation program. “You will never hear me blaming Irving’s crime problems on illegal immigration,” Chief Boyd said. But he added that the program “keeps some criminals off of Irving’s streets longer and potentially keeps them off of Irving’s streets for good.”

The city’s political straddle on immigration has angered and confounded Mr. Gears’s opponents. Critics to the right accuse him of opportunism and of shirking his duty to legal residents. Advocates for the immigrants accuse him essentially of undercutting them.

But Mr. Gears’s position is one he seems to struggle every day to defend, said Carlos Quintanilla, a vocal advocate who, like many other Hispanic leaders, initially supported the jail program but now deplores it.

“I call Herb the most tormented man in America,” Mr. Quintanilla said.

The Hard-liners

Lucia Rottenberg, an Irving resident for almost 40 years, was upset in June 2007 when she stood at a City Council meeting in the amphitheater-like chambers at City Hall. Citing fears of crime, disease and economic harm to her city, Ms. Rottenberg called for tougher measures against illegal immigrants and bragged that her husband used his vacation time to volunteer with the Texas Minutemen, a contentious civilian group that tries to keep people from crossing the border illegally.

As she turned to leave the lectern, Mr. Gears leaned into his microphone and stopped her.

“I need to clear something up, because I was told something that was disturbing,” he said. “Were you at a meeting, a club meeting, where applause was given to the comment that anyone who comes over the border should be shot?”

Ms. Rottenberg, who has contributed to one of Mr. Gears’s campaigns and whom Mr. Gears said he considers a friend, confirmed she was at the meeting. “I don’t remember if there was applause or not,” she said, taken aback.

“Did you make that remark?” Mr. Gears asked.

“Yes, I did,” she admitted, her voice rising. “And my frustration is this — ”

Mr. Gears cut her short: “You don’t have to explain it to me. I understand.”

It was at that Council session that the city adopted the federal cooperation program for residency checks inside the jail. It was also a public turning point in the political reorientation of Mr. Gears, who spoke volubly, sometimes irascibly, in defense of the checks while trying to shame those he saw as using immigration to divide the city further.

“I viewed it as something that would be painful to some, and so that was distasteful to me,” Mr. Gears said later about the jail policy. “But we were in a battle here on this issue.”

Like many Texas cities its size, Irving was mostly white a generation ago, a farming town turned sprawling suburb as middle-class families flocked to its affordable neighborhoods.

In 1970, when the city’s population hit 100,000, the Census estimated that less than 5 percent was Hispanic. By 1990 the percentage had tripled, during the next decade it doubled, and it is now thought to be 45 percent or higher. In the fall of 2008, the last time a count was taken, 70 percent of the students enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade in Irving’s schools were Hispanic.

While no one knows exactly how much of that increase was a result of illegal immigration, Irving was one of several Dallas suburbs that experienced a huge influx of illegal workers as part of the wave that has tripled the nation’s illegal population since 1996. Officials estimate that more than 20 percent of Irving’s 200,000 residents may be in the country illegally.

A drive down North Belt Line Road, one of the city’s commercial spines, takes a visitor past a big Kroger grocery store whose next-door neighbor is a La Michoacana Meat Market almost its equal in size. Both stores sit not far from dozens of Hispanic restaurants, laundries, stores, auto-repair garages and curanderas, or psychics’ shops, scattered throughout the city’s south side.

Some white, longtime Irving residents say illegal immigration has done much more to erode than bolster the city’s older shopping strips and neighborhoods, its image and its property values. They complain to Mr. Gears about white flight from the Irving Mall and about well-kept older residential blocks marred by “patrón houses,” overcrowded single-family homes, clustered with cars, used as bunkhouses for illegal workers.

Beth Van Duyne, a city councilwoman who advocates tougher immigration policies and has battled Mr. Gears, likes to show visitors a favorite exhibit in her case, a hulking big-box store that was once a Wal-Mart. It is now called Irving Bazaar, a battered flea-market-like assortment of merchants with handmade window advertisements in Spanish for wrestling matches and cheap jewelry.

“People hate it,” Ms. Van Duyne said. “It’s just not a good thing to have in your city.”

Such discontent had been rising for years, though as recently as 2005, when Mr. Gears was elected to his first term, it remained well below the political surface. Sue Richardson, the vice president of the Greater Irving Republican Club and probably Mr. Gears’s most persistent opponent, said she believed that it had finally risen into view because many people realized Irving was in the midst of a “silent invasion” from Mexico.

“The people who come here illegally across the border are not educated people,” Ms. Richardson said. “They don’t have any culture or any respect for ours.”

A Political Career

Arriving one fall morning at a regular kaffeeklatsch of longtime residents — a mostly white group that once held court in a diner but, since it closed, has moved to a Mexican restaurant — Mr. Gears made his way around the table shaking hands and telling jokes. “This is where I cut my teeth,” he said. “These are the people who really run the place.”

He looks and often plays the part of a good old boy, a flamboyant dresser with flashy gold-rimmed eyeglasses and rings and cufflinks embossed with pictures of Elizabeth Taylor, who reminds him of his mother when she was young. Mr. Gears’s stamina and self-confidence as a talker can evoke a combination of used-car salesman and Southern Baptist preacher, though his fondness for vodka, Marlboro reds and easygoing profanity might disqualify him from the pulpit.

“You’re going to think I’m making this up, but I was known as Bubba when I was young,” he said. “Now when I go back to the country they call me Mayor Bubba.”

Mr. Gears makes a comfortable living running a financial consulting firm with his wife. But he owes his political career to the poor and the working class, both Hispanic and not. A pivotal issue in his first City Council campaign (the contests are nonpartisan, though Mr. Gears describes himself as a conservative Democrat) was his support for beleaguered mobile home residents, and the “trailer-house vote,” as he likes to call it, made the difference.

He could readily identify with those voters. He was born in East Texas to a deeply troubled mother who raised him and his two sisters mostly by herself while wrestling with poverty and drug addiction; she committed suicide at 63.

Mr. Gears clearly relishes the political life and thrives in it. He raised almost $100,000 in contributions in last year’s mayoral race, a huge sum for such suburban contests. But he says he has no higher political aspirations than perhaps to serve another term or two as mayor. He jokes that “the Democrats wouldn’t have me — especially now — and I wouldn’t have the Republicans.” Still, he counts among his backers powerful and wealthy real-estate developers, and his political options remain open.

In public, Mr. Gears reveals few hints of the internal turmoil that friends describe. His oldest Hispanic friends say they understand why he supports the jail policy but add that the position has always sat uncomfortably on the shoulders of a man who has long worked for Hispanic causes, including serving as president of a local nonprofit group that helps immigrants.

“I think the world of Herb,” said Platon Lerma, who is considered the grandfather of Irving’s Hispanic activists. But Mr. Lerma, 82, said he believed that the immigration checks had betrayed the mayor’s ideals.

“To me the program itself is a crime, in human terms,” he said. “We’re breaking up families. We’re not doing right in the eyes of God.”

But in the next breath he added that Mr. Gears had simply chosen “the best of several evils.” Hispanic residents of Irving do not vote in large numbers, Mr. Lerma explained, and it had become apparent that too many other voters were clamoring for immigration change.

If the election last year had gone to Mr. Gears’s closest opponent, a lawyer, Roland Jeter — who had warned that Irving was becoming a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants — it would have almost certainly sent the city down a more stringent path.

In his campaign, Mr. Jeter advocated joining a federal program that deputizes police officers as immigration agents. The program has resulted in large numbers of deportations in other cities, and has sometimes led them to initiate other aggressive measures to round up illegal immigrants.

Still, even the more passive approach taken by Irving soon became unpopular among Hispanics. In 2006, before the systematic jail checks began, local police officers were handing about 300 people a year to the federal government for immigration reasons. By the summer of 2007, as many as 300 people a month were entering immigration proceedings, and Mr. Quintanilla, the Hispanic advocate who only three months earlier had spoken in support of the policy at the City Council hearing, helped organize protests against it.

Mr. Gears soon found himself defending the approach on national television while trying to deflect blame toward those he believes are responsible for the problem.

“The complaint that people have with this program,” he said on CNN, “should be directed at the federal government.”

Restive Allies

Now, nearly a year after his re-election, Mr. Gears is still vilified by his conservative opponents while also facing a simmering rebellion from Mr. Quintanilla and other Hispanic leaders, who say the jail policy has unnecessarily damaged the lives of people who have had no serious run-ins with the law.

As of early March, of the 4,074 people whose arrest led to their being handed over to immigration officials, 129 had been charged with violent crimes or illegal possession of weapons, and 714 with other types of serious felonies. In addition, 579 had been charged with driving while intoxicated. The other 2,625 had been arrested for lesser offenses; the largest categories were public intoxication and not having a driver’s license or insurance.

If he were in charge of changing federal policy, Mr. Gears said, he would find a way to allow many illegal immigrants to move toward citizenship. It is a goal that was sought by President George W. Bush and now, in a similar plan, by President Obama.

For now, Mr. Gears is still smiling, still talking and still trying to be the mayor of all of Irving’s inhabitants, even those he knows might soon be gone, like Mr. Urbina, the illegal immigrant who now awaits a deportation hearing.

Not long before Mr. Urbina’s arrest, the mayor tossed out the first pitch at the opening of a Pony Baseball World Series for 9- and 10-year-olds, who had come to town from places as far away as Puerto Rico and Mexico. The event felt like a United Nations game, with national flags and food and blaring music. “Isn’t this great?” Mr. Gears said. “This is what Irving’s all about.”

Using his scant Spanish to throw around the occasional greeting, the mayor took his place on the field in his French-cuffed shirt, sweating alongside players from one of Irving’s teams, their names spelled out on the backs of their jerseys: Gomez, Conaway, Aleman, Shastid, Riker, Flores, Herrin, Childress, Ehrke, Rodriguez.

As the strains of the Puerto Rican anthem faded from the loudspeakers, Mr. Gears took the mound and wound up. His pitch was low, but the catcher scooped it up from the dirt, and the mayor walked off to generous applause.

“Fighting him is kind of like fighting against your brother,” Mr. Quintanilla said of his friend the mayor. “But you put your guard down, and the first thing you know you’re being hit in the face.”


'Canada isn't a hotel'

Minister wants ethnic communities to embrace Canadian values


Last Updated: 4th April 2009, 3:06am

Canada needs to better integrate its ethnic minorities in order to combat the potential for extremism, says Canada's immigration and multiculturalism minister.

In an interview with Sun Media, Jason Kenney said Canada's high level of immigration runs the risk of creating "ethnic silos" that could do here what they have done in Europe.

"We shouldn't be naive about the very real dangers of radicalization, of extremism. We shouldn't over-exaggerate it and nor should we just pretend it doesn't exist," he said.

Kenney is concerned some communities are not actively integrating with mainstream society. While he won't point fingers, he said "there are people who come to Canada or are born in Canada that have very illiberal views, who believe that their religious dogma or their ethnic grievance justifies violence."

"Now, that may be a tiny minority of people, but that's all it takes to cause real problems," he said.


Kenney said it's unhealthy for immigrants to isolate themselves and he's pushing an "integration" agenda.

Giving the example of a teenager in Richmond, B.C., who arrives from mainland China and spends most of his time fraternizing with other Mandarin speakers -- at school, at home, on social networking websites -- Kenney asked how much someone like that would have contact with people of different backgrounds. He believes modern communication -- Internet, satellite television -- slows down the process of integration.

"We don't just want a country that is a bunch of different silos where people don't associate with each other," he said. "Canada isn't a hotel."

He understands new immigrants will seek out family and friends as their first point of contact, but Kenney is concerned that's the only network some new Canadians are building.


"If we are getting in the second or third generation in cities where people are staying more with what they are familiar with than reaching out, that might be a concern and that's all I'm flagging."

Learning English or French, mixing with people of other backgrounds, and embracing Canadian values -- "Western liberal democratic values" -- are integral to moving ahead, Kenney said.

He's floating the idea of a new language program with vouchers and wants to focus multiculturalism programs on building bridges between different communities. He recently blessed a new project which gives Somali youth in Toronto internships with Jewish professionals.

"I don't think what I'm saying is controversial. I think it's common sense," Kenney said.




Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney on ...

- Banning British MP George Galloway from entering Canada

"I think I made the right decision not to make an exception and override the judgment of our officials. ... I think that some people torqued this falsely into a debate about freedom of speech. It was about Mr. Galloway's actions not his words."

- Galloway as a potential threat

"Our law is retrospective, not prospective. That means it looks at what he's done in the past, not what he might do in the future. And what he has done in the past, in his own words, is to provide money to a banned terrorist organization."

- Being petitioned for visa exemptions

"There is a lot of political pressure to override the decisions of our visa officers and the whole immigration system. You have to be open to reasonable concerns that come from immigrant communities and relatives of immigrants who are having maybe difficulties waiting too long for their files to be processed or having short-term visas rejected.

"On the other hand, I have a statutory duty to enforce the law and to ensure that we maintain the integrity of our immigration system."

- Immigrants having to learn English or French

"When people become Canadian citizens, we want to make sure that they have a basic ability to communicate in our basic language, that's our basic law. Of course, kids (under 18) and seniors (over 55) are exempted ... I think that's a very reasonable expectation."

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Border services, police arrest dozens of alleged illegal immigrants

York Reion News

Regional News

April 03, 2009 09:26 AM

Jay Gutteridge

Canada Border Services Agency and South Simcoe Police officers arrested 79 people in Bradford yesterday in an investigation into alleged illegal immigration.
All of the arrests were made under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, making it the largest case of its kind in the history of the GTA.

Officers from the two law-enforcement agencies searched three business operations and several residences to make the arrests.

The Cericola Farms chicken processing plant was one of the businesses searched.

"It went textbook perfect, which is a credit to the people of the Canada Border Services Agency and our officers," South Simcoe Police Chief Bruce J. Davis said, referring to the searches and arrests.

No charges have yet been laid under the Criminal Code of Canada, but a criminal warrant was executed by the Canada Border Services Agency's criminal investigations division. The agency is investigating whether abuse of illegal workers or human trafficking took place.

"Many of the people taken into custody today are themselves victims," Mr. Davis said.

The Canada Border Services Agency, with assistance from South Simcoe Police, has been conducting the investigation into the alleged Immigration and Refugee Protection Act violations for three months.

More than 100 of the agency's personnel and more than 50 South Simcoe Police members were involved.

The people arrested were taken to the Canada Border Services Agency's holding centre in Mississauga.

After 48 hours in custody, each person is entitled to go before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada for a detention review, similar to a bail hearing.

Mr. Davis confirmed the detainees are adults.

The detainees come from various parts of the world and Canada Border Services Agency will have to determine which countries through interviews with them, said Reg Williams, director of inland enforcement for the Canada Border Services Agency in the GTA region.

Mr. Davis said he wasn't surprised by the situation.

"There are many things that go on that would keep people up at night," he said.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


OHIP rules changed for foreign workers

April 01, 2009
Nicholas Keung

A year after hundreds of foreigners on open work permits were denied health insurance in Ontario due to an immigration glitch, the province changed the OHIP rules in order to to fix the problem.

Immigration Canada last April relaxed rules to allow foreign students who graduate from a Canadian university or college to work here for up to three years — an attempt to keep talented people with Canadian credentials to stay here. The rules also apply to some temporary foreign workers.

These open work-permit holders, however, were denied OHIP because their work visas don't name a Canadian employer or indicate their prospective occupation as stipulated under the old immigration law. Without the employer's name, health officials would not issue them health cards.

The changes, effective today, mean all temporary foreign workers or foreign graduates here on "open work permits," along with their spouses and dependants can now receive OHIP as long as they are employed full time in Ontario for a minimum of six months and have lived here for at least 153 days.

According to immigration, 63,673 international students came to Ontario last year and 11,000 postgraduate employment work permits were issued.

It also admitted 66,875 temporary foreign workers. It is not known how many of them were issued an "open" permit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Ottawa sued over alleged marriage frauds

March 31, 2009
Nicholas Keung

A Brampton man is attempting to launch a class-action lawsuit against the federal government for failing to investigate and deport foreigners who allegedly trick Canadians into marriages of convenience.

It is unknown how many cases there are nationally, but Immigration Canada's branch office in Mississauga has about 600 files on immigration fraud cases and a lack of staff has created a major investigative backlog.

Saranjeet Benet, a 37-year-old electrician, and his father Sampuran Benet, founded Canadians Against Immigration Fraud and are asking the Federal Court of Canada for permission to pursue a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Canadian sponsors who married foreigners in good faith but were jilted and end up with emotional scars and financial losses.

"We are not asking for money," said Sampuran Benet, whose Toronto-based non-profit organization boasts 100 members across Canada. "We just want the government to investigate, take action and deport those who defraud Canadians into a marriage in order to immigrate to Canada."

Saranjeet Benet came to Canada as an infant but returned to India in search of a bride. He and Opinder Kaur Saini were married in Punjab in November 2003.

Three years later, she arrived as a permanent resident through the spousal sponsorship program, but left him a month later, on Jan. 15, 2007. Saini moved in with her parents and sister in Brampton.

Benet claims in court records filed in November in the immigration fraud lawsuit that Saini had no interest in consummating the marriage.

However, in documents filed in response to annulment proceedings, Saini, 33, says he abused her upon her arrival in Canada.

When reached in Brampton this week, Saini declined to comment on the fraud allegations.

The annulment is still before the court.

Neither Canada Border Service Agency nor Citizenship and Immigration Canada investigated the complaint of immigration fraud, first filed in March 2007, the Benets claim.

The family also sent letters to then immigration minister Diane Finley demanding action.

"For over a year, (the claimant) has been forced to endure delays in resolving his complaint," Benet said in his 17-page claim.

"He seeks justice for the wrongs inflicted on him by Ms. Saini. The applicant also seeks to represent the interests of thousands of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been the victims of immigration fraud and who, until now, have had no recourse."

In an affidavit filed in Federal Court this month as part of Immigration Canada's defence of the lawsuit, Wendy Seunath, an officer at immigration's Mississauga branch, said the office alone has approximately 600 files involving immigration fraud.

The Benets' file is among those in the queue.

"Such allegations can only be properly and thoroughly evaluated when the file is assigned to an immigration officer, to be reviewed and often investigated further," said Seunath, who has been with the department for 20 years.

"We have a very limited number of immigration officers to review these 600 files and do the required investigations. While we have an obligation and responsibility to process all files ... we cannot investigate all files at once."

Also in the department's statement of defence, federal deputy attorney general John Sims said the lawsuit should be dismissed because the department has other competing priorities and there has not been "an unreasonable delay."

"The ground of inadmissibility alleged by the applicant against his wife is not as serious or pressing as some of the other grounds of inadmissibility" such as subjects of national security threats, Sims said.

A date has not been set for arguments for the class-action application.