It has been a rough period for the estimated 800,000 "Dreamers" in the U.S. — young people who availed themselves of the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the past few years. DACA was implemented to give certain young, undocumented migrants, who were brought to the U.S. as minors, temporary protection from deportation action as well as the ability to work legally while in the States.
After flip-flopping on the issue over the course of several months, President Trump finally brought down the hammer on Sept. 5, announcing formally that DACA would be axed, but deferring execution for six months, effectively passing the ball to Congress to deal with the messy aftermath.
In response, former president Obama issued a scathing criticism of President Trump's decision, calling out his move as "self-defeating" and "cruel." Obama forcefully reiterated the initial rationale behind DACA and the unpassed DREAM Act — to give kids of migrants who grew up in America a chance in life. A chance to go to school. A chance to work and make a living. A chance to serve their country.
In the former president's words: "it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents."
For young undocumented Canadian migrants who may have lived most of their lives in the country, there is no corresponding Canadian DACA.
Many in Canada agree with that logic. Most notably, Senator Ratna Omidvar has gone on record proposing that Canada give special consideration to 10,000 to 30,000 of those affected by the DACA repeal, either through existing economic immigration programs or as international students in Canadian schools. Since U.S. "Dreamers" need to pass stringent criminal checks and other eligibility criteria such as educational requirements, Canada could benefit from a talented, educated, young labour pool — something that its current economic immigration streams are geared to look for anyway.
If it that is the case, doesn't it make more sense for us to be looking within our own borders first? What are we doing for our own children of undocumented migrants? What are we doing for the Canadian "Dreamers"?
The answer is, quite simply, not very much.
For young undocumented Canadian migrants who may have lived most of their lives in the country, there is no corresponding Canadian DACA. There is no reprieve from the constant threat of arrest, detention, and deportation, save for a Hail Mary attempt at regularization through a Humanitarian & Compassionate (H&C) application.
However, the H&C regime by nature is a very resource-intensive, lengthy, case-by-case system which attempts to make the difficult determination of whether there are circumstances sufficiently compelling for an individual to stay in Canada.
A far better solution would be to take a page from the Obama administration's playbook and construct an amnesty program that would allow young migrants to regularize their status in Canada, assuming they meet a certain set of predetermined parameters.
By marginalizing its undocumented migrants in this way, Canada is throwing thousands upon thousands of talented and young individuals under the bus.
There is historical precedent for amnesty programs in Canada as well. In fact, it was Pierre Elliott Trudeau's administration that introduced the Administrative Measures Project of 1972 and the Adjustment of Status Program in 1973, which altogether regularized the status of over 50,000 persons in Canada. It remains to be seen whether the younger Trudeau would consider a similar course of action.
In the meantime, Canada is treating its young, undocumented migrants abysmally. The Canadian Border Services Agency continues to detain minors in immigration holding facilities, despite statements from the UN indicating that such practices fall offside of Canada's international human rights obligations.
By marginalizing its undocumented migrants in this way, Canada is throwing many talented and young individuals under the bus. Tragically, as in the case with our neighbours down south, we are wasting some of our most precious human resources.
Given the fallout from the revocation of DACA in the U.S., it is time for Canada to revisit how we treat our own young, undocumented migrants. It is time for us to stand up and protect our own Canadian "Dreamers."
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