Hamilton has always been recognized as a caring community to its diverse residents.
It has a reputation of welcoming desperate newcomers and providing an oasis in their times of need.
The firebombing of the Hindu Samaj Temple in 2001 seems more of an outlier than an undercurrent of anger. Out of that despicable incident the community helped to create what is now the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, improved relations with the city’s diverse community and extended outreach programs for newcomers.
So it was with great surprise and disgust that soon after Hamilton council unanimously approved a recommendation to assist undocumented immigrants that politicians received mean-spirited and in some cases racist emails and phone calls.
The anti-immigrant response became so troubling that politicians took the first opportunity to properly explain how the new guidelines will assist undocumented immigrants, while not putting any extra burden on taxpayers.
While not officially a sanctuary city, which pledges to give undocumented immigrants access to city services, the guidelines for Hamilton allow staff to provide information, and allow undocumented people to seek help from the municipality.
Some councillors were outraged at how Hamiltonians responded. Councillors pointed out residents have usually been extremely welcoming to newcomers and helping people who are lost in an unfamiliar country.
“Hamilton has always been a carrying community,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark. “If (people) don’t like it, then don’t live here. We’re helping people who don’t know where to turn.”
In 2013, Toronto became Canada’s first official sanctuary city. It joined 36 other American cities to assist immigrants who, through no fault of their own, don’t have the proper documentation while in the country.
Under Hamilton’s policy newcomers will be able to access city services, such as shelters, food banks and housing without fear of deportation, or them being turned over to police or government authorities.
Local studies have found that undocumented immigrants’ greatest fear in seeking help is of being discovered then deported. While there is no specific number of how many people are in Canadian without proper documentation, the estimate is about 120,000. And it is expected to increase in 2015 when the federal government changes its immigration policies and legal, but temporary foreign workers will see their permits expire.
Canada’s immigrant minister, Chris Alexander, even took a swipe at Hamilton council, arguing the policy will encourage more people to abuse the system. Councillors disagree, saying it will help the most vulnerable.
These undocumented immigrants are not people seeking a free ride. Instead, it’s the migrant worker who has had his papers taken from him by an overbearing employer, or the female immigrant who has been left without hope by an unscrupulous employer and is abused, and forced into unspeakable acts.
Johnson insisted there is no extra cost to taxpayers for the city to follow any of the guidelines within the program. Front-line city employees with be further trained to be sympatric and helpful to the undocumented immigrants, who are only seeking help to retain their dignity, and fight for survival.
It is the very least this community can do for people in desperate need and asking for help.