(Here is an update on last month's Sanctuary City Story. It was originally published on http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/ where you can find more information on the Sanctuary City movement.)The City of Hamilton has become the second Canadian municipality to declare itself a Sanctuary City. Hamiltonians cheered Wednesday night as City Council voted unanimously to ensure that municipal and municipally-funded services are accessible to Hamiltonians without full immigration status documents.
"This is the beginning of treating people equally, no matter what their immigration status is. Today is a first step on a long journey. It’s a commitment not just by City Hall but by service providers and Hamiltonians at large to work together to ensure justice for our undocumented neighbours,” noted Maria Antelo, Community Development Coordinator with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.
The move to make Hamilton a Sanctuary City has been spearheaded by the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition (HSCC) of which Antelo is a member. HSCC was formed in June 2013 with support from Toronto’s Solidarity City Network. (Toronto became Canada’s first Sanctuary City last February.)Some History
In June 2013, in response to requests by members of the community, Hamilton City Council directed staff to engage with local agencies. The goal was to investigate how undocumented individuals are treated in Hamilton. A report was forwarded to the Emergency and Community Services Committee.
The City of Hamilton subsequently partnered with the HSCC to document the experiences of those living with precarious status in Hamilton.
The HSCC research and consultation found that:
· access to health care and police services remain the primary concern of those with precarious status.
· fear of detection, detention and deportation is a major obstacle preventing many from obtaining services to which they would otherwise have access.
· precarious status disproportionately affects women. Women are vulnerable because they often come to Canada using temporary visas and family sponsorships.
· women with precarious status are often vulnerable to domestic violence and exploitation.
· children are the most severely impacted by precarious status. This status restricts their access to the nutritious food, recreational programs, and daycare activities that are necessary for a healthy development.
Council’s decision means that the City of Hamilton will revise its antiracism training. Soon all staff will be aware of and support the City’s commitment to serve Hamiltonians living with precarious or undocumented immigration status. Hamiltonians will become aware of their rights under the new policies.
Caitlin Craven from the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition expressed her delight with the outcome:
“Today Hamilton has begun the process of becoming a Sanctuary City. Access without Fear means that all residents of the City would be able to access city services without fear of deportation or detention.”
In the future people accessing city services will not require any immigration status documentation. If that documentation is necessary for providing the service it would not be disclosed to federal immigration agencies.
The Coalition must be commended for its advocacy work. Hamilton now joins a growing movement of municipalities rallying to put the interests of their community ahead of those of federal immigration policymakers and enforcers.
The Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition is a made up of individuals and community organizations. Agencies supporting the initiative include the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC), Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area (SACHA), Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), Immigrant Women’s Centre (IWC), Hamilton Safe Communities Coalition (HSCC), Good Shepherd, Micah House, Neighbour 2 Neighbour Centre (N2N), The Well, LGBTQ Wellness Centre of Hamilton, the Ecumenical Support Committee for Refugees, Community Information Hamilton, the Canadian African Multicultural Association, Refuge Hamilton Centre for Newcomer Health, the Neighbor to Neighbor Centre, and Anti Racists and Allies of Hamilton.