Don­ald Trump’s crack­down on un­doc­u­mented immigrants in the U.S. means Hamil­ton and just a few other Cana­dian mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with “sanc­tu­ary city” poli­cies will be bea­cons of hope for peo­ple flee­ing their home­lands

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - jwells@thes­pec.com 905-526-3515 | @jon­jwells

IT WAS JUST THREE YEARS AGO, but in some ways it was an­other world.

The vote at Hamil­ton City Hall came be­fore sav­age ter­ror­ist at­tacks in France, be­fore Canada ac­cepted refugees from wartorn Syria, and 16 months be­fore re­al­ity TV show char­ac­ter Don­ald Trump de­clared his can­di­dacy for pres­i­dent.

Feb. 12, 2014, was when Hamil­ton was dubbed a sanc­tu­ary city, fol­low­ing a coun­cil vote that meant it would be the sec­ond Cana­dian city to de­clare it would pro­vide refugees with ser­vices such as emer­gency shelters, re­cre­ation, public tran­sit, li­braries, food banks, and po­lice and fire ser­vices with­out ask­ing ques­tions about their sta­tus.

It’s an open ques­tion if the mea­sure — which did not use the phrase “sanc­tu­ary city” but rather “Ac­cess to Ser­vices for Un­doc­u­mented In­di­vid­u­als” — has car­ried much weight.

But for those peo­ple in re­cent weeks who have been mak­ing po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous breaks for freedom at the Cana­dian bor­der, any city declar­ing it­self a sanc­tu­ary rep­re­sents life-sav­ing refuge in the age of Trump — even if such ide­al­ism may ul­ti­mately be mis­placed.

HAMIL­TON COUN­CIL­LOR Ja­son Farr says the sanc­tu­ary city pol­icy has not been a mere moth­er­hood state­ment, and the proof is in how ef­fec­tively Hamil­ton has wel­comed Syr­ian refugees (1,491 to date).

But Coun. Donna Skelly, who was not on coun­cil back then, coun­ters it “has no teeth” be­cause im­mi­gra­tion is an is­sue for se­nior lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

“It’s a won­der­ful mes­sage to say ‘we wel­come you’ but it has zero clout,” she said. “This is an is­sue the feds and prov­ince will need to ad­dress, be­cause that’s where se­ri­ous change can be made.”

The vote in 2014 came af­ter lob­by­ing from a lo­cal cit­i­zens’ group, the Hamil­ton Sanc­tu­ary City Coali­tion, in light of fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that led to de­por­ta­tions of mi­grant work­ers liv­ing here with­out le­gal sta­tus.

But the is­sue of un­doc­u­mented immigrants and refugees has since taken on new dimensions, with the mas­sive dis­place­ment of peo­ple from civil war in Syria and Iraq: 65 mil­lion in 2015 alone, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. By com­par­i­son about 60 mil­lion were dis­placed af­ter the Sec­ond World War.

Add to that equa­tion the rise of Trump-fu­elled na­tion­al­ism and calls for tight­en­ing bor­ders in the U.S. and Europe, and there seems po­ten­tial for new waves of refugees to fil­ter to cities that have de­clared them­selves sanc­tu­ar­ies — like Hamil­ton and Toronto, and more re­cently Mon­treal and Lon­don, Ont.

In a sense, while the scale may yet prove to be un­prece­dented, this is noth­ing new for Hamil­ton, a di­verse bor­der town with a big-hearted tra­di­tion.

In the late 1970s, lo­cal churches took up the cause of ac­cept­ing and pro­tect­ing refugees from the Viet­nam War, and then again in the 1980s for those who fled the dev­as­ta­tion of war in Cen­tral Amer­ica.

In the new post-Cold War world of the 1990s, Hamil­ton took in refugees from war in Kosovo and Bos­nia when the for­mer Yu­goslavia dis­in­te­grated.

The late 1980s was when Ines Rios started her work in Hamil­ton as direc­tor of what is now called the Immigrants Work­ing Cen­tre, help­ing set­tle refugees from El Sal­vador and Nicaragua.

She says refugees find­ing their way in a strange city are hes­i­tant to seek ba­sic city ser­vices for fear of be­ing asked about their un­doc­u­mented sta­tus.

They feel marginal­ized, she says, and may go into hid­ing or even turn to crime be­cause of the per­ceived need to sur­vive.

Rios isn’t sure how much tan­gi­ble im­pact the lo­cal sanc­tu­ary city pol­icy has had to date, but sug­gests the cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion cli­mate may put it to the test.

“We started (at the cen­tre) be­cause of that need 30 years ago, for peo­ple ask­ing for pro­tec­tion,” she said. “We re­sponded well that time; we will re­spond this time as well.”

Some who lob­bied Hamil­ton coun­cil­lors three years ago to de­clare a sanc­tu­ary city be­lieve the des­ig­na­tion has ac­com­plished lit­tle.

Blake McCall, a res­i­dent who spoke at coun­cil on the is­sue, says the city has failed to live up to the in­tent of the pol­icy, sug­gest­ing few re­sources have been al­lo­cated to­ward im­ple­ment­ing it, such as train­ing staff on how to deal with refugees, or lob­by­ing se­nior lev­els of gov­ern­ment to get in­volved in ar­eas such as health care and ed­u­ca­tion, where the city has no ju­ris­dic­tion.

Cities are a start, McCall sug­gested, but what he thinks is needed is for On­tario to be­come “a sanc­tu­ary prov­ince.”

On that note, Mayor Fred Eisenberger says he plans to raise the is­sue of ed­u­ca­tion ac­cess for un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents with the school board.

“We want to em­brace peo­ple who come here to make a new life,” he said, con­ced­ing the city can only speak for ser­vices pro­vided lo­cally.

“I’m happy that Hamil­ton is a sanc­tu­ary city, and proud to say it loud and clear.”

Toronto’s city coun­cil reaf­firmed its sta­tus as a sanc­tu­ary city last month. But a re­cent story in the Toronto Star quoted a refugee set­tle­ment of­fi­cial call­ing the des­ig­na­tion “a joke,” in part be­cause mem­bers of the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice have in cer­tain cases passed along in­for­ma­tion about un­doc­u­mented refugees to the Cana­dian Bor­der Ser­vices Agency.

Hamil­ton Po­lice Ser­vice, for its part, told The Spec­ta­tor through a spokesper­son that of­fi­cers “sub­scribe to the let­ter and spirit of the (sanc­tu­ary city) pol­icy” and a res­i­dent’s sta­tus would never be “an im­ped­i­ment to ser­vice de­liv­ery in any way from a polic­ing per­spec­tive … We will con­tinue to pro­vide polic­ing ser­vices to all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity re­gard­less of sta­tus.”

The no­tion of a sanc­tu­ary city goes back to an­cient times, when cities were des­ig­nated as places of asylum for those ac­cused of ac­ci­den­tal man­slaugh­ter.

The term came into the mod­ern lex­i­con in North Amer­ica in the 1970s when Los An­ge­les passed sanc­tu­ary city leg­is­la­tion. To­day there are more than 30 such cities in the U.S.

But in re­cent years the con­cept has come un­der fire from im­mi­gra­tion hawks in the U.S., the con­nec­tion be­tween crime and “il­le­gals” the ral­ly­ing cry for Trump and many of his sup­port­ers. (Trump has threat­ened to with­draw fed­eral funding to sanc­tu­ary cities like Chicago.)

Trump fea­tures promi­nently on the home page of a Texas-based ad- vo­cacy group in the U.S. called the Re­mem­brance Project, which sup­ports fam­i­lies “whose loved ones were killed by illegal aliens” and calls this vi­o­lence an “epi­demic across the coun­try.”

Eisenberger ac­cuses the new pres­i­dent of stok­ing fear in North Amer­ica and around the world: “It is ir­ra­tional fear, but then that is some­times what fear is.”

Henry Giroux, who was born in the U.S., teaches cul­tural stud­ies at McMaster Univer­sity, and is au­thor of “Amer­ica at War with It­self,” rains rhetor­i­cal fire upon Trump for his im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

And he sug­gests the con­cept of sanc­tu­ary should be rad­i­cally ex­panded.

In­sti­tu­tions such as schools, univer­si­ties, churches, syn­a­gogues and mosques should take on the role of “democ­ra­cies in ex­ile,” supporting un­doc­u­mented immigrants and help­ing teach what democ­racy is about.

He loves Hamil­ton for its of­fi­cial po­si­tion on the is­sue and says sanc­tu­ary is “a metaphor for tak­ing se­ri­ously what it means for so­ci­ety to never be ‘just’ enough … We won’t or­ga­nize around shared fears, but around shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.”

But the ap­par­ent pop­u­lar­ity of Trump­ism in the U.S. and be­yond sug­gests there is ex­treme po­lar­iza­tion on the emo­tion­ally charged, com­plex is­sue: the view­point of the mayor or Giroux is ei­ther en­light­ened com­pas­sion or blind­ness to dan­ger­ous re­al­i­ties.

In the end, the gulf be­tween the two sides per­haps rep­re­sents fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on hu­man na­ture and civic duty.

One such per­spec­tive ap­pears on a plaque at one of the most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions in New York City.

The poem, called The New Colos­sus, was penned in 1883 by Emma Lazarus. Here at our sea-washed, sun­set gates shall stand A mighty wo­man with a torch, whose flame Is the im­pris­oned light­ning, and her name Mother of Ex­iles. From her bea­con-hand … Give me your tired, your poor, your hud­dled masses yearn­ing to breathe free The wretched refuse of your teem­ing shore.

De­pend­ing on your point of view, the words on the plaque at the Statue of Lib­erty, which sits 30 kilo­me­tres from where Don­ald John Trump was born, rep­re­sent a sa­cred com­mit­ment, with all the im­pli­ca­tions therein.

Or they are just words.

“That’s how we started (at the immigrant cen­tre) be­cause of that need 30 years ago, for peo­ple ask­ing for pro­tec­tion.” INES RIOS DIREC­TOR, IMMIGRANTS WORK­ING CEN­TRE “We want to em­brace peo­ple who come here to make a new life.” FRED EISENBERGER HAMIL­TON MAYOR “We will con­tinue to pro­vide polic­ing ser­vices to all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity re­gard­less of sta­tus.” HAMIL­TON PO­LICE SER­VICE



Fam­ily mem­bers from So­ma­lia are helped into Canada by RCMP of­fi­cers at the U.S.-Canada bor­der in Que­bec a week ago. The num­ber of asylum seekers cross­ing into Canada is ex­pected to grow as the weather gets warmer.


A cou­ple claim­ing to be from Turkey are warned by an RCMP of­fi­cer be­fore cross­ing the U.S.-Canada bor­der into Que­bec on Thurs­day.

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