Vancouver will be easing up on undocumented immigrants and those lacking citizenship papers thanks to a new policy greenlit by city council on Wednesday.
The verbosely titled "Access to City Services Without Fear for Residents With Uncertain or No Immigration Status" program will be guaranteeing access to basic city services including EMS, fire, homeless outreach, housing, and administrative services for those who can't produce valid citizenship or immigration forms.
It's a move that Zool Suleman, a lawyer who was involved in putting the legislation together, says is part of a movement to make undocumented immigrants "less scared" of their own cities.
"What I am hoping that other cities in Canada can do is something to make non-status immigrants or those without documentation feel not as anxious about everything they do," he told VICE.
Suleman says that migrant workers, including those in the sex work industry, are the most likely to have trouble navigating administrative systems and dealing with public services.
Not included in the plan is approval for those without valid documentation to go to the police, because the Vancouver police force does not follow under city council's jurisdiction.
"If people are afraid of the police, they don't report crime," he told VICE. "When people feel like they can't function like other citizens, they're forced into areas that may be illegal."
In 2013, a Mexican woman named Lucia Vega Jimenez was arrested and held in custody after getting caught for skipping payment of public transit fare. She would later die in custody while awaiting deportation at Vancouver's airport.
Since Jimenez's death, transit police in Vancouver no longer report undocumented immigrants who violate transit law. Suleman is optimistic and says that the police, going forward, have the "right idea" about what the city needs.
"I think they're fully understanding of what we have to do. We need policy that will enforce the law, but will still allow people to live without fear."
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