By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun December 11, 2014
Community groups who work with undocumented migrants are reporting an increase in arrests of workers by the Canada Border Services Agency in recent months.
“We’ve definitely heard far more anecdotes of CBSA raids, particularly at construction sites, work sites and different workplaces,” said Harsha Walia of the group No One Is Illegal, which operates a phone line for people in immigration detention. “There’s more and more people who call.”
Byron Cruz of Sanctuary Health said he is aware of at least three such incidents in the last month. On Nov. 18, a group of Jamaican workers were apprehended by CBSA officers in Richmond. They were in the country legally, but under the terms of their work permits were only authorized to be in Canada to work for a specific farm-based employer, Cruz said. When the workers did not show up at the farm, their employer called CBSA, Cruz said.
No one from CBSA was available for an interview, but spokeswoman Stefanie Wudel confirmed in an email that CBSA officers were working in Richmond that day.
“Inland enforcement officers did not visit a work site, however in the course of their regular duties, officers encountered individuals who were in contravention of the (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act),” she said in an email.
Cruz said many undocumented labourers have been afraid to come to work in recent weeks because of rumours of apprehensions in the Metrotown area, but the CBSA could not confirm this. There have also been isolated cases of cleaners showing up at clients’ houses to find CBSA officers waiting for them, Cruz said.
“The CBSA is committed to the removal of all foreign nationals who are deemed inadmissible to Canada, especially those with a history of serious criminality or who pose a threat to national security,” Wudel said. “Removals of individuals with immigration violations are necessary to maintain the integrity of Canada’s immigration program.”
The agency does not track how many work site visits are conducted over a given time period. But the CBSA’s Pacific Region removed 596 people from Canada between April and November of this year. Of those, 418 were non-criminal and 178 were removed due to criminality, Wudel said.
Another way undocumented migrants come to the attention of the CBSA is thTransit policesit police, who sometimes call CBSA to verify a person’s identity if the person has been caught for fare evasion and is unable or unwilling to produce identification.
This is what happened to Lucia Vega Jimenez, the Mexican woman apprehended first by Transit police and then CBSA at the Main Street SkyTrain station. She later killed herself at an airport holding cell while awaiting deportation. At the inquest into Jimenez’s death, the Transit police officer who questioned her said he called CBSA after Jimenez gave him two different names that did not show up on public databases, and because she had an accent.
In response, members of No One Is Illegal and Sanctuary Health launched a campaign called Transportation Not Deportation to discourage Transit police from working with CBSA. Last year, Transit police called CBSA 328 times, said organizer Omar Chu. The group will hold a vigil at the Main Street station on Sunday, a few days before the anniversary of Jimenez’s death, to encourage Transit police to stop this practice.
“If you were someone who didn’t take transit and you drove, then law enforcement would not be involved. You would get a parking ticket and CBSA would not be involved in that,” Walia said. “There’s no reason they need to be turned over to CBSA or (Vancouver police) or any other law enforcement agency.”
The CBSA’s Wudel said such partnerships “are crucial in ensuring the safety and security of our country and citizens. Partners will refer cases to the CSBA for reasons including: outstanding warrants, criminality, overstay, to verify identity, and for working without authorization.
“If in the course of their regular duties, a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that someone is in violation of the (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act), they have the authority to arrest and detain that individual and present this person to the CBSA.”
Transit police did not respond to an interview request by deadline Thursday.