While the health-care debate in the U.S. may be winding down, immigration activists south of the border are jostling to secure centre stage for their own cause -- comprehensive immigration reform.


Canadians should take note, because we are dealing with identical issues here, just on a different scale.

Yesterday, tens of thousands of people attended a rally in Washington, D.C. to make sure President Barack Obama doesn’t forget his 2008 election promise to overhaul the American immigration system within his first year in office and to create a path to citizenship for those without status.

It is estimated that there are about 11 to 12 million undocumented workers in the United States. In Canada, conservative estimates place Canada’s illegals at about 500,000 -- I suspect it’s higher, but I digress.

Two senators, Democrat Charles Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham, have proposed a plan which would require biometric Social Security cards to ensure illegals can’t find work anywhere in the country. However, they balance that proposal with a “fair plan to legalization” for illegals because “the American people deserve more than empty rhetoric and impractical calls for mass deportations.”

In Canada, there is a lot of talk about getting tougher on illegals, but little practical dialogue about providing a path to the legalization of our illegal workers.

In the past 23 years of immigration practice, I have handled the cases of thousands of foreign workers who our immigration department caught working here illegally. In none of those cases can I recall a single Canadian employer ever being prosecuted for employing one of these workers without authorization.

The conventional wisdom has always been that our immigration department was reluctant to pursue these cases, since it seldom scored many political points for the government of the day when it spent its limited resources prosecuting Canadian citizens and businesses rather than chasing down more illegals.

However, a rare case last summer gives us reason to question if the federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney subscribes to this philosophy.

Gerard Schouwenaar, the owner of a St. Catherines greenhouse operation, pleaded his company guilty to employing two foreign workers without proper authorization.

The company had hired these seasonal workers through an agency that contractually promised to ensure that the supplied workers were properly documented. The workers had work permits authorizing them to work in Canada, but for a different company and not for Schouwenaar’s.

The company was fined $5,000 because it wasn’t able to show “due diligence” in verifying their workers’ immigration status.

It is clear that on both sides of the border, politicians are getting tough or talking tough on illegal workers.

However, in the U.S. they are also talking about addressing the prickly problem of legalizing the deserving members of a large and growing population of underground workers.

In Canada, we are talking tough and maybe even getting tough on illegal workers. But we have yet to find the courage to talk practically about a virtual army of workers who are doing work here that few of us want but which we all need done.

– Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email metro@migrationlaw.com