Liberal MPs divided on illegal immigration: report

The number of migrants living in Canada illegally is unknown, but an estimated 600,000 people could be in the country without status. Cabinet discussions on ‘regularizing’ undocumented workers remain ongoing.

Liberal MPs divided on illegal immigration: report
The Canadian Press / Chris Young and The Canadian Press / Patrick Doyle
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Some Liberal MPs are not on board with Cabinet providing illegal immigrants a pathway to permanent residency, according to media reports. 

The federal government proposed a federal program to offer former international students and rejected asylum claimants an application process to remain in Canada. No such program has been finalized.

“If there is a clear conclusion, I will be quite clear to Canadians about it, but there isn’t one right now,” said Immigration Minister Marc Miller. 

The number of migrants living in Canada illegally is unknown, but an estimated 600,000 people could be in the country without status.

A cabinet inquiry revealed 36,075 foreign students have claimed asylum in Canada since 2018, Of those a total 32,855 were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Migrants who have lived in Canada for several years and those with children born here would qualify for the proposed “regularization” program.

In 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed then-immigration minister Sean Fraser to “further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.” 

But shifting attitudes towards immigration have stunned the program’s progression.

Granting illegal immigrants in Canada the right to stay has earned swift pushback from the Liberal caucus, Minister Miller told the Globe and Mail last Monday.

These are “views that I respect,” he said, from people “that [you] would [not] necessarily think would have that thought process.”

Cabinet discussions remain ongoing, with potential legislation likely months away from introduction. 

Miller then pivoted to say: “When you educate Canadians,” they are “more inclined” to support regularization.

In an interview with the NPR program Freakonomics, he went on to minimize the impact illegal immigration had on taxpayers. 

Room and board for migrants costs $224 per day, according to recent immigration data. By comparison, Old Age Security pays recipients $26 daily.

The typical hotel stays amounted to $140 per day, with food costing $84, reported Blacklock’s Reporter. Conservative MP Lianne Rood requested the figures.

Accommodating migrants “ensures [they] are treated with compassion and efficiency while preserving the integrity of the immigration system,” reads a cabinet inquiry.

The Budget Office in a 2018 report Costing Irregular Migration Across Canada’s Southern Border said federal expenses averaged $14,321 per illegal immigrant. Costs were as high as $33,700, depending on backlogs.

Room and board for illegal immigrants cost $769 million last year, according to December 7 testimony at the Senate national finance committee.

The total cost of illegal immigration for local authorities, school boards, food banks and charities has not been calculated. 

Minister Miller earlier cheered on Canada’s population for reaching 40 million. “This is about sustaining Canada,” he said. “That is not doable without people coming in from abroad.”

Illegal immigrants primarily entered Canada through Québec, but have also come through Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.

In contrast, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told a French outlet last month that immigration numbers will be “much lower” if he becomes prime minister.

“It’s impossible to invite 1.2 million new people to Canada every year,” he said. “When you’re building 200,000 housing units, it’s impossible. There’s no room.”

The federal government has frozen annual immigration targets at 500,000 new permanent residents for 2026, in addition to slashing the number of international study permits. 

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