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CTV: Rallies protest deportation of illegal workers

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Updated Sat. May. 27 2006 11:46 PM ET News Staff

Immigrants, refugees and their supporters gathered in Toronto and other cities to protest the deportation of illegal workers.

Protesters in Toronto on Saturday called on the federal government to give immediate permanent residence or landed immigrant status to all illegal workers.

They complained about Canadian Border Services Agency officers of targeting non-status workers in shopping malls and subways.

Protesters also brought up the one case where officers nabbed two children in school as "bait" for the children.

In Toronto, the increased enforcement has particularly affected Portuguese workers who have overstayed temporary work permits.

Olivia Chow, the Toronto NDP MP whose Trinity-Spadina riding has a large Portuguese component, told the crowd that she expects a motion asking the government to temporarily suspend deportations will pass at the committee level and come before the House of Commons this week.

Organizers put the number of undocumented workers in Canada at 500,000.

However, the Conservative government is taking a firm official stance on illegal immigrants.

"We have an obligation to the hundreds of thousands of people waiting to get into this country to make sure we don't reward those who don't play by the rules," Immigration Minister Monte Solberg has said.

Behind the scenes, however, the Conservatives are working hard to win over new Canadians whose votes are concentrated in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver -- cities that didn't elect even one Tory in the 2006 election.

"The Prime Minister's asked me, for instance, to work hard to build bridges with cultural communities in Canada who add tremendously to our wealth, both cultural and economic," said Jason Kenney, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary.

For example, the Conservatives have eased adoption rules for foreign-born children, streamlined the citizenship process, slashed the immigrant landing fee and set up a public inquiry into the Air India disaster.

However, despite all that, supporters of immigrants still don't trust the Tories.

"What we've seen since the Harper government has come into power, in Toronto has been an increase in deportations," said Kelly O'Sullivan of Solidarity Across Borders.

In the United States, immigration has flared into a huge political issue.

Following a spring of massive protests, the U.S. Senate passed a new immigration bill on Thursday that will give some of that country's estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at eventual citizenship.

However, the bill will require further talks with the House of Representatives over compromises on the issue of border enforcement. Those talks are expected to be difficult.