Globe and Mail

Having children can't be the path to a passport

Illegal immigrants who give birth shouldn't jump the immigration queue

Monday, July 12, 1999
The Globe and Mail

Sometimes the principles of our legal system are best viewed through a specific take. Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada moved halfway toward affirming the view that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay if they have children here.

Madame Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, writing the unanimous decision, said immigration officers must be "alive, attentive and sensitive" to the interests of these children, and they weren't in the case of Mavis Baker.

The specifics show how pernicious this ruling may be. Ms. Baker came to Canada in 1981. At that time, she left behind four children in Jamaica. She stayed in Canada illegally and worked as a domestic for 11 years. During that time she had four more children.

In 1992, after the birth of her last child, she had a postpartum breakdown. She was unable to work and went on welfare. Two of her kids were taken care of by their father. The two others went into foster care. Late in 1992, Ms. Baker was ordered deported. She appealed on compassionate grounds. A variety of people, including a doctor and social worker, wrote letters saying she was still experiencing mental difficulties. They argued that two of her children, who by then had come out of foster care, were economically dependent on her, and the two others needed her emotional support.

Moreover, life in Jamaica would be hard, in part because she was no longer close to her children there.

When she presented herself to an immigration appeal officer in 1994, the officer was -- let us search for an appropriate word -- peeved. The officer's notes showed that the officer strongly felt that Ms. Baker willfully came here illegally and could be on welfare for the rest of her life. The only humanitarian and compassionate ground for her to stay was that her children were born here. Should that be a deciding factor? "I am of the opinion that Canada can no longer afford this kind of generosity," the officer wrote in notes.

The Supreme Court argued the officer's negative response to Ms. Baker's immigration claim would be seen as "bias" by a "well-informed member of the community." Respectfully, we would suggest the court doesn't know the meaning of word "bias" and hasn't done much community opinion polling recently.

The officer had a strongly negative response to what might be defined as a classic example of the Yiddish word "chutzpah." This is sometimes defined as the gall of a man who kills his mother and father and then begs for leniency on the grounds that he is an orphan.

Ms. Baker has had a sad life, but she is the author of many of her misfortunes, beginning with staying here illegally. But the essential problem with the court's ruling is that it is hard to imagine any case in which separating a mother and/or father from children will not have deleterious effects on the children. The logical response to a parental deportation would be for children to return to their parents' native country.

Nonetheless, if the parents wish their children to stay here because they are Canadian citizens by virtue of birth, so be it. But this country cannot go down a road in which illegal immigrants think if they have a child here, that child translates into a free passage for themselves into Canada. This will throw into disarray the distinction between those who choose Canada and those whom Canada chooses.

This country must not permit the immigration process to become the legal equivalent of a shotgun wedding.

When Ms. Baker's immigration appeal is heard again, the adjudicators should appreciate the sadness of her story but deport her nonetheless. Integrity of immigration principles demands it.

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