‘Mr. Minister, you have walked the walk’

An open letter to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Ahmed Hussen (centre) poses with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) and Governor-General David Johnston after being sworn in as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Dear  Minister Hussen,

Let me congratulate you on your appointment as Minster of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

As I am sure you are aware, your appointment has been greeted with elation in many communities across Canada. In your own Somalian community in Toronto, there has been great  rejoicing over the news that  a former refugee, Canada’s first Somalian-Canadian Member of Parliament, has been chosen to take up the position of Minister of Refugees.

In my own Caribbean community, in your riding of  York South-Weston, there  has been  a  tremendously positive response to your ministerial appointment as well.

However, despite a general feeling of elation over your high-level appointment, I must let you know that there are many who view your  promotion to the Trudeau cabinet with cautious optimism. Sad to say,  many  remain cynical about the whole process. They have seen ministers come and go and the  plight of  the undocumented remains largely unresolved.

We know that with your background as an immigration lawyer, you, a former refugee, will bring to your new job a great awareness of the plight of  the undocumented and the refugees. You have walked the walk. You have personal knowledge of the pain, stress, anxiety,  and uncertainty of these people who have landed on our shores in unfortunate circumstances and are in  desperate need of our help.

Yet, I feel it would be remiss of me not to remind you of some outstanding matters  with respect to your portfolio. I raised some of these matters in an open letter to  your predecessor not so long ago and I feel it necessary to raise them again.

During the last election, your government promised certain legislative changes with respect to certain category of immigration and I hope you vigorously pursue   this matter and strongly consider plans to develop an unprecedented program to deal with a hidden problem-the thousands of illegal immigrants in Canada’s vast underground economy.  There are persons who are here for over twenty years facing removal and some sort of policy should be instituted to stem the  tide of deportation of those who are worthy of a second chance.

At present, as I am sure you are aware, very large numbers of persons are removed from Canada on a daily basis, Most of these persons have lived productive lives here, have no criminal record and some even have Canadian-born children and spouses.  So why remove them?

Mr. Minister, I want to share with you – as I did with your predecessor -a view of the Immigration Department and the Minister’s role in that department. I have been a very active person for nearly 40 years in the field of immigration in Canada.

Over the years that I have been in Canada, I have been left with the impression that Ministers of Immigration are too far removed from the day-to-day decision-making that affects the lives and fortunes of so many people. I pointed  this out in a letter to  your predecessor. I cannot say whether he took serious note of what I said but forgive me, Mr. Minister, if I left with the sad feeling that many decisions are made in the name of the Minister of Immigration which are devoid of humanity.  In fact, I have often wondered if the Ministers really knew what was being done in their names.

Mr. Minister, it is important for you to ask the bureaucrats who surround you a lot of questions.  Don’t be too quick to go along with their advice.  As a refugee, immigrant and immigration lawyer, you  yourself  are familiar with the Immigration Act and Policy (guidelines). Ask yourself whether these policies and the legislation are fair  before making up your mind about immigration-related issues.

Don’t be over-awed by all the bureaucratic claptrap, all the legalistic jargon which obscures rather than clarifies situations in which the immigration department finds itself.

There is over a 90 per cent rejection rate of these applications and it is causing pain and hardship to loved ones.  The present policy is not only inhumane but splitting families, contrary to what is enshrined in the Act.

Consider recent Federal Court decisions dealing with humanitarian cases.  Show up at the airports from time to time and meet some of the arriving visitors and immigrants.  Listen to their stories which may be similar to yours and ask yourself:  Are their situations

fair and just ? You may learn something which you probably will never know if you are surrounded by bureaucrats who are mainly concerned about protecting their own turf.

Never forget that you are an elected official and that you have to keep in touch with “the people,” many of them immigrants themselves, who will ultimately decide whether you remain in office.

Of course, we all realize that the job of Minister of Immigration is not an easy one but those who are fortunate enough to be appointed to the position must understand that they have a big opportunity to make changes in people’s lives.

Let it be said, Mr. Minister, that during your tenure, you made changes for the better because you were a refugee and immigrant from a developing country and  personally knew the aches and pain of people in these situations.

SUKHRAM  RAMKISSOON is al member of ICCRC  and specializes in Immigration Matters at No. 3089 Bathurst Street, Suite 219A, Toronto, Ontario.  Phone 416-789-5756.