Illegal workers in Toronto's underground economy are being deported as the new Conservative government abandons a Liberal amnesty plan, immigration lawyers and consultants say.
Some families who have been in Canada five years or more are being given less than two weeks to pack up and leave.
Toronto's Portuguese community — with up to 15,000 undocumented members, working mainly in the booming construction industry — is especially concerned.
Early last year, then-Immigration Minister Joe Volpe said he would try to find a way to get legal status for undocumented workers.
"They are here already and have proven themselves to be integrated," Volpe said at the time.
Last May, he said he had signed off on a final draft and the plan was set to go to cabinet. But nothing was done during the following six months before the Liberals were defeated.
And I'm amazed to the Star, of all publications, tacitly approving the practice of hiring illegal migrant workers to drive down wages and keep contractors off the hook for worker's comp claims and other benefits.
"I've seen a larger number of (removal) letters going out to people," Peter Ferreira, president of the Portuguese National Council and a former senior immigration officer, said in an interview. "I've been getting more calls from people who are concerned. They see the writing is on the wall."
Apart from personal hardship for people now firmly entrenched in Canada, the flurry of deportations could devastate the construction industry, Ferreira said. "This group — it's been proven and any union president or employer will say — don't get rid of these people because we need them.
"Imagine expelling thousands of construction workers when the construction industry is desperate for skilled labour ... Consider the contribution made by these people.
"It doesn't make sense. These people are contributing to Canada's well-being and economy."
To ease the shortage, Canada offers one-year temporary work permits for people with construction skills. The annual quota of 500 is never met, Ferreira said. "So we need these (undocumented) people even more."
Mind you, I'd rather have hard-working, culturally compatible Portuguese immigrants in Toronto than Jamaican gangsters and radical Islamic riffraff.
In a time when our immigration system has been exposed as a weak link in the national security chain, we can't afford to turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants of any kind, no matter how safe they might be.