City councillors are looking at how they can help immigrants without proper permits still get access to city services.

At a meeting of council's community and public services committee Monday, councillors heard that many undocumented workers in Edmonton are scared to talk to government workers out of fear it could lead to their deportation.

"They see government office space as where they can get deported," said Marco Luciano, executive director with immigrant advocacy group Migrante Alberta. 

"At that context, they won't access any services from government. This is why they are really fearful of any government officials or police, especially." 

It's a growing concern, he said. Luciano estimates there could be as many as 25,000 people living in Edmonton without proper documentation.

Encouraging access to government services

Considering these individuals need to access government services, councillors voted Monday to bring forward a draft "Access without Fear" policy.

Similar policies have been implemented by city councils in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Access without Fear policies help to provide a sanctuary to immigrants without proper permits by allowing them to still access many of the services a Canadian citizen could, without being questioned about their immigration status.

Luciano said that's critical for these immigrants, who often feel isolated and fear deportation. He added that government employees like police officers also need to rethink their policies on carding during street checks.

"Most undocumented, if not all, are law-abiding migrants. Having no status is not a crime. Getting picked up because of lack of status is really unfair," he said.

Many of the Canadian cities that have adopted similar policies have been hailed as co-called sanctuary cities.

Edmonton deputy police chief Brian Simpson told councillors that local police officers don't often deal with these types of cases.

"We do see it. We do work with Canadian Border Services as normal course," Simpson said, adding that the legal process for undocumented immigrants is not as harsh as some may think. "Our system in Canada is not, 'You're caught, you're out.' "

Simpson added that the Edmonton Police Commission could review the matter at its next meeting.

The "Access without Fear" issue is expected to go to council for a vote once administration has developed a policy.

Councillors Bev Esslinger, Moe Banga, Ed Gibbons, Scott McKeen and Mayor Don Iveson, who make up the community services committee, all voted in favour of creating a draft Access without Fear policy.