The city of Hamilton is looking into how it treats new Canadians without official status, the first step in potentially becoming a "sanctuary city" where undocumented immigrants can access public services without question.

The emergency and community services committee voted Monday to investigate how "undocumented individuals" access city services. Coun. Brian McHattie of Ward 1, would like to investigate Hamilton following in the steps of Toronto, New York and Chicago in declaring a no-questions-asked policy for non-status immigrants.

When a city declares itself a sanctuary city, it means undocumented immigrants can access health care and social services without fear of being reported. McHattie suspects the city, particularly its public health unit, already informally does this.

"In practice, it's already happening, but we want to raise the profile of the issue and look to see if there's any gaps," he said.

"Certainly there's a number of people out there who don't know they have access to services and are living in fear and doing without, whether it's schooling or housing or important medical services. We want to get that message out."

The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic started the local sanctuary city movement. Maria Antelo, a community development worker, told the committee that the public often has a misconception of who undocumented workers are.

Many pay taxes and contribute to Hamilton, she said. They entered the country legally but have lost status for whatever reason.

In an interview after the meeting, McHattie used the example of a woman who has left a violent relationship, putting her citizenship in jeopardy.

"We're not talking about illegal immigrants," he said. "There's a very substantive and important difference."

The committee also voted to include local Members of Parliament in the discussion. McHattie expects the report will come back in late fall.