Halifax immigration lawyer Lee Cohen says Canadians should think twice about wagging their fingers at U.S. President Donald Trump when it comes to immigration policy.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration said it would end an Obama-era program that shields from deportation about 800,000 so-called "Dreamers" who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children.
Although Trump's move to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy — a decision he has since hinted he will revisit — has been controversial, Cohen points out Canada does not have a similar program that protects children brought here illegally.
"We need to look at ourselves and realize we're not doing anything either for young children who are here without status," he said.
Even if they've lived in Canada for decades since they were children, Cohen said those without status have few options.
"They are the quintessential victim in this morass and in Canada there is no program in place that looks after the needs of children that don't have status in this country," he said.
Another Halifax immigration lawyer, Elizabeth Wozniak, said she's also been thinking about the differences between Canadian and U.S. policy on immigration.
"I agree we don't have any blanket measures here in Canada," she said. "However we do, at least in our practice; we've seen over the years people who apply on humanitarian grounds."
In that case, applicants appeal to immigration officials that it would be inhumane for the government to deport them because they've been in Canada for a long time and put down roots.
In an email, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said people in the country without status are here illegally and "we expect them to respect Canadian laws and regularize their status or return to their country of origin."
But Cohen said it's a risky move for illegal immigrants who are living under the radar because if their application is denied, they're deported.
"It is the kind of application that someone would make when they have no other options."
Wozniak said she's helped eight people over the past few years stay in Canada after they arrived illegally as children.
She recalls one man who came to Canada more than 15 years ago as a child with his parents. He had been working a pizza job in Nova Scotia for more than a decade. She advised him he could be deported by coming forward, but he applied anyway.
"He was successful and it didn't take that long and others were subsequently successfully in a similar scenario," she said.
Cohen said those cases are the exception, not the rule. He suspects the vast majority of people living here illegally who came to Canada as children are too afraid to come forward. And that means they're often reluctant to pursue a better life through education because going to college or university often requires proof of citizenship.
"The fear, of course, is that at any moment you could get that knock on the door by a Canadian border services officer and it all comes crashing down."