ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Donald Trump has vowed to punish sanctuary cities, those that offer a degree of security to people in the country illegally. Much of the argument centers on police and whether local forces should help federal authorities enforce immigration laws. This debate is happening in other countries, too. NPR's Martin Kaste looks at how it's being handled north of the border.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: If you think Canada goes easy on people who come to their country illegally, Harsha Walia says you should think again. She's an activist in Vancouver with a group called No One Is Illegal.
HARSHA WALIA: When I'm in the U.S. and speaking at different events, people have a really hard time understanding how much worse it is in some ways in Canada for people to be undocumented despite the veneer of benevolence and multiculturalism. In many ways, it's so much harder.
KASTE: To be clear, Canada is more welcoming of refugees and other legal immigrants, but there's less tolerance for people here illegally. Canadians use the phrase without status. Estimates vary, but there's probably less than one-fifth as many people like that here as compared to the U.S. That's per capita. Part of the reason is geography, but it's also just tougher for someone without status to get by here, starting with the tools of everyday life.
WALIA: You know, driver's license - out of the question. No jurisdiction issues driver's licenses, right? So the degree of invisibility is so intense.
KASTE: Or take medical care. If you're in Canada illegally, you don't have a health card. And some hospitals have reported their patients to immigration. Byron Cruz is an activist on this issue.
BYRON CRUZ: People were calling us from the hospitals. I was told by the social worker that the Canada border officers are coming to interview me on the weekend, and they are going to take me back to Venezuela or Colombia or Latin America.
KASTE: Cruz led a successful campaign to get the hospitals to stop turning people in, and some Canadian cities now promise to offer certain public services without regard to immigration status. But the activists face a much bigger challenge when it comes to the police.
KASTE: There's a community kitchen in the same Vancouver nonprofit where Cruz has his office, and at the moment, a group of Latin-Americans have gathered for lunch. Some of them have spent time in the U.S., too, in cities where they thought the cops didn't seem that interested in someone's immigration status. Cruz relates one of their stories.
CRUZ: For example, they were on the street in San Francisco, and they were stopped by the police. And they told them, OK, you cannot be in this street or you have to move to this street, or they could accuse them of something else but not about being undocumented or reporting them to immigration.
KASTE: By contrast, here in Vancouver, people have been turned into immigration by the transit police. Because they didn't pay their train fare, they got deported.
CRUZ: There is no protection. If the Vancouver Police Department gets your name, your name can be accessed by the Canada Border Service Agency. They share their database.
KASTE: The Vancouver Police Department says it doesn't detain people just to determine immigration status. That's not our role, is how they put it in an email to NPR. But things change if they book somebody for a crime and an immigration problem pops up. David Lothian is an official with the Canada Border Services Agency.
DAVID LOTHIAN: When an individual is subject to the CBSA immigration warrant, the police would be required to notify us of that.
KASTE: And this seems to be the key difference. In the U.S., local jurisdictions choose whether to help with federal immigration enforcement, but in Canada, that cooperation is expected. It's true that some Canadian cities have adopted the sanctuary city label, but activist Harsha Walia says it doesn't mean much compared with sanctuary policies in the U.S.
WALIA: When American jurisdictions are saying they're sanctuary cities and they're actually saying they will not cooperate with immigration enforcement, that's a really strong stand, right? And it has implications in people's lives because they're protected from immigration enforcement. But that is not what municipal sanctuary cities here mean at all.
KASTE: The difference is also apparent to Peter Edelmann.
PETER EDELMANN: There does seem to be more acceptance of people living undocumented in some of the cities in the United States.
KASTE: Edelmann's an immigration lawyer here. He's surprised when he hears about how things work in the States, how people can go for decades without legal status. Cases like that are rare for him, but he doesn't think it's just because people in Canada get caught more. He says there's another factor at play.
EDELMANN: The other big difference in Canada is that there is a lot more mechanisms for regularizing status.
KASTE: In other words, there are more ways for a person to get legal status, say, on humanitarian grounds. If you can stick it out illegally in Canada for a few years, the lawyers often find a way to get you your papers. So while it's true that Canadians enforce their immigration law more than we do, they've also made that law more forgiving. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Vancouver, B.C.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.