Pakistani immigrants await entrance to Canada

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(Host) Pakistani immigrants from the United States are crowding the Canadian border crossing north of Plattsburgh, New York. They’re concerned about an approaching deadline requiring many of them to register with the U.S. government.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, dozens of Pakistanis are being housed in Burlington until they can get into Canada:

(Zind) The new law requires that male visa holders from a number of Muslim countries be questioned, fingerprinted and photographed. February 21 is the deadline for Pakistanis living in the U.S. to register. Men whose green cards or visas are expired are afraid to register, concerned they’ll be imprisoned or deported. So they’re going to Canada. The number of asylum seekers at the LaColle, Quebec crossing has multiplied in recent days.

Last week, in a change of policy, Canadian immigration decided to send everyone who can’t be processed immediately back to the United States. As a result, men with expired visas are being detained by U.S. immigration. About 30 people are staying in makeshift quarters at the downtown Burlington Salvation Army. They’ll be waiting up to two weeks for appointments with Canadian Immigration. One man is here with his wife and three young children. His children, born in the U.S., are American citizens, but he is a Pakistani whose green card has expired. After twelve years living and working as a computer technician in California, he is afraid of being deported if he registers under the new law. He’s moving to Canada, instead. He says his children are asking many questions:

(Man) “All the time they ask, where are we going? Why are we not staying in California? They like to stay in California, they’d like to stay in America.”

(Zind) Patrick Giantonio of Vermont Refugee Assistance says the registration requirement is uprooting many families. Sometimes men are detained and separated from their families. Giantonio says some are detained simply because of a government backlog in updating their visas. He questions the value of the registration law.

(Giantonio) “There’s the whole issue of the special registration that refugee advocates and immigration advocates feel is extremely discriminatory and is not in America’s best interests. We’re chasing very good people out of this country that are hard workers and vital human resources.”

(Zind) Giantonio says the law probably won’t help locate terrorists, who won’t run the risk of registering.

Steven Camarota is with the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. The center advocates stricter immigration laws. Camarota says the new law is working if people who are in the U.S. illegally are being forced to leave.

(Camarota) “Given limited government resources, it makes sense to start our enforcement efforts on people from the Middle East. And when we hear stories of people who are here illegally leaving on their own, that’s ideal, that’s great. That indicates that we haven’t had to make a lot of effort and people have finally taken it on their own to finally obey U.S. immigration laws.”

(Zind) Patrick Giantonio says the law is forcing hardworking immigrants to choose between jail, deportation or leaving the country.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.

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