It’s believed Edmonton is home to tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, and a city committee has voted in support of efforts to eventually draft a sanctuary city policy in an effort to help them access services.

According to a report, there are between 10, 000 and 25,000 undocumented immigrants living in Edmonton – a rough estimate with information from community agencies.

However, Jason Foster, a researcher with Athabasca University said that number is closer to 30,000 and that number grew after changes in recent years.

“We had very few undocumented workers in Edmonton up until the changes in the temporary foreign worker program, it has ballooned the number of undocumented workers that we have,” Foster said.

The University of Athabasca professor has been researching temporary foreign workers for the better part of a decade.

Back in 2011, the four in, four out rule placed a limit on how long temporary foreign workers could stay in Canada legally, and it forced tens of thousands to take a chance and stay in the country.

“The interviews that we have done with them is they try and keep their heads down, which means they don’t get engaged in community events because they never know which community event might be the one that exposes them,” Foster said.

It isn’t just events, but services. For those, proof of address and income is often needed to access healthcare, libraries, and subsidized transit passes – so those are also forgone in order to live under the radar.

“So as a result, they work unofficially, so they work for cash, which means that their working conditions can be intolerable at times, it’s difficult for them to get formal renting arrangements so they often live with friends,” Foster said.

He argued most illegal immigrants entered Canada legally, and most are trying to get by.

Councillor Ben Henderson said he believes the city should help.

“I think if we chose to be active, we can probably stop something that is already a problem, getting worse,” Henderson said.

In Canada, Vancouver and Toronto have sanctuary policies that restrict local police from sharing residence status details with Canada Border Services.

While immigration is the jurisdiction of the federal government, Foster believes municipal governments can lead the way.

“They can’t fix whether they get permanent status or not, but they can, while they’re living in our city, our boundaries, they can make sure that their lives are a little easier, that they have better access to housing, to transportation which we all have a right to,” Foster said.

At the Community Services Committee meeting Monday, councillors passed a motion to consult further with community groups that help undocumented immigrants, with the intention to draft an ‘access without fear’ or sanctuary city policy.

Deputy Police Chief Brian Simpson attended Monday’s meeting, and said it can be dangerous to introduce a blanket policy, and police need to be able to use discretion on a case-by-case basis.

Simpson said police don’t share info with Canada Border Services unless a criminal investigation warrants it.

With files from Jeremy Thompson