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United front needed on ESL funding

During his State of the City address at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, Mayor Rick Chrest offered listeners in the business-friendly room an enlightened statement.

While "nameless" countries are not being so friendly to immigrants right now, he said, the city of Brandon was a welcoming place, that would take those fleeing these locales with "open arms."

This, of course, was a none-too-veiled reference to the ongoing crackdown on illegal immigrants in the United States by President Donald Trump’s administration, a move that has prompted an increase in the number of refugee claims within Canada as U.S. immigrants fearing deportation illegally cross the border.

It’s a wonderful sentiment, one that we happen to agree with — and we’re proud that our mayor came out and said it. But with every newcomer to our country, our province and our city, there is a cost involved. Refugees and immigrants alike need help at all levels of government to navigate those services which are available to them, in order to become productive members of our society. And it takes a commitment from our political leaders to see the process through, from start to finish.

In opening today’s newspaper you will have noticed a series of 18 letters on Page A4 and A5, written in varying degrees of broken English, and all of them decrying the potential — and substantial — funding cut to higher level English as a Second Language training at Assiniboine Community College.

We have to congratulate these students for their bravery in writing letters to The Sun regarding their frustration over the cuts, and the situation in which they now find themselves.

Reading carefully, it’s pretty clear that these are the kinds of dedicated people we want — not only as Canadian citizens, but as educated, productive Canadians who want to give back to the country that has taken them in. The letters were also apparently sent to Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire, who, while standing in the House of Commons this week, referenced them while directing a question to Serge Cormier, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

The minister, of course, gave only empty platitudes in response, talking about "streamlining the system," and attempting to "improve the situation," while making no reference to Brandon in his answer.

And with news this week that these cuts have apparently also hit ESL classes offered through United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 — which has been offering ESL to foreign workers at Maple Leaf Foods for 13 years — the situation has gone from bad to worse.

If we are to welcome newcomers, be they immigrants or refugees, to our community, it’s in our collective best interests to ensure that they have the best shot possible at succeeding in our society. Properly funding higher levels of ESL training is one of the best ways to do this. It’s good to see that our politicians have acknowledged this reality.

It’s pretty clear that our local political leaders need to turn up the political heat on the Liberal government. We suggest a united front from all levels of government.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 11, 2017

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During his State of the City address at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, Mayor Rick Chrest offered listeners in the business-friendly room an enlightened statement.

While "nameless" countries are not being so friendly to immigrants right now, he said, the city of Brandon was a welcoming place, that would take those fleeing these locales with "open arms."

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During his State of the City address at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, Mayor Rick Chrest offered listeners in the business-friendly room an enlightened statement.

While "nameless" countries are not being so friendly to immigrants right now, he said, the city of Brandon was a welcoming place, that would take those fleeing these locales with "open arms."

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