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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks in the House of Commons on Nov. 23, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick

A massive crackdown on immigration fraud has already snagged 2,100 people who the federal government believes cheated to obtain their citizenship.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said some people pay consultants to help them meet Canada's residency requirements without actually living in the country.

But while many immigration lawyers say keeping fraud in check is an important concern, some worry the investigation announced earlier this year could ensnare innocent people along with perpetrators and divert resources away from a backlog of legitimate applications waiting to be processed.

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"This is by far — by many orders of magnitude — the largest enforcement action ever taken in the history of Canadian citizenship," Mr. Kenney told reporters in Montreal on Friday.

He said the government has already begun the process of revoking citizenships from more than 2,100 people it believes defrauded the system, and is investigating another 4,400 people who have permanent resident status. Nearly 1,400 of those permanent residents gave up on their citizenship applications as a result of the increased scrutiny, he said.

Joshua Sohn, a Vancouver-based lawyer who chairs the national immigration law section of the Canadian Bar Association, said he agrees with the minister that people shouldn't be allowed to abuse the system.

"I think it's important that the government take some measures, at least as a warning to individuals that there are consequences [to cheating]" he said.

But Mr. Sohn added he is concerned the focus on fraud could limit the government's capacity to deal with incoming applications and further exacerbate wait times.

Other lawyers said they hope the investigation will distinguish between people who are complicit in immigration fraud and those who were duped by an unscrupulous consultant. Some also worried the crackdown would paint newcomers as criminals.

"There tends to be a real emphasis on all of the negatives of immigrants and refugees, and a neglect of the contributions they make [and]Canada's responsibility toward them," said Audrey Macklin, who teaches law at the University of Toronto.

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Mr. Kenney said the investigation shouldn't affect people who apply for citizenship through legitimate means.

"Our intention is not to make it too difficult for law-abiding people to become citizens," he said. "We have a very fair and relatively easy process, but the whole point here is, for those people who legally obtain it, we must protect its value."

With a report from the Canadian Press.

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