About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Standing Up for undocumented workers

I got these letters from a woman named Mary Carl back in June. She wanted to bring attention to events surrounding the treatment of migrant workers, or so-called illegals. Clearly passionate about the issue, I'm sorry that I forgot about these for so long:

More Migrants Kidnapped by Kenney's Goons: Workplace Raids in Southern Ontario

GUELPH, May 30, 2009 —In the last couple of months, Canadian-immigrant relations have become tragic, marked by unnecessarily violent, mass US-style raids, detainments and deportations of migrant workers throughout southern Ontario. Among the over 100 workers arrested, many were picked up while travelling to work, others dragged from workplaces and their homes as well as from public spaces, held at gunpoint, and left handcuffed for extensive periods of time leading to the injuries of arms and wrists.

The latest example of this trend took place this past Wednesday (May 27) and Thursday (May 28). Early Wednesday morning, Immigration enforcement officers swarmed Lakeside Greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario, and arrested at least nine female migrant food packaging workers. The women, Mexican citizens, are currently being detained in Windsor County Jail. Early Thursday morning in Leamington, at least another ten workers, seven Mexican and three Asian, were arrested on Immigration related charges on their way to work. This time, arrests were made by Leamington Police, which is illegal as Immigration does not fall under municipal Police jurisdiction and is a federal matter.

The majority of the arrested are in Canada on valid visas, and some have pending refugee claims and are at risk in their country of origin. One of the detainees is pregnant. Though individuals awaiting such refugee claim hearings legally hold a level of protection against immigration arrests and are in fact legally allowed to work, immigration enforcement officers bypassed protocol and disregarded any humane sensitivity when they pursued their aggressive raid.

The criminalization of these women is wrong, and we must ask ourselves what truly has been their crime? It is critical to acknowledge that as Canada continues to make it close to impossible for hardworking immigrants of trade and manual labour skills to enter our country legally with full rights, the system is pushing hardworking immigrants into precarious conditions, as these individuals continue to strive to better themselves and seek a livelihood where the opportunities are tangible. These individuals will take the risk of undocumentation as again they need to ensure their subsistence, and as the door of documented opportunity is being shut in their faces.

These individuals are strong contributors to our economy and these latest arrests that are part of a wider crackdown emphasizes that our immigration system is in dire need of a reworking. Furthermore, it seems rather irresponsible for our current Conservative government to be putting such focus and aggression on pursuing and arresting these individuals, who again should not be seen as criminals, while there is a plethora of real, and urgent issues to focus on which are affecting Canadians such as unattainable EI, mass layoffs, and below-poverty line welfare rates. Shamefully, all of this is happening while the government continues to bail-out the wealthy whose unrestrained greed has caused the current economic crisis, while working people, both immigrant and Canadian, pay the price. There needs to be a stop to this unfounded aggression and discrimination against migrants.

Terror and Violence Against Migrants: By-products of Recent Shifts in Immigration Policy

Unprecedented in Canada, early this April, Canadian Border Services Agency and South Simcoe Police conducted similar illegal raids in Simcoe, Toronto, Leamington and in Windsor. Nearly 100 of hundreds of detained workers were rounded up at Cericola Farms’ food processing factories. In this case, these workers were held at gun point and pushed into a cafeteria where workers with proof of citizenship and permanent residency were separated from workers without full documentation, in turn immediately criminalizing the latter. These individuals were then transferred and kept immobile, shackled on a bus for a reported 8 hours. Around the same time, dozens of undocumented people were picked up in places unrelated to their workplace, some by enforcement officers waiting outside of shelters or impersonating lawyers. In the same mean-spirited fashion, raided homes where targeted workers were absent had the workers' possessions illegally confiscated by enforcement.

Eventually, over 100 of these workers were driven to the Rexdale Immigration Detention Centre, where they were pushed into a room with no furniture to wait unattended for several more hours. An immigration official then rushed through their rights in a reported 15 minutes using complicated, legal-term saturated language, providing them with biased recommendations, and reportedly did not adequately identify documents and materials which were pressured onto migrants to sign. Immigration enforcement provided the detained workers with false documents that they had illegally devised and that are not part of the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This inadequate level of information and support resulted in many workers unintentionally waiving their rights to counsel and options for delaying their removal and appealing to procedural actions.

Later in April, 41 detained workers, all of whom had their original passports stolen from them by unscrupulous, corrupt agents at TNT Recruitment, were forced out of Canada and deported to Thailand.

Again demonstrating a lack of sensitivity and justice, immigration authorities did not consider the context of these cases, as many arrested workers formerly possessed prior temporary work permits, but fell into a precarious status for a number of legitimate reasons. Some reported that they faced severe danger if they were to return to their countries of origin, and some were working a second job (not authorized for them to work at, voiding their permit) because the only job they were allowed to do paid below a living wage. While others reportedly were forced to quit their documented jobs, in turn voiding their permit, due to a sexually exploitative employer. These factors have not received attention, nor any investigations have been forwarded, and no charges have been laid against any of the employers of the arrested.

These cases stem from the regressive changes to our immigration system designed to ramp up the exploitation of (im)migrants in Canada. Repression and raids have accompanied the changes to the Immigration system made by the Harper Conservatives. All throughout Canada last summer, there were mass protests against the passing of the racist and classist Bill C-50, which was eventually passed in June 2008 with the Liberals refusing to vote against it for fear of prompting a politically undesirable election. It is critical to familiarize ourselves with this new bill which attacks immigrants' rights in a variety of ways, but an example of one of the most blatantly discriminatory new policies, is that it allows the Minister to set quotas on the "category" of person that can legally set foot in Canada. This includes setting quotas on countries of origin, regardless of whether individuals have skills Canada is in need of. Setting quotas on the basis of a person’s country of origin represents a critical shift in Canadian policy towards legislation that has implicit precedents in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, the Order in Council of 1911 prohibiting the landing of any immigrant belonging to the Negro race" in Canadian history, and the "None is too many" rule applied to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe during Second World War. Under Stephen Harper, and more recently under Minister of "Censorship and Deportation" Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration policy has taken a significant step backward towards its racist roots.

It is important for us to recognize the root causes of immigration and the context of the recent criminalization of (im)migrants. Many (im)migrants are forced to come to Canada as their home countries have been savaged by Wars and neo-liberal economic models that promote corporate exploitation and the destruction of local economies. Half of all people arriving in Canada today are on temporary visas and have very little chance of permanent residency. Half a million live in Canada without any status at all. Newcomers continue to make important contributions to our country, and deserve respect and dignity. Canada should regularize non-status members of our communities so they can continue to contribute to our economy while living in safety and peace. We must grant them status, and put an end to the dehumanizing and criminalizing attacks on migrant communities.

Guelph Takes Public Action Against Dehumanizing (Im)migrants in Canada

June 2, 2009 - In the past couple of months, the largest immigration raids in Canadian history have occurred under the public's noses. Following these unnecessarily violent US-style raids and arrests of hundreds of migrant workers, more than 100 workers were detained, and forty-one deportations were executed throughout Southern Ontario.

The latest example of this trend took place this past Wednesday (May 27) and Thursday (May 28). Early Wednesday morning, immigration enforcement officers swarmed Lakeside Greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario, and arrested and detained at least nine female migrant workers. Early Thursday morning, in Leamington, another ten workers were arrested and detained on Immigration related charges. In response, in recent months, there have been many mass public actions throughout Canada denouncing these attacks on (im)migrant communities, including here in Guelph.

On May 2, three full vehicles from the City of Guelph, altogether traveling as the ‘Guelph's Workers Solidarity Bus’, headed to Toronto for the May Day of Action Rally and March to express opposition to the series of raids. In the spirit of May Day (May 1st), an annual day devoted to workers rights, this march is co-organized annually by a number of groups including No One is Illegal –Toronto Chapter, and Migrante Ontario, an alliance of Filipino and migrant rights advocacy organizations.

Along with over 2,000 other participants, the Guelph contingent denounced increased government cruelty towards under-protected workers such as factory workers, indigenous people, queer folk, refugees, and women in shelters.

Another Guelph response took the form of a worker awareness and community discussion event organized by Student Support for Migrant Workers. The event, which took place on April 30 at 10 Carden Community Space, featured speakers from many different associations: Janet McLaughlin, an Instructor in International Development Studies at the University of Guelph; Marco Luciano, a coordinator with Migrante Ontario; and Craig Fortier, a community organizer with No One is Illegal – Toronto. All spoke eloquently on the plight of marginalized immigrant workers in Canada, who have often served as scapegoats in times of economic uncertainty, especially ethnically marginalized ones.

Over 60 attendees filled the venue. Curiosity piqued and minds opened. Many left with the growing sense that it is important for us to recognize the root causes of immigration and the context of the recent criminalization of (im)migrants.

In light of the ongoing raids, these kinds of public actions are still needed. Hardworking, skilled labour is much needed in our country, yet Canada makes it nearly impossible for immigrants possessing these qualities to enter our country legally.

These individuals are strong contributors to our economy; these recent arrests emphasize the fact that our immigration system is in dire need of reworking. Repression and raids have accompanied the regressive changes to the Immigration system made by the Harper Conservatives that have been designed to ramp up the exploitation of (im)migrants in Canada (e.g., the passing of Bill-C-50 in June 2008). Shamefully, all of this is happening while the government continues to bail-out the wealthy whose unrestrained greed has caused the current economic crisis, while working people, both immigrant and Canadian, pay the price. There needs to be a stop to this unfounded violence and discrimination against migrants.

Photo Cap: At the Mayday Dinner, community members listened intently as the speakers painted a picture of desperation among marginalized workers in Southern Ontario and throughout Canada.

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