Children of immigrant mothers who were abused can’t access school, food, health care

Posted by admin on Mar 3rd, 2011

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun, Mar. 3 2011

Across the country, hundreds and possibly thousands, of Canadian-born children are being denied access to the most basic services -a home, food, health care and schooling. They are being denied these necessities because their fathers abused their immigrant mothers, their mothers fled the relationship, and the fathers then reneged on promises to sponsor the women for permanent residency.

More than 50 children and their mothers in Vancouver alone have come to the attention of the YWCA. Last year, 70 per cent of the women at one of its Vancouver transition houses were undocumented mothers with children.

Half of the women at that transition house are undocumented. A boy who should be in Grade 2 is among the Canadian-born children living there. He has never gone to school.

The B.C. School Act requires that the child’s parent be able to produce proof that they are legally living in Canada. Because his mother has no residency visa, schools require that she pay the equivalent of a foreign student’s fee.

But not only is the little boy denied his constitutional right to an education, he’s also not eligible for health care coverage as long as he lives with his mother.

The mothers have all come to Canada legally. Most came on visitors’ permits, others came on student visas, temporary work permits or are from countries such as the United States and didn’t need a visa at all.

Most knew the man who became the father of their child before they came. Some had met on the Internet or in their home country. But some came here for a temporary job or to go to school or on holidays and fell in love.

A third of the women who asked the Vancouver YWCA for help came from Japan. Thirteen per cent were from Mexico, and another 13 per cent from the United States. The rest came from various countries in Asia and Europe.

The common thread is that all of them ended up with children and in abusive relationships. And when the mothers threatened to leave, the fathers either refused to sponsor the mothers for permanent residency or withdrew their sponsorship.

Some stayed in abusive relationships after the men promised to sponsor them for immigration, but were then forced to leave when the Ministry of Children and Family Development threatened to remove the children from the violent household and take them into government care.

But even after threatening to remove the children, the government abandons the children and their mothers if they leave.

The government says the mothers are not entitled to income assistance, work visas, health care or subsidized housing.

On top of that, undocumented mothers are at risk of being deported without their children, if they come to the attention of Immigration Canada or the Canadian Border Service.

So, even if they have no language barriers and are welleducated, few women ask for help. They’re afraid that if they are deported, the fathers will refuse permission for the children to leave Canada.

YWCA Vancouver CEO Janet Austin says some women have been forced into the sex trade to feed, clothe and house their children.

Others have spent years moving from transition house to transition house to church basement and sometimes to the street.

There are solutions, says Austin. But they require both the federal and provincial governments to act.

Canada ought to fast-track the adjudication of the mothers’ claims to residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and allow the mothers to work.

The provinces need to provide access to both subsidized housing and income assistance to undocumented mothers who can substantiate their claims with evidence of abuse from police, social workers and medical reports.

Both mothers and children need health care.

And the children need to go to school.
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