Immigration’s Tough New Face

Posted by admin on Jun 27th, 2009

By Uzma Shakir; June 27, 2009 – The Star

The federal government’s latest moves to step up deportations of foreign workers have solidified Canada’s fall from grace when it comes to our immigration policy. Coordinated raids throughout southern Ontario since May have already led to the arrest and deportation of at least 100 undocumented workers originating from places such as Thailand, Mexico, China, the Philippines and the Caribbean. Many more currently await their fate while in detention, according to No One Is Illegal, an immigrant rights organization monitoring the emerging situation. Interestingly, no charges have been laid against the employers.

It is a moment reminiscent of the Bush era’s worst anti-immigrant policies: chasing, arresting, detaining and eventually deporting undocumented workers had turned into a national pastime.

But even in the U.S., the anti-immigrant, anti-racialized worker rhetoric has quieted. Here, however, Canada is showing that it does not mind arriving at the party a little late.

In this age of globalization, we are quick to celebrate the movement of ideas, money and trade that produces multicultural new realities. Yet we are almost contradictory in increasingly asserting the right to stop people precisely for crossing borders in pursuit of the very work that calls for being filled.

To treat people who are seeking work as criminals, and not prosecute the employers and recruiters who lure them for profit into precarious employment, is indeed a far cry from the days of nation-building.

But it is entirely consistent with our federal government’s general approach to immigration and racial equity in the recent past.

Amendments to the Immigration Act (Bill C-50) that slipped through the most recent 2008 federal budget are now having far-reaching effect.

First, these amendments turned a relatively neutral system of immigrant determination into a discretionary one. The minister of the day is now given unprecedented discretionary powers to identify which occupations are to be given precedence in the selection process. The minister also can, without parliamentary oversight, issue “instructions” about who should be selected or rejected.

This makes the system arbitrary and subject to the vagaries of political whim.

Second, Canada is shifting from a nation-building approach to immigration to one focused on filling labour market needs through temporary permits.

Take the introduction of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).

According to the government’s own estimates, CEC would fast-track 12,000 to 18,000 people in the first year and 25,000 in the second year. However, given that Canada is letting in more than 165,000 temporary workers per year, it is clear that our immigration ethos has changed from seeking citizens to becoming a temp agency for short-term workers.

In fact, according to recent changes, the number of temporary foreign workers being introduced into our society is almost on par with the national targets for immigrants.

As professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi wrote recently: “Enacting Bill C-50 … has made it possible to transform an immigration system focused on citizenship development into one whose priority is commodified labour through the expansion of the Temporary Worker Program …”

What is even more telling is that the amendments have also brought a particularly non-humanitarian tone to the immigration process.

For example, the bill changes the language from “visa shall be issued” to “visa may be issued” regarding those who in the past qualified for permanent residency but were denied or faced delays with their claim.

This change, while appearing minor, replaces a legal right to appeal with one that lacks any recourse. Recent amendments also eliminate the right to an overseas application for humanitarian and compassionate consideration (e.g. separated families like overseas parents of children who are refugees in Canada).

Now such applications can be returned unexamined or shredded.

It is ironic that as Europe tries to move away from foreign worker programs to develop more equitable and sustainable immigration policies, we are moving away from seeing immigrants as citizens toward a cruder policy of regarding immigrants as “capital on two legs.”

Immigration is the cornerstone of our national lore – we are a land built by immigrants, the story goes.

To turn our national narrative, no matter how flawed, from seeking nation-builders to recruiting insecure, unprotected and exploitable temp workers is a sign of our collective descent into intolerance and a systematic suspension of humanitarian principles.

Albeit under the radar screen, our approach to immigration speaks to the unravelling of our social contract as Canadians and hints at where we could be headed as a society.

As conscious citizens of a society worth fighting for, we must raise our voices and stop our country from sliding into a place we may not have reason to value.

Uzma Shakir is an Economic Justice Fellow with the Atkinson Charitable Foundation.

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