Regularization- Status for All!

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For the last three years, we have been working together with other concerned grassroots groups and networks to build the groundwork for a national campaign to push for the regularization of non-status immigrants living in Canada. Regularization is an issue of self-determination and justice. Entire families live in a state of constant stress and fear. Workers are being exploited. Children of non-status immigrants, whether Canadian-born or not, are denied the right to education. Children and entire families lack adequate and affordable medical coverage.

The Canadian government supports international agreements that allow the free movement of capital, business and goods across the globe. While businesses are free to move across borders to find thriving economic conditions, these same agreements deny people the same type of free movement. Business relocation has created huge areas of poverty and depression around the world giving people no choice but to migrate in order to save their families and children from poverty, war and militarization. Between 200,000 to 500,000 people live in Canada without status. Under the current Conservative government, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials have entered schools in Toronto on at least two occasions to detain children. Non-status migrants are forced to live in poverty, without sufficient access to health care or education, in great fear of being detained or deported, subjected to discriminatory legal standards, all the while being the most exploited in the workplace. Many sectors of the Canadian economy rely on the exploited labour of non-status and refugees and it is not in the best interest of the Canadian government to deport non-status immigrants, maintaining a social and economic system that has created two classes of people- exploited non-status immigrants without social and citizenship rights- and the rest of the population.

Principles for Regularization

Principle 1: We need a comprehensive, transparent, inclusive and ongoing regularization program that is both equitable and accessible to ALL persons living without legal immigration status in Canada (non-status). Any such program must not be contingent upon a person’s participation in the labour force, nor should it exclude particular groups such as the poor, unwaged, unemployed and those who have ever accessed any government assistance. Likewise, it should not be limited to any group, such as members of a trade or profession, selected sectors or industries, those determined to be successfully integrated, and so on.

Principle 2: Any regularization program must provide immediate access to unrestricted and unconditional permanent resident or landed immigrant status in Canada.

Principle 3: Any regularization program must be non-discretionary, non-arbitrary and be applied consistently. As well as guaranteeing the right to due process for all applicants, it must also include a right to appeal for those whose applications are rejected.

Principle 4: Any regularization program must not be discriminatory on such basis as race, colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or religion, gender, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, family status, etc.

Principle 5: Any regularization program must not be based on length of residency in Canada.

Principle 6: Medical inadmissibility is deeply discriminatory, violates fundamental human rights and is an affront to basic principles of justice and compassion. Any regularization program must not discriminate on the basis of an applicant’s medical condition.

Principle 7: Any regularization program must respect the principle of family reunification in Canada, and respect the right of children to be with their primary caregiver(s) in Canada. It must allow regularized non-status individuals to sponsor their family members here and abroad on an immediate basis. The definition of family must be fully inclusive so as to recognize diverse cultural norms and practices, de facto family arrangements, same sex relationships, and the evolving realities that characterize people’s lives. In all cases, proof of family relationships must not be determined on the basis of medical testing.

Principle 8: Non-status persons must not be penalized for having been forced to live “underground” in Canada. The regularization program must allow non-status individuals to submit their applications on an anonymous basis or through a third party, without fear of criminalization, detention, deportation or any other kind of enforcement.

Principle 9: While any regularization program is in process, all levels of government in Canada must guarantee non-status people full and equal access to health care, social assistance, education, childcare, employment, labour protection, housing, legal aid, domestic violence services etc., without fear of identification, criminalization, detention, deportation or any other kind of enforcement.

Principle 10: There should be no application or processing fees as they would constitute an unjustified barrier to any regularization program.

Principle 11: Anyone with less than full status in Canada – including people on temporary work permits – must be eligible for the regularization program.

Principle 12: Any regularization framework must not impose the “double punishment” currently faced by non-status migrants, where a criminal conviction results not just in punishment as set out in the Criminal Code, but also a second punishment by way of removal. The criminal justice system in Canada or abroad must not exclude any persons from any regularization process.

Myths and Realities about Migrants

Our current immigration point system is designed to ensure that those who qualify for immigration to Canada are either business people with large amounts of capital, professionals with a university education who speak English or French fluently, or family class immigrants. Most of the non-status immigrants are skilled or semi-skilled workers who do not qualify under our point system so there is no queue for them. The Toronto Star reported that under the new point system most people currently living in Canada would not qualify under the point system.

Terms like “economic migrant” and “bogus refugee” have been used to discredit migrants and to foster hostility against them. There can be multiple simultaneous reasons for an individual to migrate – ranging from family reunification to economic pressures to personal survival to fear of government corruption to the desire for religious freedom. In fact, most immigrants to the settler colony of Canada could also be described as economic migrants. One of the many reasons for present-day migration is the destruction of rural economies in the world due to corporate globalization and millions of people have been displaced by the privatization of their economy.

Canada sets immigration targets because demographically we need immigrants to help sustain our country’s economy. These targets are set at 1% of the total population, and we consistently fail to meet them.

The definition of a Convention refugee is restricted to persons who face serious reprisals against their human rights because of their race, religion, nationality, and membership in a social group or political opinion. However, many of the people who come in as non-status are victims of growing global inequalities, extreme poverty and generalized violence in their country of origin, but do not qualify as Convention refugees. In addition, the system that has been widely condemned for its structural flaws, still gives no recourse to refugees whose claims have been denied due to the lack of a Refugee Appeal Division.

There is a shortage of skilled or semi-skilled workers and trades people in many sectors of our economy. Industries such as manufacturing, construction, garment, childcare, cleaning, food and services, and many others rely heavily on non-status immigrants. Many migrants work in jobs that Canadians won’t do and are exploited by employers.

Living without status, in fact makes you more vulnerable to crimes and also less likely to report crimes done to yourself or others. Refusing status to migrants with criminal records in Canada amounts to a double punishment- once a person has paid a fine or served time in prison, they should not face double jeopardy by then being deported to heavily unstable and violent situations where they face further imprisonment, torture or death. Moreover many of these crimes are overwhelmingly minor and a direct consequence of economic poverty and/or state repression. For example, 10 non-status Algerians and two supporters who were peacefully demanding a meeting with the (then) Minister of Immigration Denis Coderre were arrested, beaten and brutalized with tasers on May 29, 2003. Amnesty International in their 2004 Report on Canada has raised serious concerns about these acts of police brutality and violence, yet these Algerians now face criminal convictions and potential deportation. A basic legal principle of proportionality is at work here- that it is fundamentally unjust to have the criminal justice system influence the immigrant and refugee determination system. Finally, the assumption that all migrants of colour are more likely to be criminals or terrorists is a racist one.

For further reading:

The Regularization of Non-Status Immigrants in Canada, November 2004

Regularization and immigrants’ rights by Jean Mcdonald

Immigration Policy Statement From Sociologists Without Borders, Counterpunch May 2006

Regularization Campaigns in Europe by Dimitry Neuckens, 2001