Unethical reality show exploits those already exploited

Posted by admin on Apr 2nd, 2013

Opinion: Deportation is not entertainment
By Harsha Walia, Special to The Vancouver Sun April 2, 2013

Last week, Fraser Institute affiliate Martin Collacott took aim at those speaking out against the TV show Border Security and advocating for non-status migrants. While Collacott believes that such a distasteful and dehumanizing TV show is defensible, Amnesty International released an open letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews: “Amnesty International believes that filming and broadcasting these raids has jeopardized the basic rights of these undocumented workers, as protected under the international conventions that Canada has ratified.” Amnesty also calls into question Harper government’s active support for the TV show, “The divergence between the goals of a government agency and a TV production company calls into serious question the ethics of such a collaboration.”

The show’s producers suggest that this show is a ‘documentary’, but the contract between Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Force Four Entertainment and approved by Toews describes it as a “reality television series.” No unbiased person can reasonably suggest that a camera crew embedded within law enforcement, with no consideration for the voices of migrants themselves who are the subject of this show, qualifies as a documentary. Common sense suggests that consent cannot be freely obtained while under stress and dealing with authorities, and basic human decency suggests that we all have a right to privacy. This is why 22,000 people have signed a petition to Minister Toews, CBSA, and Force Four to cancel the TV show. It is a simple message: Deportation is not entertainment.

Collacott goes on to claim that legalizing the status of non-status migrants, such as the 1986 immigration reform in the US, creates a ‘flood’ of more migrants. He conveniently fails to mention that migration into the U.S. over the past 15 years is a direct result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under NAFTA, the Mexican government was forced to eliminate subsidies to corn while U.S. corn remained subsidized, thus making U.S. corn cheaper to buy inside Mexico. As a result, over 15 million Mexicans were forced into poverty, and millions who lost their farms migrated north to work in low-wage sectors. Professor William Robinson summarizes this dynamic: “Global capitalism creates immigrant workers.” We cannot discuss immigration without addressing the underlying causes that compel migration, and our own governments’ policies that are complicit in creating these displacements.

While structural poverty pushes millions of Mexicans into low-paid work in the U.S., the migration from Mexico into the American southwest (itself illegally annexed territory since 1846) is made perilous. Since millions of dollars were put into increasing border patrols at the U.S.-Mexico border that went into effect the same year as NAFTA, the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that 5,600 migrants have died while attempting to cross that border.

Collacott and others with similar political leanings make it seem like those migrating – those risking their lives to escape global forces such as militarism, capitalist economic policies or climate catastrophe, those living without status in the fringes of our society with minimal access to social services and working long hours for less than minimum wage –have it easy. Do we really believe that a mother would risk her child’s life crossing borders irregularly and live underground without access to healthcare and other social services, despite paying into them with her taxes, under the constant fear of apprehension and deportation if the “proper” channels were available to her?

Canada’s immigration laws are increasingly geared towards keeping people out. While the government boasts a record number of immigrants, they have been slashing quotas for skilled workers, refugees, and family sponsorships by approximately 15 to 20 per cent. Temporary migrant workers, on the other hand, are up by approximately 30 per cent. Canada now receives more people on temporary work permits than as permanent residents, ensuring that migrants are cheap labour for big business. While the current government bails out corporations and forces austerity on the rest of us, scapegoating migrants as stealing jobs is a powerful tool to destroy solidarity between people.

Collacott also forgets that we are all residing on Indigenous land. Not coincidentally, those who most vociferously condemn ‘illegal’ immigration are also the most reluctant to consider their own history in illegally settling Indigenous lands across the Western hemisphere and the attempted assimilation of Indigenous world views. We would all do well to heed the words of Gangalidda elder Wadjularbinna, who says: “Before Europeans came here illegally, in the Aboriginal world we were all different, speaking different languages, but we all had the same kinship system for all human beings, in a spiritual way… We can’t separate ourselves from other human beings—it’s a duty.”

Harsha Walia is a member of No One Is Illegal and author of the upcoming book Undoing Border Imperialism.
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