Opinion: Why does Canada jail migrants?

 

Changes in immigration policy have had devastating effect on families

 
 
 
 
When the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Tamil women, children and men landed in B.C. in August, 2010, after a treacherous three-month journey, the federal government fomented nationwide hysteria about terrorism, Harsha Walia writes.
 
 

When the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Tamil women, children and men landed in B.C. in August, 2010, after a treacherous three-month journey, the federal government fomented nationwide hysteria about terrorism, Harsha Walia writes.

Photograph by: MCpl Angela Abbey, Vancouver Sun

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I wonder what two-year-old Alpha Anawa thinks about the refugee crisis — the largest since Second World War — unfolding in Europe. While global attention is focused on unprecedented refugee flows and deaths across the ocean, Alpha quietly spent his birthday behind bars this weekend at the Toronto Immigration Holding Center. He is a Canadian child born on the other side of barbed wires and Plexiglas. His mother Glory Anawa came to Canada seeking refugee status from Cameroon and despite never being charged, she has been jailed for 2-1/2 years. Since 2005 to March of 2015, at least 4,392 children have been forced into detention.

How did we get here? A new multimedia project Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration chronicles a decade of drastic immigration changes by the federal government and its devastating effects on families in Canada.

Even though the Tories opportunistically court the immigrant vote, their policies keep out immigrants. Never Home finds the number of immigration avenues that grant permanent residency — such as those that facilitate entry of skilled workers, refugees or family members — has plunged. The federal government eliminated nearly 280,000 applications under the Skilled Worker Program. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of family-class immigrants dropped 20 per cent, while the number of accepted refugees dropped 30 per cent.

When the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Tamil women, children and men landed in B.C. in August, 2010, after a treacherous three-month journey, the federal government fomented nationwide hysteria about terrorism. They asylum-seekers were all immediately jailed, and within two years the federal government passed wide-ranging legislation to make it more difficult for refugees to remain in Canada. Asylum seekers now face a discriminatory two-tier system based on nationality with restricted legal avenues. Refugees designated as irregular arrivals, including those as young as 16, face mandatory incarceration. A new report finds these policy changes mean reduced access to justice for refugees for whom consequences of refugee protection decisions are frequently life or death matters.

Furthermore, permanent residency and citizenship are becoming conditional. Most parents and grandparents can now only arrive on a temporary Super Visa that requires the purchase of private Canadian health care insurance. Many spouses now have to come on a two-year conditional sponsorship, leaving immigrant women more vulnerable to abuse since their legal status is contingent on their partner. As of this year, two-tiered citizenship is in effect and dual citizens can be at risk of loosing their citizenship.

Legal challenges have been filed at the Federal Court of Canada to end this new regime of second-class citizenship. While that outcome is pending, in July 2014 the Federal Court did strike down the Conservative government’s cuts to refugee health care. Even though the Court ruled these cuts were cruel and unconstitutional, the government is appealing the decision and has spent more than $1.4 million in taxpayers’ money to fight this in court. In 2014, the Federal Court also struck down the ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. Last month, the Court ruled against the government’s new two-tier refugee system.

These Court decisions lay bare the federal government’s punitive agenda against migrants and refugees. Over the past 10 years, the federal government jailed an average of 11,000 migrants per year, including up to 807 children, without charge. Canada is one of the only Western countries to have indefinite detention. This means that some people, such as anti-apartheid icon Mbuyisa Makhubu, are jailed in Canada for over a decade without charges or trial. Permanent residents are also being torn apart from their families and face deportation for traffic offences. For the first time since records are available, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention strongly chastised Canadian immigration detention.

Meanwhile, over the past decade the federal government has vastly expanded the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Since 2008, more migrants arrive through migrant worker programs that grant temporary status, than via avenues that grant permanent residence. Workers in the low-wage TFWP have no access to unionization or guaranteed access to social services, despite often paying into them. Migrant workers are not granted permanent residency on arrival and as Hessed Torres, a certified nurse from the Philippines who came to Canada as a live-in caregiver, explains in a Never Home video: “The reason why the caregiver program is precarious is because our work permits are tied specifically to our employer.”

Some would argue this is nothing new; from the Komagata Maru to the Chinese head-tax exclusion and exploitation has been key to solidifying colonial Canada. Still, the current government has been one of the most hostile when it comes to inclusive policies. Politicians’ linguistic contortions — militarization as liberation, indentured labour as immigration, refugee as terrorist — have justified immense indignities against families in Canada. Never Home sets the record on immigration straight.

Harsha Walia is co-author of the Never Home report and author of Undoing Border Imperialism. She is a founder of No One Is Illegal and a graduate of UBC Law.

 
 
 
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When the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Tamil women, children and men landed in B.C. in August, 2010, after a treacherous three-month journey, the federal government fomented nationwide hysteria about terrorism, Harsha Walia writes.
 

When the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Tamil women, children and men landed in B.C. in August, 2010, after a treacherous three-month journey, the federal government fomented nationwide hysteria about terrorism, Harsha Walia writes.

Photograph by: MCpl Angela Abbey, Vancouver Sun

 
When the MV Sun Sea carrying 492 Tamil women, children and men landed in B.C. in August, 2010, after a treacherous three-month journey, the federal government fomented nationwide hysteria about terrorism, Harsha Walia writes.
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Harsha Walia is co-author of the Never Home report and author of Undoing Border Imperialism. She is a founder of No One Is Illegal and a graduate of UBC Law.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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