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Resist Attacks on Undocumented Workers

No One Is Illegal-Toronto Statement on the Auditor General's Report & SDR Distribution Raid

On 3rd, 4th and 5th May 2007, thousands of people took to the streets in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Montreal and Vancouver. In Toronto, 2000 demonstrators took over Toronto's west end chanting "No One Is Illegal".

Two days later, the Auditor General released a report, claiming that she had "discovered" that there are 41,000 undocumented people in Canada, people she termed "illegal" that cannot be traced by the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA). Increased funding of the agency was the only solution, she urged.

In an effort to showcase what that would mean, the CBSA raided SDR Distributors on Matheson Blvd. in Mississauga. SDR's warehouse was barricaded by Peel Regional Police while CBSA immigration agents swept through the plant checking ID's and arresting 45 undocumented women and men. The arrested workers were detained and remain incarcerated.

This is the first raid of this scale in Canada, and is a shift towards US style immigration enforcement practices in Canada. This is a serious escalation of anti-migrant rhetoric and tactics by Harper's government which in light of the changes to IRPA in Bill C-50 barely a month ago showcases the conservatives' intention to isolate, exploit and brutalize migrant communities. Further, municipal police services should not be used to enforce federal immigration laws, taken away from their regular duties to attack people at work.

It is necessary to understand what the AG means by 'missing Illegals'. These are undocumented people that have been denied refugee status, and continue to live and work in the country, paying taxes, unable to access health services, education benefits, police protection or housing while constantly fearing detention and deportation. Living in fear and in the shadows, undocumented peoples are rarely involved in criminal activities, instead living in poverty and subjugation.

The AG argues that "legals" are (a) Refugee claimants, pending the outcome of their claim; (b) Temporary Resident Permit holders; (c) Permanent residents and (d) Recipients of a stay of removal. What she forgets to mention is that categories a, b and d are unable to access any of the services that Canadian citizens can, living precariously like undocumented people, fearing incarceration, surviving as non-status.

CBSA statistics clearly show that people with criminal records are the first to be targeted, thus calling workers who happen to be undocumented, illegal or criminal, is a clear lie. It is also impossible to enter Canada without ID documents, so the people being termed criminals, have actually been allowed to enter the country because they were considered non-threatening. Further, crime is a criminal justice issue not an immigration one – people who have been convicted have served their time and using immigration system to target workers with violations who have served time decades ago is a clear case of double punishment.

The refugee determination process has been allowed to fall into chaos since Harper came to power. Thirty percent of the positions on the Immigration and Refugee Board remain vacant, resulting in a backlog of 45,000 cases, rising to 84,000 by 2010 (up from almost no backlogs in 2005). IRB appointments are pork barrel political appointments, making arbitrary and uninformed decisions.

A Refugee Appeal Division has still not been established, despite legislation requiring the government to do so. Thus people denied refugee status have no means to appeal the decision. The safe third country refugee agreement with the US has been condemned by Canadian courts and the refugee "turn back" policy of border agents has been condemned by the UN High Commission on Refugees as a violation of international law, yet these practices continue unabated.

Since coming to office, the Harper government has been rapidly expanding immigration without full status, even offering "same week service" for employers seeking temporary workers in some cities. These temporary status peoples often end up without status.

When arrested, those in detention are brutalized. The Attorney General accepts that "The Agency has established standards for the treatment of individuals while in detention, but does not ensure that these standards are met".

Further she confirms that "the Agency does not collect suitable information to determine whether consistent and fair decisions regarding the detention and release of individuals is made regardless of their location".

Last June, a parliamentary majority passed a motion for a moratorium on deportations and for a regularization program for undocumented people. Despite this motion, Harper and the CBSA carry on with detentions and deportations – business as usual. In this session of parliament, Harper introduced Bill C 50 to put immigration policy beyond the reach of parliament.

Instead of expanding funding for the overworked, under funded, citizenship ministry, the government is pouring money into its enforcement arm. This clearly shows a preference for the stick and the gun, rather than an open consultative process that involves affected communities.

The vulnerability of migrants and refugees arriving in Canada, especially from former colonial countries, is exploited by the rich. Canada's immigration policy is capital centered, serving the interests of the rich minority with political power.

A recent Statscan report says male immigrant workers receive wages 37% below the standard Canadian wages in every category, while recent women immigrant workers receive wages 44% below the Canadian standard. As well, a super exploited strata is being created in the working class, made up of undocumented workers and other workers with temporary or conditional status and based on fear of deportation. Raids such as the raid at SDR Distributors are meant to terrorize people without status, enforcing the fear of deportation which allows the exploitation of 500,000 non-status people in the country.

Categories, numbers and quotas are being used to further exclude people on the basis of class, gender, sexuality and race. This exploitation and fear will only stop when a full and inclusive regularization program is implemented, one which grants permanent status to all undocumented people living and working in this country.

No One Is Illegal – Status for All!