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Canadian Immigration: Broken Homes, Broken Promises

No One Is Illegal-Toronto responds to 2011 Immigration report

In another sly public relations tactic, Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney has announced that Canada will give permanent residence to 25,000 parents and grandparents in 2012, a 60% increase from 2010. In addition, on December 1st, the heroically named Parent and Grandparent Super Visa will come into effect, allowing long-separated loved ones to visit their children and grandchildren in Canada for up to 2 years.

This seems just grand, until you read the truth behind the lies.

1. The actual backlog—that is, applications the Harper-Kenney government has refused to process—is 165,000 people. Allowing in only 25,000 parents and grandparents means that 140,000 families will still remain separated.

2. As of November 4th, a 2 year ban is in effect on all new applications. For family members living in Canada who have not yet applied to bring their elders, this means they will be delayed an additional 2 years before they can do so. Though Kenney promises to lift the ban after 2 years, there are no guarantees. The so-called Super Visa is a first step to building a temporary family reunification system – a fundamental shift in the Canadian immigration system which until now promised permanent family reunification.

The lucky holders of the Super Visa will be permitted to make multiple entries over a 10 year period, and remain in Canada for 2 years at a time. Again, note the catch: this visa is only accessible to those who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for private health insurance while in Canada, and those whose sponsors meet a minimum income requirement, in an era of unemployment and austerity.

These exacting conditions of entry are, much like the Points System, deeply discriminatory (the Points System is the standardized checklist of educational, occupational, linguistic and financial categories that determine whether or not immigration applicants ‘deserve’ Permanent Resident (PR) status by literally awarding them points). The message is clear: only the well-to-do deserve to be with their families.

These changes are infuriating, unacceptable, and an utter betrayal of those who migrated full of hopes that they would soon be established, able to find employment in their area of expertise and experience (myth #1), and shortly thereafter reunited with family members (myth #2).

In his shortsightedness, Kenney continues to point to the “burden” born by Canada’s economy and social services, caused by older family members who may not enter the formal workforce. Ironically, Kenney doesn’t recognize the immense economic value of free child care and domestic work that elderly relatives provide for their working (“productive”, “contributing”) children and grandchildren. Of course, then, we can’t expect him to realize the immeasurable social, cultural and psycho-emotional enrichment that parents and grandparents bring to families, communities, and the very fabric of our society.

This shift to temporary family reunification (which is essentially what the Super Visa constitutes) comes as no surprise in the context of immigration policy that aims to create permanent temporariness.

As the total number of permanent residents in Canada as a percentage of the total population drops each year, the number of temporary migrants continues to grow. The so-called Agricultural program and Temporary Foreign Worker Program - for those classified as “Low-Skilled” (poor people of colour, in high demand for possessing skills that Canadian citizens don’t) - are filling in hundreds of thousand of precarious jobs with workers who receive low wages, pay taxes and get nothing in return. No health care, no emergency medical attention, no social assistance, little employment insurance, no police protection (an oxymoron, anyways), and in Ontario, no chance of unionizing.

As for Live-In-Caregivers—poor women of colour, mostly from the Philippines and the Caribbean, who work as nannies and domestic servants to Canadian families—their numbers will be chopped nearly in half to a mere 9,000 in 2012. They just so happen to be the only temporary foreign workers who can apply for permanent residency. Coincidence? Think again. With temporary status as the order of the day, pathways to Permanent Residence are being limited or closed off.

In this system, those most likely to receive the shiny badge of ‘merit’ (a.k.a. PR status) are those who, you guessed it, ‘measure up’. Categorized as the Economic Class—Foreign Skilled Workers, Provincial Nominees, the Canadian Experience Class and Federal Business Immigrants (entrepreneurs, the self-employed, and investors with a net worth of at least $1.6 million who can loan the government $800,000, interest free)—they represent the hardy survivors on this island of elitism.

And we arrive at myth #3: Canadian humanitarianism. In 2012, the quota for protected persons, such as refugees, has been reduced by 10% from the previous year, an over 25% reduction since the conservatives came to power. Keep in mind that in 2010, an embarrassing 0.0016% of refugees worldwide (that’s 24,696 out of 15.4 million refugees, or just 1 in 625 refugees globally - and this is not counting the 26.7million people that are internally displaced) were granted protection in Canada, a number likely to decrease as yet another incredibly discriminatory new refugee law comes in to place in June 2012.

To make matters worse, new legislation will allow immigration officers to profile for migrants they suspect of “human smuggling” (read: asylum seekers) and “marriage fraud” (read: newlyweds) or “fraudulent job offers” (read: migrant workers). You guessed it, mostly racialized people escaping violence, persecution, economic and environmental collapse, unemployment, or simply practicing the freedom to move, will be those picked up and carted off first: the refugees to jail, the migrant workers, brides and grooms for deportation.

Under this temporary immigration system, more and more people will face deportation, or be forced to make the difficult decision to live in Canada without immigration status. Life without documents is often a lonely, fearful existence -- one without rights, freedoms, services, or protections. It's a life of resistance against racial profiling, detention and deportation. It's years of being separated from loved ones. What should be illegal here is not the people themselves, but the theft of their humanity.

And what about all those non-refundable immigrant application fees? Citizenship and Immigration is the only government ministry that turns a profit, and a hefty one to boot. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars that the government is sitting on, or perhaps more accurately stated, siphoning into multi-billion dollar subsidies for oil and mining corporations, or chanelling towards the burgeoning fear industry, complete with prison expansions, new migrant detention centres, fighter jets, war ships, and foreign military bases in Jamaica, Kuwait, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania.

We reject the rise of militarism and the consistent support of oil and mining corporations that are destroying the environment, forcing millions to migrate each year. We reject the mushrooming prison industrial complex whose detention cells eagerly await those deceived by the false promise of safety and security in Canada. We demand an end to these divisive, intrusive, discriminatory immigration measures that block family unity, enslave and punish the poor, imprison people of colour, detain asylum seekers, and intrude on the private lives of immigrant communities. We will not be kept apart from our loved ones, nor will we be fooled by categorical number-shifting immigration policies. We demand the immediate instatement of a non-discriminatory, non-punitive, full and comprehensive immigrant regularization system.

No One Is Illegal!