Over the years Canada has been taking many immigrants from around the globe; some of which are deemed legal, and some of which are undocumented. Unfortunately, many of these undocumented immigrants are refused access to essential services such as housing, education, or even a family doctor, simply because they don’t have an official immigration status in the country. Although it is very hard to find an official count of people living illegally in Canada, it is estimated that the number is in the hundreds-thousands. Most of these people have overstayed their visas and others have had their refugee claims rejected, which has automatically made them ‘illegal’ immigrants in the eyes of the state.

As a consequence of this, many people are hesitant or downright reluctant to even ask for these services out of fear of being arrested or deported. The problem doesn’t end there unfortunately. This situation leads to an increase in the exploitation of these people because their dire situation forces them to submit to certain living or working conditions just to be able to survive, and in some cases, take care of not only themselves but also of their families.

How do most immigrants do this? It is fair to say that a big number of illegals in Canada live in big cities like Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver; the reason being that there is a higher concentration of life in these areas providing more potential opportunities for work and living in general. In addition, these people can blend into a large community and remain relatively invisible whilst also potentially becoming part of some community with a similar language or a related cultural heritage.

This is just one reductive example showing the typical trajectory of an illegal immigrant with the hope of a better life. Commonly, these people live in Canada for years, have families, and essentially provide a new better life for a second generation. This second generation of people would be actual Canadian citizens; and so essentially this is not only a humanitarian struggle, but it is also one that considers and invests in the lives of the future of Canadian citizens.

In the proposed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, people who provide services would be forbidden from asking clients about their immigration status in Canada, and if they somehow manage to come across any of this information it would be illegal for them to share it with anyone. This kind of policy ensures that everyone feels secure when it comes to accessing essential human services. These aforementioned services such as medical assistance and education should be accessible to everyone and this is what the DADT policy is trying to push. How will this be done?

**Let’s have a closer look at the two main components of the DADT policy in Toronto: **

The medium used to reach out for certain services, i.e application forms and letters, would be forbidden from inquiring into the immigration status of individuals, which means that access to these services would not be hindered by one’s immigration status.

Secondly, if people involved in these services become aware of the immigration status of persons accessing said services, it would be forbidden for them to share this information with any federal government departments like Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which as a consequence would prevent additional funds and resources being inputted into enforcing federal immigration laws.

Are there any references to prove the effectiveness of this?

Similar policies have been adopted in around 28 different cities in the USA, and in some cases, these policies were adopted purely out of an economic need; in other words, the decrease of these immigration investigations, arrests, deportations, and so on cuts extra costs for the city and allows the city to make better use of these funds. Interestingly enough, some cities have adopted these policies as a political response to federal intervention such as roundups of illegal refugees escaping political tensions in the Southern continent, and in some cases, it was a reaction to the Patriot Act which encouraged city officials to share data with the government on individuals regarding their immigration status.

Essentially the policy is attempting to provide aid to these communities by ensuring that essential needs such as housing, education, emergency services, health care, food banks, and general social assistance are fully available, without them living in the fear of being arrested. Let’s have a look at what the campaign involves and what its main goals are by having a look at some of the demands.

  1. Toronto City Council has to set an example by refusing to take back the child tax credit from Ontario Works participants.
  2. Discourage and stop the sharing of information to the police regarding ‘welfare fraud’. This means prosecuting illegal immigrants for making use of social benefits that they are not officially entitled to, when these people actually do this because they are illegally underpaid and cannot maintain their lives simply with their salary.
  3. Elevate the importance of and prioritize the building of social housing to decrease the waiting list.
  4. Freeze condo development in areas where there is clear low-income housing stock that is being threatened with displacement, to make sure that these people won’t find themselves roofless or struggling against surroundings in the process of gentrification.
  5. Push the notion of ensuring the fair and proper use of empty buildings starting with ‘surplus housing’, and make sure that there are governmental organizations taking care of inspecting the condition of places that are rented out to prevent further exploitation.
  6. Inject money into shelters and ensure that they are in a condition that meets the required livable standards.
  7. Freeze the Police budget when it comes to man-hunts of refugees simply because of immigration status, and make use of these unused funds for more useful and practical purposes; maybe social benefits or simply ways of integrating these communities in the bigger general community of the area.
  8. A strict ‘Don’t Ask’ policy for anyone who works in the city towards people without immigration status.
  9. Attack and remove all by-laws that are used in the guise of ‘social cleansing’ of areas and neighborhoods.
  10. Remove user fees and restore budgetary cuts in all kinds of services in community centers and settlement agencies.

No One Is Illegal (Toronto) is an organization made up of a group of immigrants, refugees, and allies who fight for the rights of all migrants to live with dignity and respect. They encourage the education of immigrants to first and foremost become aware of the laws governing their life, so that they are able to identify different law enforcement officers and know their rights with regards to interactions with them. This is a great way for citizens to have a safety plan, know the risks, and seek legal advice when needed.

Naturally, these are simply basic essential educational tools to navigate life in a new country, especially in a new country where your living status is, unfortunately, hindering you from achieving a better life. An organization like No One is Illegal is one such organization that is trying to break this vicious cycle by addressing the key point in the situation; that the claim that someone is ‘illegal’ is a dehumanizing label that distorts people’s perception of some of these immigrant communities.

One other organization contributing to this plight is the Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, which is an Anglican community in the heart of Toronto that organizes several events and activities in pushing this sense of solidarity in the community, to include marginalized groups and help those in need.

Essentially there are several ways in which every individual can play his part in this humanitarian struggle.

Help Get More Organizations On Board

For instance, if you’re in any organization of any sort, encourage your peers to propose the endorsement of the campaign from the organization, and eventually potentially get it involved by having representatives attend meetings.

Attend Meetings and See How You Can Help Out

Utilize these meetings to make your presence known in the community and assist in any way you can, whilst also contributing your ideas regarding what could be improved. You never know how you might be able to help out.

Spread the Word

As with anything else, the best way to help something grow nowadays is to spread the word. Download our pamphlets and flyers and distribute them wherever you think people might be interested in helping out and wherever you know there are immigrants so that they don’t feel marginalized and excluded. Their involvement in this is essential for the organization to understand what are the ways help can be offered to these people.

Subscribe

On that note, and to conclude, don’t forget to subscribe to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell announcements list; a list for all organization-related announcements and updates.