Advocate organizations gathered in support of the regularization of immigrants without status

While the federal government is working on a regularization program for immigrants with precarious status, immigrant advocacy groups demand that they be inclusive of all people in Quebec

Immigrant advocacy groups gathered at Peace Park on Sunday Nov. 6 for a protest demanding that the new federal regularization plan be fully inclusive of all immigrants without status. The program that the federal government is currently working on would allow non-status workers to become permanent residents. 

Advocates for the rights of people with precarious status are skeptical whether or not this program would be sufficient. On Nov. 9, various Quebec-based organizations dedicated to supporting migrants gathered in front of the office of Christine Fréchette, the Minister of Immigration, Frenchisation and Integration to demand the plan be expanded to include all undocumented immigrants.

“The program that we heard about is being built for migrants with precarious status and is going to be a regularization plan,” said Aboubacar Kane, a member of the advocacy group Solidarity Across Borders. “So us being actors and living the situation and being faced with the reality, we just wanted to prevent it from being a selective program but for it to be an open program to all migrants so everyone has access to it.”

During the demonstration, advocates denounced the living and working conditions of people without status in Quebec. Until undocumented immigrants are regularized, it will be impossible for them to access fundamental rights and services. 

Carlos Rojas-Salazar, Director Operations and International Affairs for the Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (RHFW), explained that immigrant workers who are overrepresented in the agricultural field in Quebec possess fewer legal rights than Canadian workers despite facing harsher working conditions. 

“Without them, the whole agricultural industry would be nothing,” said Rojas-Salazar. “When people come here, they find themselves living in crowded rooms, we have seen beds stacked on four levels, with minimal maintenance and that’s just terrible.” 

Rojas-Salazar explained that the inadequate working conditions of undocumented workers was brought to the RHFW’s attention, including amid the pandemic when workers got sick at a much higher rate when compared to the rest of the population. The RHFW has found that, because of the labour and a lack of services, immigrant workers are at greater risk of developing chronic health problems.

“What we’re doing is we’re importing healthy people and we are sending back to their countries people with dramatic conditions, with chronic diseases, people at 45 years old that have the back of an 80-years-old,” explained Rojas-Salazar. “This is the case for men, which in Quebec account for 90 per cent of the workers and for women it’s even worse.”

According to Rojas-Salazar, immigrant workers are also more at risk of being exploited compared to their Canadian counterparts since they have no legal recourse and might fear being deported or detained if they speak up. “Why should Canadians care about this? Because when you have people who are being paid less, who don’t have rights, you open the doors to crime, to abuse, people don’t have the right to go complain because they are afraid, they’re afraid of losing opportunities so they shut up,” he said. 

Kane added that in making its proposal for the program, the federal government should be careful not to think solely in terms of immigrant workers but also include those who cannot work. 

“The government is always speaking of the workers, the people that can contribute but they forget that there are elders, children inside of it too — people that cannot necessarily work that need to be included too,” said Kane. 

He believes that a fully open regularization plan would allow immigrants without status not only to have access to the fundamental rights and services that permanent residents and Canadians are entitled to, but also to feel overall more included in the society.

“It is a solution because it’s going to allow access to healthcare, to coverage, to services that people don’t have,” Kane said. “The psychological state of the people is also going to change, it’s going to relieve stress from them, all the trauma that they lived from being excluded from society is not going to be gone but at least taken care of and it’s going to help them feel equal, well-treated and part of this society fully.”


How many migrants can the world manage?

Considering the concrete facts about migration, the United States’s actions don’t line up

In most of our lives, the topic of migration is usually accompanied by the word “crisis.” There is no denying that a growing number of environmental, political and economic factors are pressuring more people to displace themselves. However, I believe the world is entirely capable of supporting an increase in human movement. The reason why the current migration situation is labeled as a crisis is because of countless nations’s inability to manage their borders and have proper systems in place to effectively and safely regulate human movement.

Currently, the planet hosts about 7.4 billion people, of which only 245 million people are considered migrants, making up only 3.3 per cent of the world’s total population, according to the Pew Research Center. The current United States’s population is about 325 million, including more than 43 million immigrants, who account for 13.5 per cent of the country’s total population, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The policies and institutional frameworks that allow immigrants to re-establish their lives elsewhere are easily controlled by a state’s regime and judicial system. A state that does not accommodate migrants directly affects the dire situation these people face, especially in terms of human rights. The current border crisis between the United States and Mexico is a pressing case that demonstrates systematic institutional failures.

I believe there is a pressing problem with a regime that consistently produces discourse about the threat immigrants pose to national security, job security and the national budget. It normalizes sentiments of hate and discrimination. It also allows for such norms to be condoned through actions, leading to a lack of recognition of inherent human rights.

Take, for example, the case of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unconstitutionally separating children from their parents. This was done without a proper framework in place to document adult migrants who were being detained. It led to an inability to reunite separated families. Additionally, there was no system to establish where these unaccompanied minors would be kept, and in most cases, the initial intent was to send the minors to foster care. Between April and May alone, almost 2,000 children were separated from their families, according to Vox, likely leading to intense emotional trauma for those separated.

The American justice system is also at the forefront of neglecting human rights, especially with regard to immigration. Immigration courts allow children, sometimes as young as three, to appear unaccompanied at their immigration proceedings. Let that sink in. Given the age of these children, it is certain they don’t have a basic comprehension of immigration law.

Given that the United States’s current immigration laws and systems are not only harmful but also clearly not supporting international human rights, the question that must be considered is: Why has this been allowed to evolve? A common response would be that the American people resent immigrants. However, many recent polls disprove this. Even in the midst of such harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric stemming from the current administration, multiple statistics show it has not affected Americans’ support of immigrants.

A recent Gallup poll found that fears of immigrants bringing crime, taking jobs from native-born citizens and damaging a country’s budget and overall economy are at an all-time low. Over 75 per cent of the respondents in 2018 believed immigration was a good thing for a country. The same poll also found that an overwhelming number of respondents believe immigrants are absolutely beneficial to the American economy. If this is the case and American citizens truly support immigrants, then why is the government not acting in the interests of its constituents?

Graphic by Ana Bilokin


OPINION: The scary use of the “R” word

Today, we can’t be just not racist––we must be anti-racist

If you feel like you have to explain why something isn’t racist, a) it probably is and b) you’re on the wrong side of history. At an event organized by the Federal Liberal Association in St. Jean on Aug. 16, a woman interrupted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech by incessantly yelling his name until he had no choice but to acknowledge her.

“I want to know when you will give us back the $146 million that we paid for your illegal immigrants.” Those are the words that Diane Blain shouted at the top of her lungs (and into my ear) in a corn field off Highway 133 in Sabrevois, Que. Surrounded by flabbergasted Liberals who were just there to have a good time, Blain threatened to throw a punch at any person who asked her to calm down.

In the midst of the madness, Trudeau attempted to appease the woman by outlining a few ways the government is giving back to Quebecers. Once Trudeau felt he had given her an appropriate amount of attention, he resumed the speech he had come to give. But she wasn’t satisfied. “You didn’t answer my question,” Blain said. As she repeated it, a man found his way to her side to chime in with, “We are not on Mohawk territory.” (We were, in fact, on Mohawk territory).

So, Trudeau put aside diplomacy and called it like he saw it. “This intolerance regarding immigrants does not have a place in Canada,” he said. “Canada was built by waves of immigration that were welcomed by First Nations, who showed us how to build a strong society, and the people who come here, generation after generation, to build stronger communities, this is what makes us stronger as a country. Madam, your intolerance does not have a place here.”

The crowd erupted in cheers, and Trudeau exited stage left. But later, the internet exploded. I was shocked to find that even some Liberals felt Trudeau’s reaction was a little uncalled for. I later realized this reaction was largely due to the footage that circulated online shortly after the event. The video conveniently begins later than the kerfuffle did, meaning you don’t hear Trudeau’s initial level-headed response.

Some say Blain’s question was valid and that Trudeau called her racist to avoid having to answer it. I call bullshit. Trudeau called her racist because he, like any compassionate person, doesn’t believe the borders of our country are where we should draw the line between which humans we care about and which ones we don’t. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to asylum, reads: “If you are persecuted at home, you have the right to seek protection in another country.” It saddens me that this concept continues to be questioned today.

Racism isn’t always blatant; it manifests itself in many different forms. Trudeau recognizing and denouncing an instance of subtle discrimination means he has an awareness that we should expect from all our leaders as well as ourselves. Being non-racist simply isn’t enough. We have to be anti-racist. We have to actively denounce everyday racism in our thoughts, speech and behaviour. The first step in doing so is calling it by its name.

Racism has always been racism. People aren’t taking things more personally than before. We’re just reaching a point in time where people feel empowered to demand better. And they should.

If there’s one thing I was left with after the bizarre evening I spent in a corn field, it was immense faith in the leader of our country and a sense of hope that change is on the horizon.

Photo by Katelyn Thomas

Student Life

Welcoming a new community one hand at a time

Petites-Mains offers women from around the world the opportunity to gain work and language skills. Feature photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Petites-Mains provides female immigrants in Montreal with job opportunities and language courses

“Petites-Mains is much more than a training centre; it is a family that welcomes people as they are with open arms,” said Suzanne Tremblay, the president of Petites-Mains. Located on St-Laurent Boulevard, Petites-Mains has changed the lives of thousands of newly arrived women in Montreal ever since it opened its doors in 1995. From work experience programs to interviewing skills, the organization offers all the necessary tools to help immigrant and marginalized women succeed in Quebec.

“We offer training programs in sewing, cooking and office help, as well as social integration programs, work experience programs and French classes,” said Katy Howick, the organization’s intervention specialist. Using funding from Emploi-Québec, the federal government and donations, Petites-Mains offers its students training in a program of their choice along with workshops that help diminish cultural and language barriers—all while paying the women a minimum wage salary.

The organization has 50 spots to offer each year, but with 910 hours of free job training and subsequent employment opportunities, the organization reported a waiting list of 420 people for 2016-17. “Once they’re done here, they find a job immediately,” Howick said. “They finish here on a Friday, and they’re set to go to their jobs on Monday.”

The sewing atelier currently has a waiting list of 53 local businesses looking to hire students from Petites-Mains. “It’s crazy how much Montreal lacks qualified sewing machine operators,” Howick said. “It’s ridiculous.”

A glimpse at the Petites-Mains sewing atelier. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Due to its reputation, the organization has numerous contracts with clients such as Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal. As part of their training, Petites-Mains participants make all the polos and T-shirts for the city’s firefighters. The cloth kit bags handed out to Concordia students during frosh week are also sewn by Petites-Mains women. As a social economy enterprise, Petites-Mains supports local designers and startup businesses by offering cheaper market prices for their sewn products, including clothes, bags, uniforms and baby apparel.

A good reputation in the local sewing industry is not all Petites-Mains has achieved. The organization also includes Inter-Mission, a catering service founded in 2007 that proudly attained a 98 per cent client satisfaction rate last year, reported the organization’s website. According to Howick, many women come to Petites-Mains with no work experience, but one of their main skills is cooking for their families. With the training Petites-Mains offers, Howick said the women’s cooking skills are transformed into refined culinary expertise that opens up job opportunities with local catering services, restaurants or even hotels.

“A lot of women say they don’t have any skills, yet they’re capable of making a meal plan for a family of four under $60. This is a skill I don’t have,” Howick said. In order for each participant to find a job they’re well-suited for, interventionists such as Howick help the women develop their self-esteem by recognizing their skills and putting them on paper. Job interview simulations and workshops on how to put together an impressive CV are also an integral part of the learning process.

A portrait of Katy Howick, the intervention specialist at Petites-Mains. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Not only do newly immigrated women and mothers have special needs when it comes to integration, but their children do as well. Therefore, Petites-Mains is in the process of building  a daycare to prepare participants’ children for a successful integration at school. This will also allow participants to drop off their children and focus on their training. “We try to have as many open doors as possible to help answer the needs of as many profiles as we can,” Howick said. “We believe the daycare is essential.”

Howick described her job as exciting and rewarding, but also challenging. “One of the challenges is that it is not stable; the workforce is based on what is happening in the world,” she said. Depending on influxes of refugees and immigrants from different regions, Petites-Mains must adapt to the varying skill sets and values of participants arriving from those countries. “Participants from Congo and Haiti have very different values and life experiences than the ones we had last year from Syria,” Howick explained. “So we have to constantly update and adapt to this new workforce.”



Working at a gas station? No way, Jose

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

I always laugh when I see Apu on The Simpsons demonstrating the stereotypical gripes of middle management.

After graduating from the fictional Calcutta Technical Institute, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon earned his PhD in computer science at the Springfield Heights Institute of Technology. Originally Apu had taken up a position at the Kwik-E-Mart in order to pay off his student loans but came to love the job, choosing to forsake his degree in favour of his position as operator and proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart.

While the saturated colors of animation provide a wonderful escape, it does not change the fact that immigrants do not often get the choice of leaving their education by the wayside.

In a recent publication in the peer-reviewed journal ISRN Economics, Concordia University professor Dr. Mesbah Sharaf confirmed what many immigrants know all too well as a reality. Immigrants must take up lower paying jobs and, more importantly, jobs that do not match their educational training in order to survive.

His findings discovered that there was an “over-education mismatch among recent immigrants to Canada,” with the numbers clocking at 76.3 per cent for males and 71.8 per cent for females. According to the study, “these figures did not improve much after four years from arrival, when 70.4 per cent of the males and 64.6 per cent of females were over-educated.”

“It’s a big problem — it’s a big waste,” said Sharaf. “It’s a huge loss to the economy. It has implications at the micro level and a huge cost at the macro level as well.”

“You can see many physicians who come here who cannot find work. They are forced to find work for their survival. They are not going to work at a cab company, for example, unless they were forced to do so.”

But how exactly do we as a society fix this gap?

Firstly, there must be put in place a comprehensive protocol to assess new immigrants skills and training, prioritizing them for the job market. This could help alleviate the major gap of technical workers that we are experiencing in the economy right now, as well as certify that the education received by new residents is legitimate and at least up to par with Canadian standards. If they are not, provide remedial courses in order to bring them up to speed.

Secondly, if there is lack of proper language and/or communication skills, provide training and support to those who need it. On that point the Quebec government, through cooperation with immigration, employment and health departments, has been doing well by providing French language and culture classes to new immigrants.

Thirdly, I would suggest vital job market training such as how to sell yourself including marketing yourself in 21st century and, perhaps most importantly, a form of mentorship/internship program in order to provide new immigrants with work experience.

What makes me such an expert on immigrant issues? My mother and father were both immigrants to this country and have been proud Canadian citizens for over 18 years now. The first ten years were tough — my father’s certifications and degrees were rejected by potential employers, despite being over-qualified for the positions he applied for. The lack of work experience did not help either.

“It’s a Catch-22,” explained Brian Cordeiro. “When you come in new into the country, as a new immigrant, the first question they ask you is: how long have you been in the country and you tell them that many days or that many months, and the second is what’s your experience in Canada. You can’t have work experience if you just got here.”

With these staggering numbers how can we, as citizens of a country that takes pride in caring for its weakest and cherishes its multiculturalism and diversity, accept these numbers with the little support we provide?

Canada is a mosaic, an intertwining web of cultures that takes pride in its diversity. Part of that diversity comes from the new immigrants who arrive on our shores every year. The system isn’t broken, but it must be improved.

Exit mobile version