Undocumented Workers Declare "We Are Not the Crisis"

Following a very cold night spent sleeping outside the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada's Montreal offices, undocumented migrants and their defenders, as well as a few members of the press, gathered at the same spot at 9:00 am for a press conference organized by Solidarity Across Borders.

"We are not the crisis!," declared Hady Anne, spokesperson for Solidarity Across Borders. "The crisis is elsewhere. We are the solution to the crisis. ...The crisis is climatic, planetary, social," he continued. "How many women today can't even work, because they are without access to daycare?" "How many people sleep outdoors because there is a housing crisis? So I would like to forcefully say here to the politicians who are attempting to instrumentalize the lives of migrants as a wedge, that to claim there is a migrant crisis in Canada is false.[1] ... They are trying to escape the reality by hiding behind migrants." he said.

"Without permanent residency," he continued, "migrants are exploited at work, deprived of health care and separated from their families. A just society is based on equality, which is not possible without permanent immigration status for all." The undocumented and other migrants, he continued, "grow food, take care of the sick and seniors and are an integral part of the community. ...They are our neighbours, our colleagues, our classmates, our friends .... A regularization program that brings with it permanent residence status would lift half a million people out of poverty and provide the tools to protect them from abuse and injustice, reunite families and right historical wrongs."

"We ask Mr. Trudeau to create a regularization program aimed at granting permanent residency as well as a temporary work permit to all the undocumented here. Each day brings with it exploitation, removals and at times, death," said Hady Anne.

Mamadou Konaté, a Côte d'Ivoire national who continues to fight deportation, spoke on behalf of the Immigrant Workers Centre. He informed that over recent weeks deportations have increased and that undocumented migrants continue to be detained at the federal government's Immigration Holding Centre in Laval, deprived of the means to secure a guarantor and of being released on bail.

A member of the Student Coalition for an Environmental and Social Shift (CEVES) said: "The government and media are fuelling hatred towards migrants, particularly those who enter through Roxham Road," adding that "immediate regularization [is] incontestably a moral obligation of governments."

Nazila Bettache of the Caring for Social Justice Collective, made up of students, practitioners and activists in the health care field, expressed her profound admiration to migrants who have been mobilizing for years, if not decades, for status for all. She said: "People have spent the night in the cold outside of this Immigration Canada monstrosity to demand status for all ... and to denounce immigration policies." In order to access housing and daycare and not have to live in fear, she said, permanent residence status, by way of an inclusive, massive regularization program, is needed. She condemned Canada's present immigration policies as being "inefficient, hypocritical, unjust and violent," adding that "immigration policies kill, ... as was seen with Fritznel Richard and more recently with Jose Leos Cervantes, who literally froze to death at the border.[2] Such deaths cannot be normalized, cannot be accepted as the status quo."

Amy Darwish, of the Comité d'action de Parc Extension, said it is "not possible to talk about housing without speaking about status for all. ... Having a roof over one's head is fundamental, however, many are deprived of access to decent housing and face discrimination. She said they "are refused because of a lack of identity, of credit references."

Because of exclusionary Quebec government policies, she said, undocumented persons also have no access to subsidized or emergency housing programs, adding that they are forced to live under substandard conditions and must fork over most of their income to pay the rent as well as accept precarious working conditions simply in order to survive.

She also noted that we are increasingly hearing "racist and opportunist politicians claim that the housing crisis is being caused by migrants, particularly those who entered through Roxham Road. ... This is a way of instrumentalizing people without status and is absolutely false." "If community groups and public services are overwhelmed," she asserted, "it's because of austerity and neo-liberal policies, the same policies which uproot people."

"It is our responsibility and duty," she stressed, "to oppose racism and xenophobia and to stand in solidarity with those facing the housing crisis. Everyone must be able to access housing."

Her comments, like those of other speakers, were greeted with warm applause.


1. On February 21, in an opinion piece entitled "It's time to close the breach at Roxham Road and enforce Canada's borders" contributed by Quebec Premier François Legault and published by The Globe and Mail, he writes that "during the year 2022, the number of asylum seeker entries in Quebec has exploded" and that "Quebec's capacity to take care of the asylum seekers has now been largely exceeded."

"The new arrivals struggle to find adequate housing and are more likely to find themselves in a situation of homelessness," he notes, adding that "community organizations that provide them with direct support are at their wits' end, and Quebec's public services also face increased, unprecedented pressures, particularly in regards to health, education and social assistance.

"This situation comes at a time when, like everywhere in Canada, our public services are already strained," he says. This "has become unsustainable and cannot continue any longer."

"The people working to receive and care for asylum seekers," the Premier continues, "are limited. The number of new classes we can add to accommodate children, many of whom are distressed or traumatized, is limited, and that's not to mention the shortage of teachers.

"Similarly," he adds, "there is the scarcity of housing, which cannot be built in such a short time. As elsewhere in Canada, the health care system is already fragile."

"People must be able to find housing, children must be able to attend school and the sick must be able to receive treatment," he writes.

A day earlier, a letter Premier Legault had written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was leaked to the press. In it, the Quebec premier notes that "tens of thousands of asylum seekers who remain in Montreal have continued to exert pressure for many months, and even years, on our public services."

Premier Legault then raises his "serious concern" over the decline of the French language in Montreal and states that "the massive arrival" "of tens of thousands of migrants, a significant proportion of whom do not speak French, greatly complicates our francization task."

The Premier also claims that "because of the significant number of asylum seekers welcomed over the past year, costs have exploded and now amount to many hundreds of millions of dollars."

On September 21, 2022, during a Quebec election debate in the Mauricie region, former Immigration Minister Jean Boulet falsely declared that "80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, do not work, do not speak French and do not adhere to Quebec society values."

2. Jose Leos Cervantes, a 45-year-old Mexican national, died shortly after crossing the border into Vermont from Quebec on foot at the end of February. He was one of the hundreds who have tried to cross into Vermont this year alone.

(Translated from original French. With files from Solidarity Across Borders, CityNews, Journal de Montréal, Journal de Québec, The Globe and Mail. Photo: Solidarity Across Borders)

This article was published in
Number 18 - April 3, 2023

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