On September 20, 2020, over 150 people – including migrants, refugees, undocumented people, workers, and students – rallied at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square in support of full and permanent immigrant status for all.
The Status for All actions were coordinated by the Migrant Rights Network, Canada’s migrant justice coalition. In Toronto, organizations and individuals gathered at all corners of the Yonge-Dundas intersection in a vibrant and energetic show of support and solidarity. Actions also took place in Fredericton, Hamilton, Kitchener, Montréal, Ottawa, St. Catharines, St. John’s, and Sudbury. Actions were held in Vancouver and Kelowna on September 18.
In Canada, over 1.6 million people are non-permanent residents. Migrants are either undocumented or on various work, study, or humanitarian permits. Many migrants are excluded from universal healthcare, access to emergency income, human rights and employment protections, and decent work. Speaking out and advocating for themselves can result in termination from employment, deportation, and homelessness. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many migrant workers, refugees, students, and undocumented people have lost their lives and sources of income. Granting status would recognize migrants as deserving of basic human rights and other legal protections, as well as healthcare and social assistance.
Migrant care workers
Several speakers delivered messages at the rally. Kim Smith, a migrant care worker, addressed the group with a clear message:
“Status for all means that we will not be separated from our families and that we can have basic human rights. COVID-19 has worsened existing inequalities for migrants, refugees, undocumented people, workers, and students. We have been shut out of emergency income support, healthcare, and social services, while at the same time are forced to keep working. Status for all allows us to protect ourselves from victimization and discrimination from our bosses. Without status, as migrants, we are exposed and vulnerable, afraid to speak up. We want green light status for all.”
Marlyn Lulham, a member of Caregiver Connections, Education and Support Organization (CCESO), told the rally, “This pandemic highlights the need for care work as essential and permanent work. Granting permanent residency for all care workers and those under temporary work permits will ensure that Canada will never again have a shortage of people with skills that are deemed essential care work.”
Lulham echoed the call to action:
“We demand full, permanent immigrant status to all immigrants, irrespective of present immigration status. Many migrants, including foreign workers, care workers, and temporary foreign workers, have become undocumented and unable to assert their rights to refuse unsafe work as a result of their lack of permanent resident status. We say, ‘good enough to work, good enough to stay’. We demand status for all migrants, no exclusions.”
Leo, an international student, explained how the immigration system discounts work experience that students accumulate during their studies.
“It doesn’t matter how hard I work to improve my [permanent residency] score, the system keeps pushing me down. We come here on temporary permits and we are kept as temporary,” he said. “Migrant workers are essential, and we deserve essential rights. We are speaking up for change, and we won’t give up. We all want to live in a society where everyone has the same rights and opportunities. Full and permanent immigration status is the only way to make it so.”
Migrant sex workers
Jaden Peng, a member of Butterfly: Asian and Migrant Sex Workers’ Support Network, delivered another powerful message:
“Most of our members are middle-aged woman, Asian, migrants, massage parlour workers and sex workers because of endemic conditions in our hometowns. We decided to come to Canada to make money to support our families. We are brave enough to work by ourselves in a foreign country. Most of us do not speak English well. Some of us are visitors, refugees, or undocumented.”
She described the precarious working conditions that migrant sex workers experience: “We often worry about police raids, customers failing to pay, robbery, or sexual assault. Some of us are mothers of international students who work harder to afford higher tuition fees. Some of us work 24/7, living at the workplace and not getting quality sleep.”
“During the coronavirus pandemic,” Peng said, “more workers need our help than ever before. Due to the risk of infection, many of us stopped working. Some of us wanted to go home but were limited by travel restrictions. During this time, many of us face financial difficulties and health issues. Most of our members are unable to receive any form of Canadian government benefits because of our status. We can’t afford rent and food. We need to rely on food banks and donations. Some of our workers worry about being infected with COVID-19, and we are stressed, anxious, we have insomnia, and we feel isolated. We are here to call for full immigration status for all. Having status will allow us to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
With Prime Minister Trudeau’s forthcoming throne speech on September 23, Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, emphasized the importance of migrant rights as a political issue: “Status for all is the right thing to do. In a fair society, we need equal rights, and the only way to have equal rights is to have full and permanent immigration status for all. The Prime Minister must just do the right thing.
“We have crossed many oceans and distances to come here to build a life for ourselves,” Hussan said. When this government denies us immigration rights, they make us second-class citizens. We refuse. We demand a fair society with equal rights, and that means full and permanent immigration status for everyone.”
Over 300 organizations (with over 8 million members), plus thousands of individuals, signed an open letter, which was issued to Prime Minister Trudeau on September 14, calling for a single-tier immigration system and full immigration status for all.
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