We are human beings: regularization of undocumented people
This is an adapted version of a talk presented at a conference in Montreal in December, 2022
“We are human beings”: life a daily challenge for undocumented migrants
The life of non-status people is a challenge every day. We fight to live in dignity, to have a place to live, to eat, and to work.
Without a work permit, it is very difficult to find a job. And if we succeed in finding one, we are often exploited and not even paid the minimum wage. This economic exploitation is taken for granted by the authorities.
Some of our friends have had accidents or faced abuse in horrible working conditions. Because of these horrible conditions and the lack of protections, some people quit their jobs, despite knowing they will not be able to pay rent and may lose their apartments. Some non-status people do end up becoming homeless.
There are also many who struggle and stay despite horrible working conditions, and many more who are fired from one day to another because employers don't need them anymore.
Non-status people don't have medicare and struggle to receive basic care, let alone being able to afford services like physiotherapy.
Women continue to stay in abusive relationships because they feel it’s their only chance to get status, or because they have nowhere else to go. They have no legal support, and some lawyers are abusive and don't care about undocumented people and the precarity we live in.
Each of us seeks to live freely without fear and in security. It’s a basic requirement to live with dignity as human beings.
Without identity papers, we live in constant fear of arrest, detention, and deportation. Why can't we have the same rights as others? We are human beings.
Federal government’s regularization program underway
I have been organizing with Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), a migrant justice network, for several years now. It has been involved in the migrant struggle for more than 20 years. Among its main demands are: status for all, no to double punishment, no to detention, and yes to a city without borders.
SAB demands a regularization program so all non-status people are regularized and given permanent resident status; this should be complete and inclusive without any exceptions.
Regularization must be considered as a minimum floor of rights knowing that when a group is excluded, the global economy suffers.
If the pandemic has taught us something, it’s that everyone is connected and that the exclusion of a person or a group of people from the team is harmful to the whole.
To ensure that a regularization program is most effective, a permanent coordination table must be established with the Migrant Rights Network so that the people who are undocumented can be involved in the process from its design to its implementation and evaluation.
The key points we are looking for in the program are:
- A simple and broad program: all undocumented persons must be able to apply for and obtain permanent residence
- Should include all time periods spent in Canada
- Should include all family members
- Work permits given upon application for permanent residency and valid as long as needed, until applications are processed and residency granted
- That it should be continuous
Additionally, we believe that the immigration system needs to be changed completely so that it ceases to create situations of inhumane treatment of people.
The application procedures should be clear and simple so that undocumented migrants are able to do it themselves, without having to seek a lawyer.
The application should not be dependent on any employer's letter, or proof of work, or language test.
No one should be excluded, ineligibility criteria should be waived, and applicants should have the right to appeal as needed.
There must be a prohibition on detention and deportation at least for the duration of the regularization program.
The program must be announced three months in advance of its implementation, with full information and documents in all languages available.
Actions that led to this moment
Great mobilizations for equality and justice have often taken place here in Quebec.
This mobilization for regularization is the result of over 20 years of struggle and cross-border solidarity.
Small and large civil-society organizations have shown solidarity – from unions to women's groups like the Quebec Women's Federation (Fédération des Femmes du Québec), which has supported Status for All since 2003, and human rights groups like the Law and Freedom League (Ligue de droits et libertés), which has supported us from the beginning. Health-sector organizations have supported us wholeheartedly, and Médecins du Monde recently joined our call.
Migrant groups have fought arm-in-arm for their dignity and justice. The Committee of Non-Status Women have led inspiring mobilizations and laid the groundwork for mobilization where women felt empowered and took their full place in the struggle.
Carmelo, an organizer with Mexicans United for Regularization, was one of the people who fought for the defense of migrants' rights. He left us two years ago in a tragic accident. It’s important to highlight his contribution to this struggle.
There have been other migrant groups over the years that have advanced this struggle by mobilizing a large part of the population of Quebec. The committee of non-status Algerians in the 2000s did incredible work, along with a coalition to stop the deportation of Palestinian refugees. These groups fought for their own dignity and justice and built a strong network of solidarity.
Even migrants who were threatened with deportation fought for their cause and called for the regularization of all undocumented migrants. Paula, Ivan Hernandez, Lucie Granadoz, Daniel and Abdul Khader Balouni are some of the heroes in the struggle. They have brought awareness and understanding of their situation to the public eye. They have shown us the reality of how violent the immigration system is, and have called for justice and dignity for all.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, for reasons sometimes referred to as livelihood issues, there has been a mass mobilization of migrants and creation of new groups. Stand for Dignity (Debout pour la dignité), for instance, have mobilized the Haitian community, and also popularized demands for fundamental justice and dignity.
There have been several mobilizations, large demonstrations, creative actions, webinars and other actions here in Montreal and Ottawa in the last two years. We have been meeting with federal ministers in Ottawa since last fall and continue to do so with other elected officials. We are working with the Immigrant Workers Center and with close to twenty civil society organizations including unions, human rights groups, lawyers, health and community centers.
Regularization is for the situation we are living in now, but we want the system to change so that no one else has to go through this or live this way. We want dignity for all, with freedom to migrate, freedom to stay, and freedom to return.
We will be in the streets until everyone is free and lives in dignity.
Samira Jasmin is a spokesperson of Solidarity Across Borders.