Undocumented in Canada (Anakbayan Toronto’s presentation at the International Assembly for Migrants and Refugees (IAMR4)

Undocumented in Canada

Non‐status immigrants or undocumented are people who do not have the legal status that would allow them to live permanently in Canada. They are defined as women and men & children who actively participate in the Canadian labour force. Majority of whom have entered the country with some legal status. Due to the shift in immigration Canada has been actively doing. The temporary foreign worker program is expected to a create approx.150, 000 undocumented workers by 2015. Lastly, there are also those individuals remaining in the country following the issuance of a deportation order; and those pursuing alternate procedures such as Humanitarian & Compassionate applications.

According to Social planning Toronto report (a unique and thorough study conducted by the city of Toronto and non-government agencies that focuses on non-status people. Canada houses about 200,000 to 500,000 undocumented people by the turn of 2013. Nearly 50% resides in Toronto. Toronto is known to be the “Sanctuary city”. As we go further along, we will discuss what this means

To be undocumented in Canada is a complex process, interwoven by a flawed immigration system and reinforced by gender, racial stratification and discrimination. The obvious mismatch between labour demands and the type of immigrants who qualify for acceptance to Canada, is a major determinant for becoming non-status

Unlike here in the U.S., where undocumented migration is associated with clandestine border crossing, in Canada, the majority of currently undocumented migrants initially entered through authorized legal channels, including refugee claimants, sponsored immigrants, or as individuals with valid student, work, or visitor visas.

What is common for all these individuals is that majority are actively participating in different type of work force.

What sets them apart is that with their non-status situation leaves them and their families with precarious access to health care, education, social services, and legal rights that are basic to promote and protect their health.

What has been done?

STATUS campaign

In 2004, STATUS a broad coalition of individuals and organizations advocated for the regularization of status of all non‐status immigrants living in Canada. In the past, every time there has been an overhaul of Canada’s immigration law, the government has brought in programs to regularize the status of those who were caught in the old system. STATUS demanded that the government of Canada implements a program to allow all non‐status immigrants living and working in Canada to apply for permanent resident status. Living without status is a human rights issue and STATUS is asking the government to act.


No One Is Illegal-Toronto AND MIGRANTE ALLIES launched the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy Campaign in 2004. City residents without full legal status face significant barriers to accessing essential city services, such as emergency services, social housing, food banks, health care, and education. These barriers exacerbate and perpetuate the fears of detention and deportation that thousands of city residents are forced to live with.

A Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy would make city services available to all residents, regardless of their immigration status. The policy would ensure that ALL city residents, including people without full immigration status, can access essential services (housing, health, education, social services, emergency services) without fear of being detained or deported.

From this Campaign we were able to push forward another campaign directed to the School Board to gain access to education for children of the undocumented.

Education not Deportation

Education Not Deportation (END) is a campaign and a coalition of committed people raising awareness, engaging and organizing around issues of migrant justice with schools and educators. Students, teachers, union members and community members who joined the movement to ensure that all students regardless of immigration status are able to access education.

END is striving for elementary and secondary schools to be safe and accessible places for all, as outlined in Section 49.1 of the Ontario Education Act.

END works to ensure that all people have equal access and opportunity to attend colleges, Universities, ESL classes and language schools without fear of immigration authorities and deportation.

In the Fall of 2007 the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) – the largest school board in Canada – provided its 558 schools with a full colour poster stating that “All children living in our community, including those without immigration status in Canada, are entitled to admission to our schools”(attached)

Accompanying this poster was a tip sheet with guidelines for office administrators to ensure that no student is denied access to elementary or secondary school.

This victory is the result of three years of struggle. Since getting the TDSB to pass a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in May 2007, the Education Not Deportation Campaign that includes OSSTF-D12, students, teachers, and other community groups and organizations have been working tirelessly to ensure that the policy became concrete practice in schools across the city. This experience has reminded them of the gap between policies and their implementation – and even now, we know the struggle is far from over.

Is it enough?

Fortunately for Toronto, a city in which holds more than 50% of non-status in Canada, have embraced the title Sanctuary City. This speaks to the values and the ethics in which the people and non-governmental agencies are riding on when it comes to providing non status complete access to services. This proactive landscape that pertains to non-status today could have not been possible without the work of non-government agencies and service providers that have opened their hearts and minds to serving each individuals. In the context of the rights of every human being.

Though is worth mentioning that many feel overburdened by the disproportionate responsibility placed on select organizations to offer care to non-status individuals, which consistently requires negotiating for more resources. There is also a general understanding that the policies governing the provision of care by health institutions, often conflict with the fundamental beliefs and values held by health professionals, which is to provide care for all, irrespective of anybody’s status. This is a wonderful example of the really the kind of change we should be aspiring for. After all these hard work that non orgs do, individuals will still have their biases as to how one should treat a case of a non-status. Is the patchwork enough? Or do we need to change the environment that we live in.

Many providers note that although health institutions which offer care to non-status people are safe places, non-status individuals may exhibit distrust towards such institutions, due to previous cases where reporting to immigration officials has shown presence in that area.

 Where do we go from here?

The works of various advocacy groups have led to a number of services that have been granted for all residents of Toronto regardless of their legal immigration status. But mainly on the municipal level. Provincial and Federal services are not available to non-status. These include employment insurance, some workers’ compensation benefits, Ontario health care, public housing, Ontario works (welfare) and more.

Groups such as Solidarity city, Migrants rights Toronto, Canadian council for refugees whom are all allies of Migrante Canada and Anakbayan Toronto have been in the forefront of various mass lead campaigns. Campaigns Know Your Rights has helped spread awareness on invisibility of non-status people. Furthermore, along with all the campaigns we have launched to serve the poorest of the poor of our communities. We must also expose the flawed systemic programs, policies and institutions that perpetuates the irregulization of non-status people.

In fact we see it that the burgeoning amount of non-status people in Canada is quite a good reflection as to how ineffective, anti-migrant the Canadian Immigration system is today.

This very system that looks to serve a certain group of individuals while making it harder to the rest to achieve status. Thus perpetuating this culture of “Kapit sa patalim” or risking lives to live underground.  More importantly, like the theme of many speakers in this conference have been speaking of. We’ve got to take on this assignment of understanding the push factors that brought you and I here or our parents. We’ve got to learn not only about the criminalization of migrants here and in our borders. But also the militarization that are happening back home that results to displacing our people. Forcing people to migrate to other countries. Let us also be mindful of those who are being displaced locally. The idps of the internal displaced persons. Lastly, we need to speak of the roles of the imperialist USA actions to our country back home.

There are many reasons why migrants become undocumented. Regardless of that situation, they have rights that should be recognized, upheld, and protected. Anakbayan Toronto is present here today, to be one with all undocumented people in North America and worldwide. We will fight side by side to stop criminalization of migrants, from the strength of our unity, lets us tackle the root causes of all migration!

%d bloggers like this: