Women without status are fighting Canada’s racist immigration system

April 6, 2018

BY Nelly Bassily

Lucy Francineth Granados is one among an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 people living without immigration status in Canada. Lucy, the sole provider for her three children who remain back home in Guatemala, has been living and working in Montreal, Quebec for nine years. In the early morning hours of March 20th, 2018, four Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) agents descended on Lucy’s home, violently arresting her and injuring her arm. She is now being detained in the CBSA immigration detention center in Laval, Quebec.

After nine years of living in precarity, Lucy filed a humanitarian application for permanent residency in an attempt to regularize her status but, the CBSA arrested her before her file could be studied by Immigration Canada. As a result, Lucy is now facing deportation to Guatemala, a country she fled because she was threatened by the Mara Salvatruchas, one of the most notorious gangs in Central America.

Lucy’s close family and friends say that in immigration detention, she was psychologically abused. She also complained numerous times that she was having a hard time breathing, and that she couldn’t spend another night in detention as it was having tremendous ill-effect on her physical and mental health.

In detention, Lucy underwent a psychiatric evaluation that concludes that she is suffering from Acute Stress Disorder resulting from her arrest. She is also at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder if there are “ongoing life stressors” such as continued detention and deportation.

The estimates of up to 500,000 non-status/undocumented people living in Canada are in fact much higher. As the organization Women Act explains it in their fact sheet on non-status women in Canada, “People who live without legal status are forced to live underground and work under the table in order to avoid being noticed by the authorities and consequently deported.” Which puts non-status people in a precarious state of constant physical, psychological, emotional and financial stress and vulnerability.

There are many reasons that people, especially women, trans and gender non-conforming folks, end up in a non-status limbo in Canada. Chief among these reasons is that Canada’s immigration system thrives on a mixture of rabid capitalism and unbridled racism which exploits and strips migrants of colour of basic human rights.

Canada is often seen externally as being a welcoming, safe haven for asylum seekers and migrants but the reality is that the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council received a submission stating that Canada violates international law with a needlessly cruel and punitive immigration detention system that, for example, arbitrarily detains migrants with mental health issues in provincial jails and keeps migrant children in immigration detention facilities that resemble medium-security prisons.

And the reality is that Lucy’s arrest is not arbitrary. As a community organizer, a member of the Non-Status Women’s Collective and the Temporary Workers Association, Lucy has fought for the rights of non-status women. Her close family and friends say CBSA is trying to send a message to non-status women like Lucy. The message being that if you defend rights and demand fair treatment, you’ll be reprimanded.

On March 25th, during a press conference to raise awareness about Lucy’s situation, and what was then a 48-hour window before imminent deportation, the group Solidarity Across Borders made the point that “you can live with no access to basic services, no healthcare, things that most of us take for granted as being rights. Your children can live in precarity. Basically, that you can work the lowest paying, most difficult, most dangerous jobs without a shred of security and you can stay. But if you want the same rights as everyone else, CBSA will come for you.”

On March 27th, the original date on which Lucy was scheduled to be deported, she was hospitalized, her feet were shackled together, despite the presence of two CBSA guards outside her hospital door and she was not permitted any calls or visitors. Her deportation date has since been postponed to Friday, April 13th, 2018.

The ‘Let Lucy Stay’ campaign is now staging a ‘Mothers for Lucy sit-in’ outside CBSA’s offices in downtown Montreal. As Solidarity Across Borders puts it: “Support is growing in opposition to the violence, abuses, and indifference with which Lucy has been stripped of her rights and humanity, and to the Canadian state’s contempt for women of colour, migrants, and workers […] Solidarity with Lucy is solidarity with all undocumented migrant women and workers.”

Last year, former mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre declared that Montreal was a “sanctuary city”. A sanctuary city means that undocumented people can access services (healthcare, women’s shelters, education, etc) without the fear of being reported to immigration officials and consequently risk being deported. But the reality is that Montreal is not a sanctuary city. As was recently reported by the Huffington post, “Montreal police have had more contact with [CBSA] than before the [erroneous declaration of] sanctuary city status […] According to the CBSA, it received 3,608 calls from Montreal police last year, compared to 2,872 in 2016 and 2,632 in 2015. Over 80 per cent of the calls are to verify someone’s immigration status. Police can also check arrest warrants or ask for fingerprints.”

As support for Lucy and all undocumented women like her grows and as more asylum seekers cross the U.S.-Canada border daily, collusion between CBSA agents and Montreal police point to a larger problem of systemic racial profiling (profoundly rooted in anti-Black racism) and discrimination toward the most vulnerable populations: undocumented migrants of colour.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have yet to react to the numerous appeals for compassion and humanity in Lucy’s case. A petition demanding that Lucy stays and gets granted permanent residency has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. On April 10th, many concerned citizen gathered for neighbourhood vigils in a bid to show country-wide support for Lucy. The  Immigrant Workers Center in Montreal is preparing a complaint that will be filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the CBSA on behalf of Lucy.