New Canadian Media

Commentary by: Alberto Ledesma in Berkeley, California

I first became a “dreamer” more than forty years ago. That is when my parents brought my sisters and me to the heart of East Oakland for what we thought was a summer vacation. Since then, I have not returned to Huisquilco, Mexico, the town where I was born. 

We were brought as undocumented children by our undocumented parents because they wanted a better life for us and they understood that a life in the shadows in the United States was so much better than a life of economic uncertainty in Mexico. “Keep your head down, work hard, don’t complain!” These were the precepts that guided our lives as we incorporated ourselves into our new American society. Eventually, after a decade of living in the shadows, amnesty came and thus we transitioned out of our precarious legal status.

Forty years later, all four of us children have graduated from UC Berkeley, three with advanced degrees, including two with PhDs from Berkeley and UCLA. But ours is not a story that means to boast about our achievements. Rather, ours is a story that reveals to what degree the hegemony of anti-immigrant terror consumed our lives and motivated us to show that we were more than our legal status. We went from being undocumented immigrant kids to being hyperdocumented students (award after award, degree after degree), as Professor Aurora Chang likes to call it, all in an effort to escape the “illegal alien” taboo. 

After having been on the faculty at various universities across California, I am now an administrator at Berkeley. It is in this capacity that I often interact with current DACA students. Almost all of them, save a few eccentric nonconformists, remind me of the student I once was: quiet, perpetually smiling, with a slight melancholic torpor pulling at the edges of our eyelids. 

All of them will tell you that they foresaw Trump’s viciousness because that is what being undocumented does—it gives you prescience about oncoming doom. Still, all of them would trade their prophetic talents for the promise, however tenuous, that things might get better.

A few days ago, when I heard Jeff Sessions read his carefully worded statement on behalf of the President, I was again reminded that in this country civil rights are not gained without consistent and active struggle. Civil rights for undocumented immigrants is precisely the kind of possibility that the repeated use of the words “illegal alien” are meant to foreclose. And those who are guided by malignant nationalism know that. There, at the podium, Sessions stood like a reincarnated George Wallace blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama. There, as the camera narrowed its focus on his legalistic monologue, he asserted that America could only be made great again if it segregated itself from so many unlawful overachievers. How dare they aspire towards a better life? He seemed to ask. 

And, of course, not all undocumented students, DACA or otherwise, are overachievers. Too many of them are weighted down by the pressures of just making it in Trump’s America that doing okay is already the result of a herculean effort. 

A few days ago, I was reminded that there is a difference between justice and the so-called “rule of law,” especially when that law is selectively applied. What kind of world gives a convicted felon like Joseph Arpaio amnesty and summarily condemns 800,000 young people to a life in the shadows? Conservative recalcitrants like Steve King take it a step further and argue that undocumented immigrant kids and their families should live in the shadows forever. That’s where they belong. 

What the Civil Rights Movement and the 1986 amnesty made clear to me was that sometimes America is capable of showing compassion. Still, it is not hard to surmise that there were some back in the 1980s who predicted the downfall of this nation because more than three million undocumented people, including my family and me, were pardoned from our immigration sin. Most likely, among those people were the Arpaios, Sessions, Kings, and Trumps of the world. Indeed, it is that undoing, that desire to erase what those new Americans brought to the United States, that has seemingly motivated the Make America Great Again campaign. 

I can honestly say that I am still a dreamer today though I have been a citizen since 1992. What I dream of today, however, is a United States where we can have a just discernment of policy instead of the selective application of draconian laws.


Alberto Ledesma was an undocumented immigrant student in the 1980s. He is now the Diversity Director for the Arts & Humanities at UC Berkeley. This piece was republished under arrangement with New America Media

Published in Commentary

 

Advocates say if Vancouver adopted a “sanctuary city” policy, it would allow undocumented immigrants to access health and social services without fear of being deported. “We don’t want someone to be afraid to go to a food bank because of their migration status,” says Tasha Nijjer, a member of the group Sanctuary Health, which has [...]

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Published in Top Stories

 

Toronto may soon become a “Sanctuary City” for thousands of undocumented workers who do not have status in Canada but are allowed to access municipal services without fear, according to City staff.

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Published in National
Sunday, 24 February 2013 14:51

Toronto winking at lawbreakers

by Ranjit Bhaskar for New Canadian Media

It would seem as if sharks and undocumented immigrants are equally deserving of Toronto City Hall’s mercy. Both have been spared extreme measures, although one hopes the reprieve granted to the immigrants is not as short-lived as the lifesaver granted to the marine predators.

The sharks basked in the Council’s attention recently when the sale of their fins was banned. The respite offered to them by Canada’s biggest city was soon dismissed in a court of law, rendering the whole resolution moot.

This time around it is the turn of migrants, specifically those who are here without proper papers. The City has declared that they can now surface, sparing them deportation or any punitive measures from Toronto. Toronto is now a “sanctuary city” that would ensure safe access to services for undocumented residents without fear of being turned over for detention and deportation.

The near unanimity (there were only three no votes against 38 ayes) with which the resolution passed gives the impression that its noble motive of protecting poor, disenfranchised migrants rose above partisan interests. However, given the entrenched divisions in the council, that is highly unlikely.

What seems to have happened is a rare convergence of interests for very different reasons. For the left, it sent out a signal to their constituents that they are doing their best to protect the interests of the downtrodden. For the conservative capitalists, this was the best way to ensure the continued availability of indebted workers at below-minimum wages to keep businesses running in profit. 

But the move is largely irrelevant given that the services the City is proposing to offer them are already available, with no questions asked about residency status.  Children without immigration status are welcomed in schools run by the city and information about them or their families are not shared with immigration authorities as per Toronto District School Board Policy P.061 SCH. The Toronto Public Library also is not keen to know about a person’s immigration status and is happy to accept a plethora of documents to satisfy its need for ID and address proof, including having a postcard mailed to confirm an address. Under normal circumstances, the Toronto Police too will not ask witnesses to or victims of crime about their residency status.   Other services where your residency status matters like health and welfare subsidies are offered by the provincial or the federal governments. The City Council has no say here, moral or otherwise.

However, the timing of the council’s vote is significant as Toronto’s undocumented population of 200,000 is expected to surge in April 2015. That is when many legal, but temporary, foreign workers will see their permits expire under a federal rule enacted in April 2011 that created a four-year limit on the cumulative time a foreigner can spend in Canada as a temporary worker.

That rule change was made to reduce the perceived over-dependence of Canadian employers on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to meet their permanent labour needs. The number of workers under this program has increased from around 100,000 in 2002 to over 400,000 today.

It should not come as a surprise that the concept of sanctuary cities originated in the United States, with Los Angeles being the first in 1979 by preventing the police from inquiring about the immigration status of those they arrest. Broadly, the term “sanctuary” generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one's immigration status. While the designation has no legal meaning, so far more than 30 U.S. cities have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented migrants.

The Toronto Council was right to ask Ottawa to establish an amnesty program for undocumented migrants and similarly recommend that the Ontario government review its policies to ensure their access to health care, emergency services and community housing. But, Canada’s premier city and home to its largest number of immigrants has gone too far by offering “sanctuary,” even if the resolution is of little practical effect.  

It sends a mixed message from Canada. On the one hand the federal government has been battening down the hatches on asylum seekers and taking proactive measures to dissuade refugees from boarding creaking boats headed to our shores. While different levels of government may see things differently – and we are all for humane treatment of all arrivals -  a coherent immigration policy is a national imperative. We do not want to replicate the American nightmare with millions of “illegals” in Canada. Nor do we want to unravel the national consensus around rules-based immigration.

As Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, one of the few opponents of the sanctuary motion, said, it “sends a message to the world that it is okay to break the law to come to Canada and it says that the City of Toronto is an accomplice to this lawbreaking.” - New Canadian Media

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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