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Why Alvaro's arrest matters

Update: Alvaro's deportation was stopped. See here

 

I just returned from an event hosted by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty in honour of the ongoing work of John Clarke.

In closing remarks, Liisa said OCAP is a place where poverty is not a place of shame, its a place of empowerment.

Its time we start talking about living without immigration status, about so-called illegality, as a place of empowerment, and not a place of shame.

In an interview from inside the immigration detention, Alvaro Orozco, an undocumented queer artist who was arrested after being racially profiled by Toronto Police on May 13, talked about the social and cultural work that undocumented people do.

"One thing I believe is that, I think that people who are invisible, who are undocumented, all the people, have a gift. Because we are "illegal," because our minds are closed with all of the fear, we don't see inside ourselves all the gifts we have....I believe that all the people who are refugees, who are without papers, they have so much potential. With no rights, we are unable to be open and free and express the qualities we have inside." Read the full interview here.

In the past five years, Alvaro has exhibited art works at the Mayworks Festival, Migrant Expressions Photography Exhibition, Under the Bridge Art Exhibition, Toronto City Hall and at the Pride Art Exhibition. Alvaro has also worked with Jumblies Theatre as a photographer and prop-designer in three large productions.

This is not a story of hiding and of shame. This is not a story of living only in fear. This is about someone whose mind is not closed. Like thousands of people across Canada, Alvaro Orozco is testament to the power that undocumented people bring. We need to stop Alvaro's deportation not because his life is at risk, but because he wants to stay here. That should be enough. 

Refugee Struggle, Alvaro Orozco

Much of the mainstream media has ignored speaking about Alvaro. Those that have insist on victimizing him rather then being inspired by his resilience. One major news outlet wrote to Alvaro's friends explaining why they would not cover the story, "The concern is we'd encourage failed refugees, even those who have no real fear for persecution to do the same."

Well at least the usual nonsense about objectivity is absent. But do the newspapers and TV stations of this country really believe that people will stop crossing borders because they refuse to report on it?

People move because they want to. People move to escape war, environmental collapse and lack of environmental opportunity. People move for love, for fear. People move because they always have. But the new laws of our world say that if you are rich, if you were born in certain countries and hold certain passports, you can move. Everyone else can only travel at the whim of the corporations that want them as short-term exploitable labour or the feelings of racist immigration ministries.

At a press conference for Alvaro Orozco, Victoria Mata stressed, "Beyond Alvaro there is a lot of work we need to do. There are many undocumented artists and people in this city who are artists, who are performers, who are doing great work, and we need to support them."

Too many people are intent on supporting Alvaro because they believe that Canada is a queer-friendly country, one that welcomes refugees. If his deportation is stopped, it will be seen as a victory for justice, rather then an exception to the exclusionary and exploitative immigration system that exists. 

The issue here is not that Alvaro, and million of others like him around the world, break immigration laws. Or that one IRB judge was homophobic and therefore denied his refugee claim because he did not "look gay enough" to her. The issue is that the law itself is broken.

Across Canada, 13,000 people are physically forced against their will on to planes and deported each year.

Another 20,000 people are removed either because their work permits and study permits are not extended, they are migrant workers who are 'repatriated', or tourist visas expire, or they leave 'voluntarily' because their refugee claims are denied.

These are all evictions, removals, forced departures, deportations.

33,000 a year.

90 a day.

Though racist tropes will tell us that they people, migrants without full status, like myself are leeches on the system, that merely take from Canada, the truth is that we are adding to the social, political, cultural and economic life of this stolen land.

The Let Alvaro Stay Campaign has taken over a dozen public actions from petitions and calls to press conferences and rallies, yet Alvaro's deportation looms. (See full details here.)

The question we have to ask is when none of the 'acceptable' means of political action at our disposal; phone calls, emails, creative actions, community meetings, press conferences work -- how are we going to stop our communities from being pulled apart?

How many is too many?

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