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Budget 2012: Tories commit to treating im/migrants as labour, not people

The federal budget released this week proudly declares: "Economic Action Plan 2012 announces the government's intention to build a fast and flexible economic immigration system whose primary focus is on meeting Canada's labour market needs."

Very well. Let all doubts be put to rest. Immigrants are not human beings, not families, not cultural and social producers, not eating, sleeping, drinking, loving bodies -- just automatons, labour, just the "inputs" necessary for the market to keep pumping profit.

And who is the market? Big business. Several major banks including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, BMO Capital Markets, TD Bank Financial Group, Desjardins, Royal Bank, and Scotiabank shaped this budget and it shows. To these people, im/migrants are nothing but fodder for the profit beast.

So, what does a primary focus on labour market needs look like? Basically it means an entrenchment of temporariness in the immigration system. That is, more people coming in as temporary workers, and less people coming in as refugees, as spouses, as parents and grandparents of immigrants.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, exists to maximize profits for employers by getting migrants to work for lower wages under insecure, grueling working conditions. Complain or assert your rights and face deportation. Get sick, get deported. Now this same logic is extending into the refugee and family reunification system.

The Federal Budget 2012 announced that it is cutting off all Permanent Residence applications prior to 2008. So 284,000 people (and their families), many of whom may have been working in Canada, who have been waiting for at least six years will have their applications returned to them, along with the application fees they paid.

Imagine being told that you had the necessary qualifications to move to a country. Imagine working in that country, or somewhere else, waiting for more than half a decade, planning your life around the eventual move. Imagine waking up one day and getting a letter in the mail, with a $550 cheque, and a letter saying: sorry, try again.

For decades Immigration Ministers and their bureaucrats have insisted migrants "wait in queue" while migrant justice activists asserted there was no queue. Many im/migrants and to-be-im/migrants bought these lines and waited patiently, for some 6 years in this case. Well, Kenney just cut off everyone in queue. So much for "waiting for your turn."

You may be wondering why cut off everyone who applied before 2008 anyway? "To stop the backlog" Kenney says with one side of his mouth. Well, that's nonsense. A backlog is when the government simply doesn't hire enough people to process applications. This budget cuts the CIC budget by 5.3%. There's going to be more backlog.

"These people no longer have the skills Canada needs," Kenney says with the other side of his mouth. How does he know? Those applications have never been assessed.

The real reason is simple -- less permanent immigration.

Kenney wants "just in time"- immigration. Oh, your factory is unionizing and you need machinists immediately -- hear bring in temp workers. Oh you want to open up a coffee shop to gentrify an area and don't want to hire anyone who lives there -- here are some migrant workers. They might come in as Temporary Foreign Workers, or they might be the parents and grandparents of immigrants, or they might be refugee claimants -- but essentially they will be short-term labour, easily deportable.

Some people will get status of course. The very rich or those residents of white Europe and the USA who've received English or French language education. The shift is towards "younger" immigrants "educated" in Canada. In other words, those whose parents can pay for them to be white-washed in Canadian Universities.

Understanding these newest changes is only possible if we understand what is happening within the broader context.

Let's take a look at an immigration bill that is currently being rammed through Parliament -- Bill C-31, dubbed the Refugee Exclusion Act, as just one disturbing example of the kind of immigration system the Tories are pursuing.

This bill, an amalgamation of some of the most cruel elements of previous bills, introduces measures that jail asylum seekers, establishes an unjust two-tier refugee claims system, and ends Permanent Residence for refugees in Canada as we know it by allowing the government to revoke a person's permanent residency after they have been granted refugee status.

This bill also broadens and deepens the scope and brutality of Canada's system of detention and deportation by giving immense powers to immigration enforcement to detain and deport anyone without full immigration status.

Separately there are the newly launched "consultations" on marriage and parents/grandparents that are meant to get 'public input' on the planned revamp of the system. The intention is simple. Shut out spouses, parents and grandparents. Not bar them exactly, let them come to the country to visit, pay taxes, shop, work even, but eventually leave never being able to claim any of the social protections to which they spent years contributing.

A massive country-wide response is necessary. Immigrant communities that are seeing their families shut out need to take action. Temporary workers that are organizing to fight for justice, dignity and status need to escalate their tactics. Labour Unions need to understand the new reality of "labour" in Canada and advocate for a permanent immigration system for all. Settlement agencies that have been silenced by threats that their CIC funding will be revoked should they become too "radical," need to build meaningful alliances with grassroots social movements. Social and environmental justice movements must build migrant justice analyses. The fight against austerity must also be the fight for full status, rights, protections and access for all im/migrants.

Lobbying, statement writing and getting press stories alone are not longer enough -- a movement strategy is needed that utilizes all the tactics at our disposal.

Since the Tories were elected in May of 2011, they have singled out No One Is Illegal in their communications and in Parliament as a target on four occasions. Their intention is simple. Marginalize No One Is Illegal and try and paint the entire opposition to these immigration changes as a fringe movement.

Neither of these can be allowed. We need to build a mass movement grounded in community that does not isolate any principled demand. The time to act is now. The Tories have laid out their vision. It's time to lay out ours.

For solid analyses of the impact of this Budget on targeted communities, look here: http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/tim-mcsorley/10364

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