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On Monday, migrant farmworkers and allies rallied outside of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office to kick off their yearlong "Harvesting Freedom" campaign to fight for permanent residency.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SWAP) and with it, campaigners are asking the federal government to grant immigration status to workers when they land in Canada.
"Fifty years is more than enough of injustices and struggles," says Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) organizer, Tzazná Miranda Leal. "The need for this labour force is permanent so their status should be."
Currently, workers arrive with a visa and a work permit that is often tied to a single employer. As a result, whenever their rights are infringed upon, workers face threat of deportation if they want to speak out.
Some of the struggles migrant farmworkers face include long hours, dangerous environments, lack of training, no worker's compensation if they're injured, and separation from their families for extended periods of time without an option to bring them to Canada.
"Family breakdown is a very real issue that comes along with choosing to participate in a program that really does benefit Canadian society," says Leal. "It ends up being a very conflicting way of living for some people because they only come to Canada to provide a better life for their families but it can make those relationships more difficult."
Over the course of this 50th anniversary year, J4MW and partner organizations will host several events to bring awareness to Harvesting Freedom's cause. In October, a caravan of migrant workers will arrive in Ottawa from southwestern to highlight the issues migrant farmworkers face as the harvesting season comes to a close.
"For the first time in a long time immigration has become an issue of discussion around federal elections," says Leal. "We're happy to see that issues of immigration are taking a bigger place in peoples' minds and consciousness."
To participate in their actions, J4MW recommends reaching out to your local MP, attending forthcoming events and signing their circulating petition to Prime Minister Trudeau.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble's News Intern.
Photo courtesy of Tzazná Miranda Leal