Caregivers hold rally seeking family reunification now

Caregivers who have been waiting for years to have Canadian permanent residency applications processed held a rally in front of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada offices in Toronto on September 15th.

Carrying placards reading "Expedite backlog now! Let families reunite," "Canada, Stop Breaking Families Apart," and "Closed Work Permit = Slavery," the caregivers in attendance -- many of whom took unpaid days off to attend this gathering -- demanded the Canadian government handle the 27,000 permanent residency applications submitted by caregivers that have yet to be processed.

Although a Ryerson and York University study showed that it takes the government an average of 19 months to process caregivers' permanent residency applications, caregivers who have approached the organization Migrante-Ontario for help with their applications have waited up to a decade.

Former caregiver and current member of the caregiver advocacy organization "Eto Tayong Caregivers" (Caregivers are Here), Vilma Pagaduan highlighted the social costs of extended family separation. Because caregivers have been kept apart from their families for years, "their families are in limbo […] in many cases, caregivers' marriages break apart because they've been apart from their partners for so long," she said.

Caregiver Jocelyn Goderoy echoed Pagaduan's remarks about the emotional challenges caregivers and their children face when living apart, pointing to how she has been abroad for 13 years. "My children beg me everyday to live together," she said.

In a speech that brought many of the caregivers in attendance to tears, Shayne Hontiveros, a member of Anakbayan-Toronto and the daughter of a caregiver, shared the difficulties she faced while living apart from her mother:

"My mom left to work overseas to support me and my siblings when I was really young. I graduated with flying colours three times and my mom wasn't able to attend any of these graduations. I won many medals in school to give as gifts for my mom…I was hoping that if I win enough awards in school, she'll be able to come. It wasn't until I was older when we reunited. And because we lived apart for so long, it is hard, even now, for us to have a close relationship."

Following Hontiveros's remarks, caregiver and Caregiver Action Centre member Kara Manzo asked, "How many more milestones and holidays with our families do we have to miss?" She also noted that keeping caregivers apart from their families sets a "bad example for the Canadian children" caregivers look after because this teaches them that "caregivers don't deserve more."

Parkdale Legal Clinic's Tenzin Tekan read a statement on behalf of caregiver Mercedes Benitez, whose application for permanent residency was rejected because her son has an intellectual disability. Tekan called for the removal of the "excessive demand provision" of the Immigration and Citizenship Act, which discriminates against caregivers' family members with disabilities.

Caregiver and Migrante-Ontario member Sol Pajadura contextualized caregivers' experiences of family separation by noting how the Philippine government's policy of labour export makes it difficult for many Filipino nationals to find jobs. Syed Hussan from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change drew attention to Canada's long history of relying on migrant labour from overseas, arguing, "Canada has an immigration system saying that only some people have the right to be with their families."

Acknowledging that although some caregivers at the rally were pessimistic about the possibility that they will ever reunite with their families in Canada, Gabriela-Ontario's Petronilla Cleto reminded them that it was because of caregivers' activism that improvements to the caregiver program have been made.

"Caregivers were not given the right to apply for Canadian citizenship but they put pressure on the Canadian government. Because of this pressure, caregivers were given this right!" she said.

NDP Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan asserted that solving the backlog this year was possible.

"All it would take for everyone's applications to get processed is political will on the part of the Immigration Minister and our Prime Minister. This backlog can get resolved tomorrow if they wanted," she said.

Ethel Tungohan is an Assistant Professor of Politics and Social Science at York University and is a migrant advocate.

Image: Ethel Tungohan.

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