This is a bit longer than a tweet, and more personal than I intended it to be. I am writing it as an update to everyone that has supported me in a million different ways in the last seven years, and more importantly in the hopes that in asking personal questions, we can come up with collective answers. I’d appreciate not receiving a wave of congratulations, though if this strikes you as meaningful, please share with others, and join me at this rally against immigration enforcement on Friday, February 28, 2014.
It was early 2008. Immigration Canada officers were "consulting" for a new pathway to permanent residency for Canadian educated (read richer) immigrants across the country. Dubbed the ‘Canadian Experience Class’ or CEC, the new program gave temporary workers in Canada the ability to apply for citizenship, but explicitly barred migrant workers deemed low-skilled. Farmworkers, and other racialized migrant workers that work in the backs of homes and factories for years at a time were being told that their experience working in Canada didn’t qualify. The same went for undocumented migrants in the country. Convinced that this was further entrenching of an immigration system that favored the rich and the few and refusing to accept Canada’s moral legitimacy to impose immigration controls, we in No One Is Illegal - Toronto disrupted the hearings. I was physically thrown out of the room halfway through my prepared statement.
Today, I have permanent residency under the CEC.
There are many contradictions here that I want to explore but first let's fast forward to September 2013. For the fifth year in a row, I had applied to extend my one-year temporary permit in the country. This time as a PhD student. As always, the application was taking four times the advertised length but by now I was used to special treatment. The voicemail left on my cell phone from a blocked number was short. "Mr Hussan, you’ve stated that charges against you have been withdrawn, but you’ve provided no evidence of this. You’ve 48 hours to fax documents supporting your claim, or your application will be rejected."
I scrambled, gathering letters from my lawyers on the different political charges against me that had all been withdrawn and attached newspaper stories and faxed them. Court documents take an average of 6 weeks and I simply didn’t have time. That same day, I helped organize a rally against Toronto police adoption of tasers. Though I did not speak to the media, I did make a deputation that was quoted in the Toronto Star. They incorrectly identified me as someone who was convicted for my role in the Anti-G20 protests in 2010. I panicked, demanded a retraction, but knew that the damage had been done.
Sure enough my phone rang later that afternoon and I got another voice mail. The lawyer’s letters and ‘contradictory’ media articles were insufficient. I had 24 hours to produce official court documents. Again my friends and supporters came to the rescue. One of my former lawyers worked his magic in one courthouse, calling in favours with the clerk and I rushed to the other one. Immense wrangling, begging and sheer stubbornness paid off. I had the documents and I faxed them in.
The next day I received an email asking me to come in for a health exam for the final stage approval of my permanent residency application. The notice was utterly unexpected. My file had been languishing deep in governmental innards for over four years, with weird vague security implications and innuendoes appearing through multiple access to information requests. I hadn’t received first stage clearance, so suddenly pushed to the end of the line was a total surprise. This in some ways was finally a turning point in a journey that started 12 years ago when I left to 'go abroad' the first time, a journey towards a 'western' passport with all its promises. To be clear, the residency isn't permanent, a sentence of six months can revoke it as can the Minister's displeasure. I was furious at the previous three days of lost sleep and stress -- but understood the cruelty. A final fuck-you from a system that I’ve fought against for nearly seven years. This would be the end of it all I hoped. I was wrong.
Come December, and all the paperwork was done, my passport had been stamped and I had a piece of paper that said “final confirmation of permanent residence.” Now all that was left to do was to “land.” In an anachronism reminiscent of Canadian colonial roots, to actually become a ‘permanent resident,’ one has to re-enter the country and land at the border. In a borrowed car, I drove to Niagara, U-turned before we reached the U.S. and re-entered the country. Berating the borders forced on these stolen lands, yet giddy with momentary happiness, my partner and I snapped silly selfies. In the waiting room, we watched large families and couples, get ‘landed’ and rush out clapping, cheering and whooping. The last time I was at this border, I was interrogated for nine hours and deported in chains, so the happiness all around was a surprising new experience. It didn’t last.
I could see the immigration enforcement officer pick my file, tap some keys on her computer and scrunch her face. Soon she was joined by another officer, and then another. They turned on a computer and then slowly the lights in the dark offices at the back turned on. Groups of border guards walked in and out, glancing at me over the counter. All other processing stopped. Finally I was called up by Officer Bacon.
My permanent residency was refused. My status in Canada was revoked. I was allowed into Canada but told to return to the border in ten days, on December 24th, at 5:30 p.m. I had gone from being able to live here permanently, to staring at deportation in the face. Suddenly without immigration status, I quit my job, and dropped out of school. Emergency meetings were called, emails flew around and lawyers were consulted. Messaging, campaign and fundraising strategies were discussed. The fear was that the courts and media outlets would be closed on Christmas Eve, and it would be hard to mobilize a response fast enough. Having worked on many immigration and deportation cases, the next steps were obvious, but there was something going on inside me that I couldn’t name.
My dear friend and immigration consultant wrote a letter to border officers asking for more information. It was part of creating the paperwork trail; he had never received a response to such a letter before. Half an hour later his phone rang. It was the immigration enforcement manager on-site, assuring him that it was just an “anomaly” and that I should never have been denied status. And then something even stranger happened -- Officer Bacon called. As if reading from a script, she apologized profusely, insisting that I could come back anytime to the border and would be granted permanent status.
In all my years of migrant justice work, I’ve never heard of individual officers apologizing. Immigration enforcement is a secretive, corrupt $144-million agency with no oversight. They’ve had multiple migrants die in their custody (Read up on Lucia and Jan); they’ve been caught using international smugglers to get fake passports to deport migrants to countries they have no relationships to and they’re the only immigration authority in the “western” world that holds migrants indefinitely -- including a traumatized South African anti-apartheid hero and never apologized. This was the agency that celebrated deportation raids in reality shows, and routinely destroys families without a flicker of public accountability. Yet, here was this Officer who would not get off the phone -- obviously under orders to list all the ways in which I’d been ‘inconvenienced.’ It was an obvious attempt at individuating the border guards' actions rather than taking institutional responsiblity. But still the experience was surreal. A few days later, I returned to the border, and though it took a few hours, I was ‘landed.’
In the weeks between the last visit, I’d continued to keep up with my commitments, gone to meetings, and (against many people’s better judgment) protested at the Lindsay super-jail where nearly 200 immigrants -- many of them who had had their permanent residency revoked -- were locked up indefinitely. Yet, as soon as I got the PR, I collapsed.
Though I hadn’t told anyone -- even myself -- I had already given up. In my mind, I had decided that if on December 24th I was rejected, I’d give up fighting and quietly leave; I was done. Despite the hundreds of people who have supported me, the tens of thousands of dollars that have been given to my legal defence fund, despite the love and care of a community that held me through 18 months of house arrest, I had quit. For all our rejection of boders and immigration policies, it is a massive beast that is very real. The state wants to run us in to the ground, and I had been run down.
There was little to pick me back up. As someone who fights everyday against colonial-capitalist system that feeds off these lands, a piece of paper giving me membership to it is hardly worth celebrating. For most of my life, where I lived, how I lived, what I studied, where I worked, what risks I could take have been determined by immigration systems. Now suddenly many (though not all) of those restrictions were lifted and I don’t feel free, I feel unhinged. Suddenly, my very presence on these lands is more of a choice. The air I breathe, the things I consume, my cultural and aesthetic self and body in these territories all feed from and feed into a system that has been stealing Indigenous lands and trying to destroy those ways of life for centuries. For years, perhaps incorrectly, I could say that my staying here was not a choice -- I was on house arrest, if I left I couldn’t come back -- but now that flies less. And I am not sure fuly how to reconcile that? Why here, why not somewhere else?
To be clear, I am not arguing that decolonization means mass exodus of all non-Indigenous people from Turtle Island. Rather I am trying to understand my own ways of reconciling my continued presence here.
I’ve always believed that there are no non-racists, some of us are anti-racists but that does not us put us outside of a system of racist structures and ideologies either as oppressor or oppressed. Similarly, we can’t be outside of the colonial system, we can try very hard every day to be organizing our communities to be in alliance with indigenous movements asserting sovereignty. That’s a constant process of learning, failing, and hopefully failing better -- it's ethical, but it does not make us righteous outsiders. Simply being an anti-capitalist and anti-colonial organizer, in itself a choice that not everyone can make, does not ‘off-set’ the benefits.
There are other ways to look at it. It was also never just my fight -- it was never a fight for status. Over the years, nearly two hundred people have intervened in my immigration file, and as many have donated to my legal defence funds, six people chose jail sentences partially to ensure that I was not deported. Not because of the good things that I have done or because they believed my access to a blue passport was critical, but because it was necessary to defend one of our own. People supported me, just as I have supported others, because it is essential that the state not be able to simply deport a community organizer. Groups of people took immense personal risk because they too believed that the borders that divide us must be torn down, not tear peoples apart. And in that we succeeded -- the only reason I can think of CBSA backing down, and apologizing, is because they didn’t want to deal with the protests that may have followed.
The hope is that with each individual deportation stayed or stopped, with each challenge to citizenship regime, we are weakening the moral legitimacy of this government to impose controls on who goes in or out. That’s not the only way. Two days ago, Suzanne Patles from the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society spoke in Toronto at an event that I helped organize. In the Q&A, she insisted, ‘take away my passport, take away my status card, take away my citizenship.’ For her, rejection of citizenship weakens Canada’s control. Perhaps for migrants engaged in anti-colonial resistance, defeating the government’s attempts to remove them does the same. Perhaps if hundreds of thousands of us around the globe rejected the state's ability to define the nation and belonging, particularly in settler-colonies, and belonging, perhaps we could create a radical new transformation. I hope, but I am not sure.
But then, this was never about answers. Only about laying bare the confusions. On Friday, I am going to be outside immigration enforcement headquarters in Toronto screaming my lungs out at the many lives lost and destroyed by detentions and deportations. I will be there perhaps a little bit safer for now, perhaps a little more confused, still raging, still hopeful, still walking, still asking questions.
Thank you for reading this story…
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