Protests respond to Ontario immigration raids

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Nearly 200 outraged community and labour activists rattled the fences of Rexdale Immigration Detention Centre on April 5, demanding the release of over 100 undocumented workers arrested during unprecedented immigration raids across southwestern Ontario.

Chanting ‘No One Is Illegal! Stop deporting people,’ ‘We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us’ and ’Justice for migrant workers,’ teachers, lawyers and organizers from OSSTF D12, Parkdale Legal Community Services, Mujeres Al Frente, the Sikh Activist Network, the Good Jobs Coalition, CUPE, UFCW, CAW, OPSEU and many others joined family members and friends on Sunday morning. Organized by No One is Illegal-Toronto, Migrante Ontario and Justicia for Migrant Workers, the spirited action was in response to three separate but coordinated attacks against undocumented communities.

This past week, Canada Border Services Agency and South Simcoe Police arrested hundreds of people, detaining over 100 workers. At the same time, in Leamington and Windsor, Ontario, dozens of undocumented people were picked up on their way to work, in their homes and in public spaces. Homes were also raided on the Danforth where absentee workers possessions were confiscated.

''For Justicia, these are our friends and our families that are on the inside," says Chris Ramsaroop from Justicia for Migrant Workers. "For Justicia this isn't just political, it’s personal. Our activists are impacted by these workplace raids."

“Racialized people have been targeted once more while working to pay for the basics while corrupt employers go free. And to this we say No!" he thundered.

No charges have been laid against the employer, Cericola Farms. These raids come the same day the migrant worker community celebrated a victory against recruitment agencies charging large “placement" fees to workers even if no legal work was found. Many workers were forced to work under precarious immigration status in order to secure an income.

As supporters encircled the premises of the detention center, the detainees came to the windows, applauding, cheering, pounding at the glass and waving fists. The action saw both the imprisoned and their community allies demanding an immediate end to immigration raids, detentions and deportations.

The adoption of the Bush immigration doctrine by the federal Conservative government is of little surprise to migrant justice advocates. These raids follow vicious policy and legislative directives including the adoption of Bill C-50, the expansion of employer driven migrant worker programs (temporary foreign worker programs) and the introduction of the Canadian Experience Class. The Conservatives and the Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney have yet again sent a clear message that economics, not family reunification or humanitarian principles, are the primary drivers of Canada’s immigration policy. (See for more on this.)

While unprecedented in its scale, these arrests were not isolated incidents. Amina Sherazee, Barrister and Solicitor, who deals with people facing removal explains, “Not only has there been an increase in deportations, but people are also given very little time between the day they receive notice of deportation and the removal date in order to make it harder for them to use the courts to stop their removal.”

“The economic crisis cannot be used to justify the firing of temporary workers or the targeting of people without correct papers,” insisted labour activist Winnie Ng, chair of the Good Jobs Coalition. “We need an immigration system that is based on hope, compassion and solidarity,” Ng added.

“My clients were kept immobile and handcuffed for several hours,” says Macdonald Scott, who is representing a few of the detainees. “Their arms swelled up as a result and many were in considerable pain,” he told the protesters. "Nearly 40 have been manipulated in to signing documents that will see them deported without the due process of the law!"

Soon after the action, organizers received word from inside that the detained workers expressed their gratitude for today’s action. They were ecstatic at the support of community groups struggling for justice, dignity and respect for peoples, irrespective of immigration status.

Community organizations in coalition with undocumented workers, temporary foreign workers and all peoples with precarious status will continue to fight immigration raids and demand a humane, people-centred immigration system that is based on justice for people, not profit for elites.

Solidarity actions took place in Edmonton on Tuesday and will take place in Vancouver on Thursday. A forum and assembly is planned for Saturday, April 18. A massive rally of thousands of people is planned in Toronto for May 2, 2009 at 1p.m., starting at Allen Gardens.

Syed Hussan, Chris Ramsaroop and Faria Kamal are organizers in the struggle for migrant justice fighting alongside temporary workers and undocumented people for dignity and respect for all.

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