Activists protest arrest of undocumented workers

Some 200 outraged community and labour activists rattled the fences of Rexdale Immigration Detention Centre on Sunday morning demanding the release of over 100 undocumented workers arrested during unprecedented immigration raids across southwestern Ontario last week Thursday and Friday.

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 and many others joined family members and friends at the protest.

Organized by No One is Illegal-Toronto, Migrante Ontario and Justicia for Migrant Workers, the spirited action was in response to the three separate but co-ordinated attacks against undocumented communities.

Canada Border Services Agency and South Simcoe police arrested hundreds of people and detained over 100 workers. At the same time in Leamington, Ontario dozens of undocumented people were picked up on their way to work, in their homes and in public places. Homes were also raided on the Danforth and the possessions of some workers confiscated, activists say.

“These are our friends that are on the inside,” said Chris Ramsaroop of Justicia for Migrant Workers. “Racialized people have been targeted once more while working to pay for the basics while corrupt employers go free”.

No charges have been laid against the employer, Cericola Farms.

The raids come the same day the migrant worker community celebrated a victory against recruitment agencies which charged large “placement” fees to workers even if they were unable to find them legal work.

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 raids follow Canadian government 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 Conservative government – and immigration minister, Jason Kenney – have again sent a clear message that economics, not family reunification or humanitarian principles, are the primary drivers of Canada’s immigration policy, the activists claim.

While unprecedented in its scale, these arrests are not in isolation. Amina Sherazee, a lawyer who deals with people facing removal, says: “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,” adds labour activist, Winnie Ng, chair of the Good Jobs Coalition.

“We need an immigration system that is based on hope, compassion and solidarity.”

Macdonald Scott, a lawyer representing some of the detainees, said that his clients were kept immobile and handcuffed for several hours.

“Their arms swelled up as a result and many were in considerable pain,” he said.

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

A forum is planned for Saturday, April 18 and a rally and street demonstration is planned for May 2 at 1 p.m. starting at Allen Gardens in downtown Toronto.

Speakers at Sunday’s rally included Chris Ramsaroop (Justicia for Migrant Workers), Mac Scott (Law Union of Ontario), Farrah Miranda (No One is Illegal-Toronto), Winnie Ng (Good Jobs Coalition) and members of Migrante Ontario.

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