By TOM GODFREY
Pressure is escalating against border services agents to end the Cold War-era tactics such as ‘flying sweeps and cast and catch’ policies that are being waged against migrants for deportation from Canada.
The heavy-handed enforcement by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), currently under appeal, has created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust of the authorities by many newcomers.
Worried migrants in some Toronto communities are hesitant to leave their homes, or to go to work, fearing they will be busted in a roadside or workplace check by lurking CBSA officials.
There are some families in the Bloor and Dufferin Streets area who fear venturing to their local grocery store, visiting Dufferin Mall or stopping at a coffee house for an expresso.
Let’s face it, migrants are scared that they will be rounded up and deported in a roadside sweep.
Social agencies and immigration workers in the area are receiving an increasing amount of calls from frightened migrants who are asking “if they should go to work”.
Community activist Vilma Filici, a past president of the Canadian Hispanic Congress, has seen the panic by undocumented workers before.
Filici, an immigration consultant, said calls to her office increased dramatically after the August 14 CBSA and OPP arrests of 21 workers in alleged traffic stops in North York. She represented two of the workers who, she said, were deported to Mexico within five days as they were sought on warrants.
“There was very little we could do for them,” she said. “There were already warrants issued for their arrests.”
Five of the workers have been deported; some were released on bonds and a number are still in detention.
“People are very concerned and they are calling for information,” Filici said. “Many of them want to know if they should go to work.”
She and area social workers worry that families may pull their children from school in a bid to avoid arrest.
“There is a lot of misinformation in the community,” Felici said. “A lot of people don’t know where they stand or what to do.”
Many of the migrants have no criminal record but their visas or work permits have expired. They are hired as day workers in the booming construction trades. Nearly all send money home to support their families.
Filici is hoping the situation doesn’t become as desperate as it was in 2006, with the mass deportation of thousands of undocumented Portuguese workers who were forced to leave Canada after living here for lengthy periods.
The CBSA at that time were deporting up to 30 people to Portugal nightly, and there were an estimated 15,000 undocumented workers living in the Toronto area.
Many people in the community are demanding to know why only those in the construction trades are being targeted for removal.
New Democrat MP Andrew Cash correctly states that the residents of his Davenport riding were racially profiled for checks at Dufferin Mall or area coffee shops.
Cash said it is mostly members of the Hispanic and Portuguese communities who are being singled out. He, too, has been receiving a steady stream of calls from agencies serving residents who were targeted by the CBSA.
“This is an outrage that is completely beyond the scope of what Canadians expect,” Cash said. “The CBSA and maybe the OPP are picking certain communities based on profiling.”
Many of us remember a similar 2006 ‘cast and catch’ program which led to migrants going underground and withdrawing their children from school and health care services. It led to a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy in which school officials were forbidden from asking the immigration status of children. Toronto was also declared a ‘sanctuary city’, allowing undocumented workers access to public services.
The policy was introduced after incidents in which CBSA officials pulled children out of school in an effort to find their parents who were in hiding.
Many insist the CBSA has run amok and say it’s time the agency be held more accountable to the public.