Canada: Tories slam the door on neediest immigrants

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Last year, while Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was peddling the “free trade” pact between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., he was simultaneously restricting the free entrance of immigrants and refugees into Canada. The message of his harsh new legislation, known as Bill C-86, could provide the copy for a wanted poster from a corporate head-hunting agency: “$250,000 or rare skills in the nuclear, computer, or aerospace industries guarantees Canadian citizenship. Third World workers and political refugees need not apply.”

But the crackdown on immigration is producing angry counter-organizing, as in the case of a young Iranian woman served with deportation papers last November. A coalition led by immigrant women of color, radicals, and lesbians and gays fought back successfully, and even gained ground: It established a first by forcing the government to grant a woman refugee status because of sexist persecution in her country of origin.

Welcome mat for the well-off. Historically, Canada has used immigration to meet the needs of a hungry market for low-paid labor. Bill C-86, passed by parliament in autumn 1992, marks a shift to feeding an economy now desperate for capital and technological expertise.

The bill stipulates that the majority of arrivals be highly skilled workers in high-tech fields or “Investor” or “Business” entrants with a minimum of $250,000 ready cash. It drastically cuts back on immigration geared to reunite extended families. Like most of its provisions, this primarily penalizes immigrants of color.

Political refugees get short shrift. Bill C-86 forbids entry to those who were tagged as dissidents in their native country. Also, new sanctuary-seekers can’t work until their claims are settled, forcing them onto welfare. As well as causing poverty and privation, this gives ammunition to rightwingers who scapegoat refugees for the country’s increasing economic woes.

Sexism creates refugees. Five thousand refugees were deported last year. The story of why twenty-year-old Vancouver resident Caroline Teghizadeh was not one of them provides a model for how to challenge xenophobic legislation.

In Iran, Teghizadeh had been imprisoned and tortured for not wearing the veil properly. After fleeing to Canada, she was denied political refugee status.

When all her regular legal appeals went nowhere, she went public and became a leader in the Caroline Teghizadeh Defense Committee (CTDC).

While fighting for her own life, Teghizadeh connected all the issues facing immigrants. She demanded a declaration of amnesty for all refugees from repressive countries and the extension of the definition of refugee to include those discriminated against because of their sex or sexual orientation.

CTDC included the Coalition United to Fight Oppression, Intl. Federation of Iranian Refugee Councils, Freedom Socialist Party, and Radical Women. It educated about conditions for women in Islamic countries and organized a broad outcry from unions, feminists, lesbian and gay groups, and ethnic and immigrant associations against Teghizadeh’s expulsion.

Just days before police were to apprehend her, the Tories backed down and waived the deportation order.

Takes all of us to win. In contrast to Teghizadeh’s precedent-setting experience, a February hunger strike by 10 other Iranian refugees achieved only meaningless government promises that their appeals would be reconsidered on a case-by-case basis. The leaders of the hunger-strike campaign opportunistically relied on media melodrama and closed-door negotiations with immigration bureaucrats rather than on all-inclusive grassroots coalition-building. And they refused to criticize the Canadian government for its culpability in the fate of the refugees once sent back to Iran.

The fight for immigrant rights unites the issues of class, race, sex, and sexuality inseparably, and Teghizadeh’s case points the way to victory. Only an open-door united front that is feminist, internationalist, and critical of capitalist injustice in every form can turn the anti-immigrant tide.

Marcel Hatch, an immigrant to Canada from the U.S., is a typesetter and socialist feminist organizer in Vancouver.

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