By Ross Brown – The Lakeshore News Staff
The office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland received migrants who have been separated from their families for decades because they are denied permanent residence status, here on Family Day.
Carrying photographs of nearly 200 other families that have been separated from their loved ones, migrant farmworkers, child and elderly care workers spoke about the crisis of family separation created by Canada’s immigration laws.
“We love our families and we miss them, we live here, we take care of communities but we are missing birthdays, funerals and anniversaries because we are denied immediate permanent resident status,” explained Jhoey Cruz, an organizer with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and a former live-in caregiver. “Families belong together, and that’s only possible if all of us, including our families, have permanent residency, without exclusions or waiting periods.”
Most of the 1.6 million migrant workers, students, refugees, families and undocumented people in Canada cannot apply for permanent residency and therefore family reunification visas, or even visitor permits for their family members under current immigration law. As a result, migrants are separated from their families for decades. This includes migrant farmworkers like Celia, who has been coming to Canada for 23 years, for 8 months at a time, and has spent the majority of her life away from her family.
Speaking in Spanish over the phone from Niagara, Ontario, she said, “As a migrant mother, it is agonizing to be so far away, without being able to touch them, without being able to hug them, without hearing their voices looking for mom looking for a hug, missing all the changes that day by day a child lives. I had a very sick girl, and sometimes I wanted to fly to see her. It broke my heart not being able to do it because I had to do my job because if I went back they would kick me out of the program. We ask the Prime Minister for full and permanent residency for all so we are able to be with our families as we deserve.”
Others like Queen Gabriel are rejected. Queen, a Caribbean long-term care worker, has been in Canada for over ten years and has been rejected for permanent residency through the humanitarian process. During this time, she has lost her great aunt, husband, brother and father and was not able to say goodbye to any of them. She said, “I will never hold them again, share their laughter over a meal or talk about future plans. My last conversation with my dad was via video. I couldn’t hug him, comfort him in any way as he departed this earth. How is this fair? Permanent resident status for all 1.6 million migrants presently in Canada without documentation or caught in backlogs is mandatory.”
In addition to those unable to apply or rejected like Celia,and Queen, there are also tens of thousands of migrants in a processing backlog. Despite multiple promises and announcements to fix the gap, over 16,000 migrant care workers who have been separated from their families for years, well before COVID-19 disrupted processing, have not been provided any assurances.
Tina Weeska, a migrant care worker and mother from Indonesia who has been waiting for permanent residency since August 2018, spoke at the event. She said, “I miss my family so much! It is my dream to bring them here to Canada as soon as possible so we can work, study, live together and be settled. But I cannot sponsor my son because he is considered too old. This is the saddest thing for me. This long separation is ridiculous, why does it take so long to process a PR application?”
Following the visit to Deputy Prime Minister Freeland’s office, individualized photo-letters were mailed to every Member of Parliament in Canada, which read: “You love your family, so do we. Families belong together. This postcard has photographs of 187 families. Look at our faces. We are separated from those we love because we don’t have permanent resident status. We are some of the 1.6 million migrants that live and work here. We take care of communities, but we are missing birthdays, funerals and anniversaries. You can change that. Speak up for full and permanent immigration status for all. Let us love our loved ones. We are sending these photographs to remind you that we are families too. Stick it to your fridge, keep it on your desk, fight for us.”