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Right now in our very own city, authorities are threatening to deport a single mother, and not two of her high-school aged children. This woman, Lucerne Charles, has hurt nobody and committed no crimes, except a desire to keep working, raising a family and continue living in what she’s come to know as her home. Her “offences” include a failed marriage to a Canadian citizen as well as living abroad for several years before returning to Canada. For this, Lucerne risks being declared a threat – not simply a criminal, but “illegal” as an individual, and verboten from our shores.

This is an act of violence and racism coming straight from our government. Forcibly relocating someone away from their home, family and friends on the basis of their race and heritage fits that definition perfectly. However, it’s also utterly and completely legal. There’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary about this case – our government does this all the time, as do others. It may be brutal, but this kind of action has become completely normalized, leaving those caught up in it functionally invisible.

There are many objections to immigration. Some come from explicitly racist and fascist groups, but many others from more “moderate” sectors. Many demand to know why people like Ms. Charles should be “allowed” to stay in “our” country, or why she should get “special treatment” when so many like her don’t. Some claim that allowing “outsiders” into our society drains our resources. And of course, many simply feel that the laws of our government must be obeyed, no matter what the cost. Frankly, I’m not convinced.

Let me be clear, I am not asking for “special treatment” for any immigrant. I’m asking why they receive so much ‘special treatment’ as it is. There is no definable biological difference between citizens and non-citizens, it’s an entirely artificial legal distinction created for bureaucratic and political purposes. The consequences of this label entail significantly less “rights” in every arena – political, legal, economic and social. Citizens are those the state defines as “people”, and those who lack it are clearly defined as something less. Lacking citizenship means stiffer penalties when you break the law and less recourse when you’re victimized. It means being excluded from social programs and political discussions. It usually means lower wages and fewer rights at work. And it fundamentally changes how you’re valued as a human being and community member. This is exactly what policies of social exclusion look like.

These laws are all about power and control. Establishing borders and registering individuals are basic tasks of any state. It makes populations far easier to track and regulate while granting (some of) them privileges as a means of creating a vested interest in the state and sense of identity springing from it. They expand the state’s power to control and exploit people without extending its responsibilities to them. These divide-and-conquer tactics are as old as power itself. In Rome, citizenship distinguished full “people” from slaves. In most colonial regimes, such laws have established multiple grades of person-hood for whites, natives and imported slaves and servants. Today these laws segregate the First and Third worlds, insulating countries like Canada from the citizens of those they draw products and resources from. In each of these cases, they were the result not of ignorant jingoism and xenophobia, but cold, rational and tactical planning for military and economic aims. One need only look at racism today to see the lingering colonial attitudes toward African, Asian and American peoples One need only open a history book to see how those attitudes were used to loot and pillage five continents.

Today’s immigration issues are an inescapable result of the world’s division of wealth and power. It’s no surprise that many from the Third World wish to move to wealthier countries, and for many that is the only real option available for escaping crushing poverty. What’s left out of the xenophobic tirades about immigrants storming our borders is why we are so much wealthier. Beyond the centuries of colonization, slavery, most of these regions are still hopelessly indebted today, sending back a dozen or so dollars for each one we send in “aid”. Their currencies have been devalued to the point where land, labour and resources from these nations are almost free for First-World investors, and the consequences of the development which comes (mines, dams, plantations etc) often destroys the surrounding communities and ecology. Wars (directly and by proxy) have devastated many areas, as have foreign-funded dictatorships and now the threat of widespread climate change. Those of us in wealthy nations like Canada and the US cannot pretend we haven’t been a big part of this devastation, nor can we claim we haven’t benefited greatly from it. If we really wanted to stop the flood of refugees arriving on our shores, a good first-step would be to stop fucking up the rest of the world.

Of course, this has never been about “stopping” immigration. Our “leaders” are well aware of our declining birthrates and ageing population, and understand how futile such an attempt would be. Rather, these policies serve to make immigrant populations more vulnerable. They create an under-class of workers, tenants, and spouses who risk deportation for going against the wishes of “citizens” they depend on, creating a truly awful power dynamic (in this case, with a husband). A common complaint is that immigrants are “taking our jobs” by working for less money, but I can’t say that I know any immigrants who want to work for less money than their peers. Does this drive down the wages of others? Of course it does – exactly the same way it does when employers get permission to underpay any group (women, people of colour etc). We live under a labour market, and that means a ‘discount’ anywhere will put a downward pressure everywhere. With every crackdown on “illegal immigration”, the situation gets worse (lower wages, fewer rights). Let’s not blame the victims here – those responsible for these choices are the same ones who enjoy the profits entailed in cut-rate workforces of all kinds. They make the hiring choices, they set the wages, and they have far more political influence than any group of workers. Like the un-persons created by their laws, though, they too are invisible.

Ms Charles is not facing deportation for criminal activity, there’s no reason to believe she’s dangerous in any way. What she’s “guilty” of is what the rest of us enjoy every day – breathing our air, living on our land and participating in our society. The “crime” she’s charged with is surviving, and having the gall to think she might be entitled to a small piece of what so many of us take for granted every day.

Today a 4pm in front of the Federal Building (55 Bay St. N, across from Copps), a rally will be held in support of Lucern and her family. It’s time to make a statement which comes from all quarters, that these actions are not acceptable, and that families in this situation are not alone.

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