One of the experiences that propelled me into the migrant justice movement occurred thirteen years ago when Bilquis Fatima, a 64-year Pakistani refugee in a wheelchair, was reported to immigration officials during her dialysis treatment at the hospital. She was incarcerated with her son Imran, a minor, for over a month while awaiting deportation.
The very real experiences of thousands of migrants like Bilquis who are afraid of accessing healthcare, who are unable to enroll their children in school, who are denied access to food banks, who are ineligible for a range of social assistance benefits, who are detained by local police forces and turned over to immigration enforcement has underscored the critical and urgent need for Sanctuary City movements.
Calling for a moratorium on migrant workers first, and then paying partial lipservice to some permanent immigration system is a de facto call for mass exclusion of people of colour. If we truly believed in equal access for people irrespective of their racialization and impoverishment, we would first ensure full immigration status for all before shutting down the program that gives a toehold to some.
On Oct 21st 2013, The Mainlander hosted the The Sanctuary City Movement: Challenges and Possibilities, featuring Gil Aguilar of the Agricultural Workers Alliance-Surrey, Harsha Walia of No One Is Illegal-Vancouver, and Alejandra Lopez of Sanctuary Health. Watch it here!
Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a Mainlander series that will bring the research of academics into the public sphere. The aim of the series is to further our understanding of Vancouver’s many hidden corners while strengthening connections between local movements. In particular, we hope to disseminate research whose true importance lies beyond the university. Gillian Creese is a Professor of Sociology at UBC and the article is based on her 2011 book, The New African Diaspora in Vancouver: Migration, Exclusion and Belonging (University of Toronto Press).
Migration is often a story about loss and struggle as much as new beginnings. In spite of ideologies of multicultural acceptance in Vancouver, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have experienced exclusion and marginalization even as they build new spaces of belonging. Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are a small but growing part of the metro Vancouver population. In the 2006 Census, 27,260 Vancouver residents were born in Africa, constituting just over 1% of the population. The small African diaspora is spread out in the municipalities of Surrey, Langley, Coquitlam, Vancouver, New Westminster, and Burnaby. This dispersed residential pattern makes it more difficult to develop connections within the community. Nevertheless, community building practices are occurring across these spaces.