Immigration continues to be described as a problem in need of solution, and people identified as immigrants are in many ways the key problem. But who exactly are these immigrants? The obvious answer might seem to be people that moved from another country, but in both popular and official discussions immigrant is an increasingly raced and classed term used synonymously with ideas of disorder, radicalization, lack of achievement and criminalization.
But the flip-side is that international migration is also a part of economic globalization, and attracting economic elites to your cities is an important part of selling them to international capital. So there is a need for a whole other set of words and stories to describe this group of people who might have immigrated, but are certainly not immigrants. The idea of ex-pats, or immigrants from Western countries are the terms I’ve seen in Denmark. And in Canada there is an increasing differentiation between entrepreneurial or economic class immigrants as opposed to say family reunion or refugee classes.
As is so often the case, these more abstract and structural questions come together to impact the everyday lives of real people. The disproportionate amount of attention given to the supposed immigrant problem leads to a situation where everyone who fits the image of an immigrant gets treated as though they are part of a problem.
We see this in the Toronto police disproportionately stopping Black and Brown youth for questioning. We see this when majority residents decide to avoid moving into certain neighbourhoods. We see it in the difficulties of ethnic minority residents in gaining employment. And we even see it in the murder of a woman in her own home. Artist and sociologist Nabaz Anwars articulates this challenge in his own job seeking campaign including posters plastered over the city asking potential employers “Tør du … ansætte mig?” – “Do you dare … hire me?”
While this kind of othering – creating us-them categories with real social, political and economic consequences – is certainly not new, there is a lot of energy being expended right now to make access to receiving societies more difficult, while simultaneously promoting and publicizing the notion that immigrants are simply unwilling to join in.
November 22 is National Housing Day in Canada, and while a handful of governments acknowledged the day, the government in Ottawa was definitely not one of them. Canada has the dubious distinction of being the only industrialized country without a national housing strategy. Increasingly this lack of engagement is leading to a patchworked housing landscape in Canada with other levels of government variously trying to fill in the gap, or racing to follow the fed’s example and distance themselves from housing.
The result is general underfunding of housing as compared to need, particularly in the by-definition less-profitable sector of social housing. Housing is undoubtedly a need and necessity, and the fact of the matter is that in places like the Nordic region, where governments have been heavily engaged in housing production, maintenance, and support for residents, that engagement secured a wider range of choice in housing for a larger range of residents.
Jim Silver’s new book Good Places to Live: Poverty and Public Housing in Canada, looks at four examples of how this patchwork of policy is working in the public housing sector, helping to dispel myths about public housing, and highlight the possibilities that come out of community-led, government-supported development. A great choice for your National Housing Day celebrations.
All immigrants in Canada are not created equal. The various routes to migration in Canada already divide new Canadians into refugee, economic, family, undocumented, and entrepreneur classes; each with different requirements for entry and each regulated in different ways once they arrive.
While there is a fair amount of dialogue surrounding certain groups, for example the family reunification and undocumented classes, the growing class of temporary “guest” workers does not frequently makes it into the public discourse.
This class of migration is substantively different from others, in that these migrants are not being invited to stay and become a part of Canada. Instead, we see a very literal move towards treating people, almost entirely, as economic resources.
Temporary foreign workers also often come from very different parts of the world than other classes of immigrants, with guest workers coming from largely from Central America and the Caribbean, areas that are underrepresented in the economic classes.
Some provinces, such as Manitoba, have a means of moving from temporary to permanent status, but the rise in the numbers of these “guests” open a variety of important questions about the possibilities for the cultural, economic and political membership and participation of all residents of Canada.
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