They march in Ottawa to push for end to immigration detention

Samantha Wright Allen, Ottawa Citizen, 15 June 2014

Protesters marched to Canada Border Services headquarters on Father’s Day to fight Canada’s jailing of migrants, many of whom face deportation.

About 90 people came out to the University of Ottawa, where the 20-minute march began, wielding signs that said “End Immigration Detention” and “Support Migrant Strike” in reference to migrants in the Lindsay, Ont., maximum security prison who have been boycotting their detention hearings since early June.

Tings Chak, who helped organize the End Immigration Detention event, said a recent study by the organization shows a surprising dip in the number of people released from immigration jail. In 2008, 21 per cent of detainees were released, but in 2013 that number shrank to 9.3 per cent.

There are a number of reasons migrants who have lost their status, are without status or have precarious status get “stuck in this limbo,” Chak said.

“It could be that they had refugee status so they can’t be deported back to a country they will face persecution or that the country of origin doesn’t recognize them and some countries … won’t take people forcibly deported. And also there are moratoriums on places where we can’t deport them to; maybe there’s economic or civil unrest.”

Chak, who is a Toronto member of No One Is Illegal, said Canada is one of the only western nations that doesn’t have a maximum detention for people awaiting deportation. The European Union has a six-month limit and in the United States it’s three months, she said.

“We don’t have an end.”

Chak said it’s also symptomatic of Canada’s changing immigration system for refugees, sponsorship requirements and temporary foreign workers.

“It’s becoming a system of permanent temporariness.”

Ottawa resident Deepan Budlakoti was among those who spoke at the event. When he was in prison on drug-related charges, the government started the process to deport him. After serving his original time, he was transferred to the Toronto West Detention Center under immigration detention. He was eventually released to his Ottawa home, but still faces deportation.

“I wasn’t released, I was punished again,” Budlakoti said. “You’re locked in a cell with three different individuals. You’re locked down sometimes 22 hours a day.”

His case is unique in that he faces deportation despite being born in Canada. India, where his parents were born, won’t recognize him as a citizen. Canadian immigration authorities say he doesn’t automatically qualify for citizenship because his parents were working for the Indian High Commission. However, his parents argue they left the commission before he was born, and Budlakoti says that makes efforts to deport him illegal. Budlakoti’s charter case to regain his citizenship — he held a Canadian passport — is before the Supreme Court of Canada Monday morning.

“The immigration process itself is arbitrary,” he said. “Yet you’re going through the process over and over and over again. It’s like a revolving door.”

Amanda Wilson, a Carleton University sociology student, came to the rally to support the jailed migrants who she said are often isolated and vulnerable.

“The average Canadian doesn’t realize people who come on immigration-related issues could end up in prison.”

Wilson said that though some might think ‘Not Canadian, not our problem,’ it’s a limited world view.

“I think they’re taking a very selective understanding of what Canadians are,” she said. “It’s totally ridiculous to say that my grandfather came here 100 years before you so now I get to decide whether or not I’m going to share my resources and my community with you.”