Torontonians understand and support the values of diversity and human rights. Meanwhile, undocumented residents in Toronto or those with precarious status are often discriminated against because of harmful misinformation and stereotypes.
The City of Toronto has partnered with FCJ Refugee Centre, and other key agencies, to help humanize undocumented residents in our city. It’s acknowledged that the term “undocumented residents” is an imperfect term because “undocumented” can be perceived as a person that does not exist and “resident” suggests they share the benefits that other residents living in Toronto thrive on. The reality is undocumented residents are merely without valid immigration status and are forced to live in hiding in fear of deportation. Their situations are often severely misunderstood and even worse, criminalized. This campaign strives to educate Torontonians on the realities of being undocumented in our city.
Take a moment to consider what life would be like without access to healthcare, safe work or school, safe housing, and with the constant fear of being removed from the place that you know as your home.
Here are five things you can do to make Toronto more inclusive of undocumented residents:
It is acknowledged that “undocumented resident” is an imperfect term. In Canada, community agencies introduced terms like non-status or precarious migrant as a replacement for undocumented because most people in this situation are or were with valid documentation, but just no longer have valid or active status. For the purposes of this campaign, the term “undocumented” is still being used in recognition that the majority of people will understand the meaning behind it.
A person without status or undocumented person is a person who has not been granted permission to stay in the country, or has overstayed their visa. The term can cover a person who falls between the cracks of the system, such as a temporary resident with an expired status. The term “undocumented” can be confusing, because it is also used in Canada to refer to refugees who lack identity documents from their country of origin.
It’s important to understand that no one enters Canada without some form of immigration status. The majority enter as visitors, as refugees making asylum claims, or on valid student or temporary foreign worker visa status. It is possible for individuals to become undocumented because their status or visa expired.
Many children who have lived in Canada from an early age do not realize until they become adults that they are undocumented.
No one willingly choses to be an “undocumented resident”. Many came to Canada with the promise of work, or sponsorship, and have experienced exploitation, abuse and sponsorship breakdown.
Once a person is undocumented, they have limited or no access to essential services or supports. Their pathways to status are extremely limited, and most often are simply not there.
There are many systemic barriers faced by undocumented residents. They lack access to equitable, safe and secure housing; lack equitable access to primary physical and mental healthcare; and have difficultly accessing education at every level from kindergarten to post-secondary. In addition to language and identification barriers, they also lack access to accurate and trustworthy information, which makes them vulnerable to scams, misinformation, sex and labour exploitation, and other precarious work conditions.
Given the vulnerability of the population, accurate statistics are difficult to obtain. There have been various estimates over the years.
According to “Institutionalizing precarious migratory status in Canada”, an article published in 2009, it is estimated that there were approximately 20,000 to 500,000 undocumented people living in Canada, and according to “Undocumented Migrants in Canada: A scope literature review on health, access to services, and working conditions”, another article published in 2010, it is estimated that as many as 50 per cent may reside in Toronto.
Many undocumented residents have lived in Toronto for years, even decades. They work in essential services, pay taxes, contribute to the economy, and their diverse cultures and communities have helped create Toronto’s identity as a vibrant global city.
Take a moment to consider what your life in Canada/Toronto would be like without the option to access to healthcare, safe work, secure housing, and with the constant fear of being removed from the place that you know as your home.
The constant fear of deportation is a reality that undocumented residents or those with precarious status live with every single day. The fear of being returned to a country that they may no longer know, sometimes with a language they don’t speak, and limited connections, family or otherwise.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many deep inequalities in our society. Precarious migrants have extremely limited access to safety nets, which has exacerbated the challenges they continue to face.
August 24, 2021
WHEREAS thousands of undocumented residents living in Toronto make important contributions to our city, with many experiencing tremendous hardships while living in fear due to their lack of immigration status.
Undocumented residents are an important part of our city. While that reality is often unknown to us, these fellow residents are our neighbours, frontline workers and contribute to the cultural fabric of our city. As a result of their undocumented status, they often live in fear while being unseen, unheard and unrecognized.
Undocumented residents have language and identification barriers and lack access to safe and secure housing, health care, and education for themselves and their children. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the vast challenges they continue to face. Although the City of Toronto’s Access to City Services for Undocumented Torontonians policy strives to ensure access to all City services regardless of immigration status, the reality is that undocumented residents continue to face barriers in their communities.
We are all encouraged to be allies of undocumented residents by staying informed about issues relating to them and learning how we can offer our support.
NOW THEREFORE, I, Mayor John Tory, on behalf of Toronto City Council, do hereby proclaim August 24, 2021 as Undocumented Residents Day in the City of Toronto.
Community Health Centres (CHCs) are health care services throughout Toronto available for people who do not have medical insurance. Services include primary care (doctor or nurse), tests and referrals.
They also provide counselling, settlement, health promotion and education, harm reduction, system navigation, language assistance and a range of community support services.
Most of these clinics serve a specific neighbourhood and one must live in the area to access services. Others are population-based on specialized diverse populations, such as immigrants and refugees, women, youth or francophones.
They all support a range of individuals who are youth, parents, adults, seniors, LGBTQ+, women, etc., in safe and welcoming environments.