Re-Engineer The State: Open The Borders!

What impact will the Charest government's plans to "re-engineer the state"
have on (im)migrants, refugees and non-status people in Quebec? In many
ways, the true logic of this re-engineering has long been operative in
Quebec and Canadian immigration policy. It pretends to reduce the role of
the state (by denying public support and services to people who need them)
while actually augmenting state power to regulate and police people and
facilitate their exploitation.

Quebec's Minister of Citizen Relations and Immigration, Michelle Courchesne,
is calling for a consultation on the number of immigrants Quebec should
accept and "integrate" over the next three years. It will begin on February
10, 2004. In a document called "Consultation 2005-2007: Planning Immigration
Rates" submitted to the National Assembly on December 9, 2003, Courchesne
discusses the importance of using immigration as "a tool for development."i
She goes on to say that according to Emploi-Quebec, over 640,000 vacancies
in the labor market will need to be filled between 2002-2006. The document
asks how to attract "ideal" immigrants at a rate adequate to ensure a labour
force to fill those positions. ("Ideal," according to the December 9th
document, is "young, adaptable, qualified, with children, and already speaks
French.")ii

Quite clearly, for the government of Quebec, immigrants are tools for the
economic development that will profit Quebec's bourgeoisie. And while the
government talks neo-liberal jargon about restructuring government, it in
fact is spending an increasing amount of money regulating who and how many
people are allowed to settle here. Hence it will pour funding into the
February consultation process, during which the question of whether the
target numbers of immigrants should, for the purposes of economic
development, be increased, decreased or kept stable over the next three
years. Population engineering for profit...

In this way, the government commodifies human beings and human rights - the
right to move freely, the right to safety and security, the right to
appropriate food and shelter, the right to education. It reduces people to
their value as cheap labor.

Indeed, (im)migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation,
precarious employment and substandard labour conditions. Although a number
of classes of immigrants are selected by Quebec according to criteria that
gauge their employability in professional sectors and in sectors in which
there is a shortage of specially trained individuals, even the MRCI admits
that frequently people arriving in Quebec are unable to find a job in their
field. Either a result of their qualifications not being recognized or as a
result of straight up discrimination,iii they end up working low-paying jobs
unrelated to their training.

Moreover, a great many people who make the difficult choice to leave their
country, families and established lives to seek refuge in Canada or Quebec
(for legitimate humanitarian and economic reasons) find themselves without
permanent resident status. The government - via Revenue Canada - regulates
them by granting them social insurance numbers that begin with the number
nine, as well as the date they are supposed to leave the country. The nine
alerts prospective employers to the fact that they are "temporary" workers,
and consequently serves to dissuade employers from hiring non-status
migrants for long-term, stable jobs.

This takes place in a context in which non-status people and new immigrants
are denied the social services that help people with precarious employment
to survive. They have limited access to public health care, no right to
day-care subsidies, and, if they wish to study at CEGEP or University level,
they must pay exorbitant international student fees, making post-secondary
education nearly impossible. Many people without status simply do not have
access to welfare. And although some non-status people in Quebec are, in
theory, eligible for welfare, it is well-known to people applying for
permanent residence in Quebec that it is almost impossible if you are or
have been on welfare. Thus, there exists tremendous pressure for non-status
people to take any job, no matter little relation it has to previous (and
oftentimes very extensive) professional training they might have, no matter
how hazardous or how poorly-paid.

While the Liberal government cuts public services for both citizens,
permanent residents and non-status people, it shows no sign of cutting the
budget of the Immigration selection department whose job it is to recruit
'ideal' immigrants and measure the 'level of integration' of people without
status applying for permanent residence from within Quebec. (And there is so
much to be said about the racist and anti-poor ways in which a notion of
Quebec's society is constructed and a person's 'integration' is evaluated
that it could fill this entire paper.) This takes place in a Federal context
in which a new Ministry of Public Safety and Security has taken over the
responsibility for policing borders and deporting those (im)migrants that
Quebec's MRCI has judged insufficiently integrated - maybe because they
haven't worked or have taken welfare, maybe because they don't speak French
well enough, maybe because they wear hijab and pray at a mosque...

In the end, the cycle of precariousness is perpetuated, and a wealthy class
of citizens profits from the regulation of (im)migrant movement and labor.
But organizations of (im)migrant workers and groups of refugees and
non-status people in Quebec and across Canada, such as the Action Committee
for Non-Status Algerians, the Coalition Against the Deportation of
Palestinian Refugees, and the Action Committee Against the Racial Profiling
of Pakistani Refugees are fighting for status, and publicly denouncing their
exploitation as a class of virtual slaves, as well as the mercenary and
racist selection processes of the MRCI and Immigration Canada. As the
fight-back against the Charest government builds, we need to demand that the
state be TRULY re-engineered - by eliminating its Immigration bureaucracies
and Immigration police, and opening the borders!

i "Consultation 2005-2007: La planification des niveaux d'immigration," La
Direction de la population et de la recherche de la minist