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No One Is Illegal

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Issue: 26 Section: Labour Geography: Quebec Montreal Topics: social movements, migration, solidarity, NOII

February 12, 2005

No One Is Illegal

Group aims for ''regularization of everyone'' through solidarity, not charity

by Matt Mundy

noii_web.jpg
"No One is Illegal"-style campaigns have emerged all over Europe and North America. Photos: CMAQ, Indymedia NYC, Germany Indymedia, Barcelona Indymedia

In the years following 9/11, the tenuous situation of many immigrants and refugees in Canada has been exacerbated by political pressure from south of the border and antiterrorism legislation. Partly a response to Tom Ridge and John Manley's collective effort to build a "Fortress North America," Montreal activists initiated the No One Is Illegal Campaign (NOII) in August and September of 2002.

Rejecting the sentiments of charity that occasionally motivate such campaigns, NOII sees itself as an ally for immigrants or refugees in need. Jaggi Singh, a member of the campaign, says that NOII's role is "to act as allies with the people directly affected. We believe very strongly that people who are directly affected by injustices are the ones who should determine how their struggle is led and how it is determined."

NOII emphasize the broad-based nature of their assistance, and support refugees and immigrants in many campaigns and styles of activism. The group circulates urgent action appeals for phone calls to government officials, collects signatures for petitions, arranges delegation visits, organizes demonstrations, helps with media work, and even provides legal support, child care, and counselling.

One of NOII's current focuses is Solidarity Across Borders, an initiative which unites approximately 15 groups under four fundamenal demands: regularization of all non-status people, an end to detentions, an end to the deportation of immigrants and refugees, and - reflecting the link between immigration and the war on terrorism - an end to security certificates. These constitute a legal provision that has allowed the Federal government to detain immigrants indefinitely without charges, and keep evidence and charges secret from detainees.

NOII differs from many mainstream immigrant and refugee rights organizations in their support for the regularization of all immigrants and refugees. Singh explains that this position arises from NOII's work with non-status Algerians, among others. "We work as allies with the Algerians, Palestinian refugees, individuals in detention centers...[and] the non-status Algerians from the beginning wanted regularization for everybody."

Although much of their work directly involves immigrants and refugees, Singh stresses the broader impact of their struggle as well. "We don't want to be pigeonholed...we're a working class struggle, an indigenous struggle," he said. "Non-status workers are on the cutting edge of worker's rights, as they can't even unionize."

Singh says that the fight for immigrant and refugee rights must be seen in the larger context of a struggle for social justice. "Why are people migrating?" asks Singh. "It's not about curiosity, it's about displacement. There are underlying political, social and economic realities that force people to migrate...we see this dynamic because of poverty, unemployment, destruction of rural economies and other underlying pressures."

Singh emphasizes the contradictions of "Fortress North America":
"Consider who's pumping gas, who's working in the back of fast food restaurants, who's working domestic labor, who's picking fruits and vegetables -- you get an idea of what this migration is doing," he noted. "If you were to deport these people overnight, these economies fall apart...we know that our economies are dependent on migrant and non-status labour."

The contradiction, according to Singh, is explained by the economic logic that drives corporate globalization. "You create a situation where there is a whole mass of exploitable people...if you can't claim status, it's that much easier to exploit people and it's that much harder for you to claim your full rights and your full dignity," he said.

The concept of 'no one is illegal' arises out of their analysis of immigration; NOII sees immigrants and refugees as people who, denied their basic rights, are now fighting to achieve them. Singh explains, "We have in our cities thousands of people who are fighting for self-determination and what's insidious is that it is never seen as such. That's why we say no one is illegal...there's no such thing as an illegal human being," he continued. "We're trying to put out a new paradigm for looking at immigration."

Finally, NOII places considerable importance on indigenous rights and struggle within Canada. "We feel that these policies reflect both colonial and neocolonial realities," Singh said. "We're predominantly a people of colour group and feel that it is important to openly support indigenous sovereignty and the basic inherent rights of indigenous peoples to these lands."


» NOII Toronto

» Communiqué from NOII Montreal

» NoBorder.org

» NOII Melbourne

» NOII UK

» Cross the Border (Germany)

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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