Interviewed by Temi Boyede
When and how did you start organizing against deportation?
H: I have been an organizer, in terms of deportation work, with No One Is Illegal (NOII) for about 15-20 years now. My relationship with this work primarily began right after September 11th (9/11) because of the ways in which the post-9/11 climate gave rise to an escalating anti-migrant, anti-refugee environment. This kind of migration-based discrimination wasn’t new, but it escalated in a particular way. At the same time, there was a growing anti-war movement to challenge, expose and stop the US led war on Iraq and Afghanistan. During this time, it was really important for diverse immigrant communities to intervene and say, “Okay, there’s also an ongoing war at home that is escalating”. So that’s where our work around deportation really emerged; which specifically located the war that was happening both abroad and at home. These were linked in terms of global imperialism and racism, but also the specific day-to-day impacts in communities targeted by deportations.
What was it like working with NOII in the beginning? Did NOII work alongside other organizations?
H: Back then, organizing for migrants and refugees wasn’t new. In Montreal for example, the Immigrant Workers Centre was already established; the Phillipino community was organizing against the Living Caregiver Program; the Palestinian community was organizing against the deportation of Palestinian refugees and the Punjabi community was organizing against the deportation of Sikh refugees.
NOII is in many cities and looks different in different places but the origins of NOII is in Vancouver and Montreal. It was a coalitional effort between the Palestinian Community Centre, the Iranian Federation of Refugees, and the Anti Poverty Committee. It started with people coming together from these other organizations to do the work. It’s been 20 years now.
Since then, NOII has become its own; there are NOII groups with their own membership that aren’t coalitions. But originally it was everyone responding to the post 9/11 climate, trying to come together with an anti racist mandate to fight the war at home.
What is your overall experience working with NOII?
H: Most of my experience with NOII has been in Vancouver. In the Vancouver context, anti-deportation work looks very different; our basic principle is that we organize in support of families and people facing deportation. The strategies we use are ultimately determined by individuals which makes our work very subjective. A big part of this is service provision which is important because we are responding to the needs of the community; we are basically just doing unpaid work that lawyers should be doing. This is an ongoing debate within many movements that do service oriented work; how do we balance more politicized work with service work? And how are we doing the work of the state in the context of austerity?
Another large part of what we do is in the realm of legal support. And when I say legal, I mean legal in the kind of technical sense of filing applications (humanitarian and compassionate claims). But it’s important to remember that legal support work, in a broad sense, means providing emotional support to people going through the process; it’s breaking down the isolation that people experience. Emotional support encompasses figuring out how to assist people who are trying to survive. Doing things like offering childcare for families who can’t get it in the system because it is inaccessible in some way. Finding networks of housing and enrolling children into school are often barriers, other things that go along with overall support are also really important.
That’s the day-to-day of anti-deportation work but there are moments when people decide to organize collectively. There’s been many examples of that kind of collective organizing, in Montreal, the non-status Algerians, the Committee of Pakistani Refugees. In Vancouver, there was RARP (Refugees Against Racial Profiling) and in Southern Ontario you have the Network of Immigration Detainees. Over the years there’s been lots of collective organizing.
How do you keep yourself motivated to continue organizing against deportations?
H: There will always be road blocks. For every deportation that’s stopped or prevented, there are just as many people, if not more, who are deported. There are people who aren’t in touch with anybody or in detention centres and prisons, and who are extremely isolated for different reasons.
So how do we keep going? I guess I can only speak for myself.
I don’t see any option other than dismantling borders; it’s so necessary, it’s so urgent, it’s so pressing. Especially right now with anti-migrant phobia, which has become a central scapegoat to many right wing politicians.
I believe a big challenge within many anti-deportation groups across North America has been the ways in which the migrant justice movement and NOII has largely framed the issue of migrant justice as, “a struggle of brown people”. This is at the expense of the ways in which black migrants and refugees are disproportionately impacted. I think a key challenge in terms of how we keep going, is that we have to do this work ethically as well, this means reflecting and shifting our work when it needs to be shifted.