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Living with Precarious Legal Status in Canada: Implications for the Well-Being of Children and Families

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Abstract

This study focused on the effects of precarious status on the well-being of fifteen participants with particular attention to their attempts to claim services, their feelings of belonging and sense of social support, and the effects of parents' status on children. It investigates ways in which the status of one family member can affect the well-being of the entire family. Those who had children reported that the family's status disadvantaged their children, whether they were Canadian or foreign-born, as parents' status was used to justify denying children rights to which they are entitled by international, national, and provincial laws. The paper challenges approaches to citizenship and immigration status that fail to consider the implications of legal status for a person's primary social units and networks.
Living with Precarious Legal Status
in Canada: Implications for the
Well-Being of Children and Families
Judith K. Bernhard, Luin Goldring, Julie Young,
Carolina Berinstein, and Beth Wilson
Abstract
This study focused on the effects of precarious status on
the well-being of fifteen participants with particular atten-
tion to their attempts to claim services, their feelings of be-
longing and sense of social support, and the effects of
parents’ status on children. It investigates ways in which
the status of one family member can affect the well-being
of the entire family. Those who had children reported that
the family’s status disadvantaged their children, whether
they were Canadian or foreign-born, as parents’ status
was used to justify denying children rights to which
they are entitled by international, national, and provin-
cial laws. The paper challenges approaches to citizen-
ship and immigration status that fail to consider the
implications of legal status for a person’s primary social
units and networks.
Résumé
Cette étude examine les conséquences du statut précaire
sur le bien-être de 15 participants, en se penchant tout
particulièrement sur leurs efforts pour revendiquer l’accès
aux services, leurs sentiments d’appartenance et de sou-
tien social, ainsi que les répercussions du statut des pa-
rents sur leurs enfants. Elle examine les différentes façons
par lesquelles le statut d’un membre de la famille peut af-
fecter le bien-être de la famille toute entière. Ceux ayant
des enfants ont rapporté que ces derniers, qu’ils soient nés
au Canada ou à l’étranger, avaient été défavorisés par le
statut de la famille, étant donné que le statut des parents
était employé pour justifier le déni aux enfants de droits
qui étaient les leurs en droit international et selon les lois
nationales et provinciales. L’article remet en question les
façons d’aborder la question de statut de citoyenneté et
d’immigrant qui ne prennent pas en ligne de compte les
conséquences du statut juridique sur les unités sociales de
base et les réseaux sociaux pour chaque personne.
Canadian citizens, secure in their full legal status,
often take for granted many of the rights and enti-
tlements that citizenship bestows on them. How-
ever, for other members of the population including, for
example, non-citizen or not-yet-citizen refugees and immi-
grants, the question of status and thus of rights and entitle-
ments is much less certain.1In some cases, even citizens may
encounter difficulty in accessing and obtaining services and
protections to which they are entitled by virtue of their
citizenship. This latter situation is not uncommon, for ex-
ample, among Canadian-born children whose parents
have uncertain legal status. Although recognized as citi-
zens by birth, they may face barriers in accessing educa-
tion and other entitlements. Drawing on qualitative data
from fifteen interviews, this paper looks at the experience
of precarious legal status for families and children in
Canada.2 In particular, it investigates various ways in
which the uncertain legal status of one or more family
members can affect the well-being of the family as a
whole, including Canadian citizens. Our approach chal-
lenges perspectives on citizenship and legal status that
privilege the status of individuals in their definitions, and
which fail to consider the implications of status for a
person’s primary social units and networks.
101
Key Concepts: Status and Well-Being
Berinstein, McDonald, Nyers, Wright, and Zeheri and the
Status Campaign used the term “non-status” to refer gener-
ally to individuals who do not have the required permissions
or documents that would establish their legal and undeni-
able right to live and work in Canada on a temporary or
permanent basis.3However, we use the term “uncertain
status” and also follow Goldring, Berinstein, and Bernhard’s
use of “precarious status” in order to stress that the question
of one’s legal position in the country—and hence the ques-
tion of one’s rights, entitlements, access to services, obliga-
tions, responsibilities, and so on—cannot always be
determined as a strictly black-and-white matter.4People
may shift between statuses, and there are a number of grey
areas to consider, which Goldring et al. refer to as “grada-
tions of status.”5For the purposes of our study, the concept
of precarious status is applied to individuals in a range of
categories, who may also experience shifts between different
types of legal status over the duration of their presence in
Canada.6Factorssuchasgender,ethnicity,classback-
ground, racialization, employment status, income, life cycle,
age, and presence of young children are known to affect
people’s well-being. We add uncertain status as an impor-
tant determinant of well-being.
Well-being refers not only to mental and physical health,
but also to an individual’s level of social and economic
security. The conditions surrounding immigrant settle-
ment, including immigrant status, are crucial to newcomer
well-being. In her work with asylum seekers in Australia,
Rees defined well-being as “a holistic state that includes
psychological, physical, spiritual, social and cultural con-
tentment and welfare…that incorporates both a public/so-
cial standard, as well as a personal/private viewpoint.”7
Rees’s definition is not only relevant to cases of uncertain
legal status, but is typical of work that considers human
health from a broad, “social determinants of health” per-
spective.8Such an approach emphasizes the impact of pov-
erty and inequality on health and on well-being, and it
recognizes that there are also gendered and ethnoracial
dimensions to these conditions.9Well-being, in sum, re-
flects the individual’s ability to function in and adapt to the
new society.
Well-being is a key factor in settlement, playing a role in
both adaptation and integration. A variety of experiences
and factors before, during, and after migration contribute
to individual and family well-being. There is growing rec-
ognition that “geopolitical, economic and cultural influ-
ences affect the health of immigrants.”10 According to
Beiser and Hou, the main challenges to well-being during
the settlement process include economic factors such as
unemployment or underemployment, discrimination, and
language barriers.11 Another significant challenge to well-
being in the context of the settlement process is seeking a
sense of belonging and welcome in the society of which one
is now a part, as well as feeling valued and respected by
members of that society.12 This would include a sense of
one’s ethnoracial and religious identity, and feeling oneself
to be a member of a community – in the host country, one’s
native country, and/or a transnational community.13
In countries such as Canada, where public services pro-
vide education and health care to the population, being able
to access social services is crucial to well-being. Several
Canadian reports provided important insights for our
study, particularly in highlighting the existence of a popu-
lation living with uncertain status in Canada and raising
questions about their access to services.14 The report by
Berinstein et al., for example, drew attention to the fear
experienced by non-status persons and pointed in particu-
lar to the vulnerability of non-status women to domestic
violence.15 They discussed impacts on health including in-
cidents of depression and documented lack of access to
various services often because of the extreme demands of
job situations. Challenges also arise from restrictions on
labour market participation and mobility, as well as from
lack of access to a range of services. Several researchers have
identified fear as a barrier to obtaining services, and in
particular have found negative outcomes in the areas of
health and education due to this fear.16 Families with un-
certain status who have children must make difficult
choices with respect to livelihood in order to be able to care
for their children. All of these factors cause many families
to feel insecure and unwelcome, and this state of limbo
results in precarious settlement.
Research on Precarious Status in Canada
The general topic of living without full legal status in Can-
ada, and the specific study of families with uncertain or
precarious status in Canada have remained under-researched
for many reasons, including the inherent difficulties of
working with “invisible” people, many of whom wish to stay
below the radar of government authorities.17 Beyond the
methodological challenges of establishing trust with people
who are in precarious situations, the requirements of uni-
versity ethics committees to protect the identities of these
people can present serious obstacles to researche rs, who may
not conduct follow-up research, as that would involve re-
taining contact information. A major concern of such com-
mittees is the extent to which researchers might be
compelled to provide information about participants to
authorities.18
Nevertheless, there is growing interest in the topic,
spurred in part by a series of arrests and deportations that
Volume 24 Refuge Number 2
102
took place during the summer of 2006, which shed light on
a topic that has received sporadic media attention.19 In the
US, the Census Bureau20 has been counting and providing
estimates of the undocumented population since the early
1980s, and academics have studied undocumented mi-
grants from a number of disciplines and perspectives.21
However, in Canada there are no official statistics on the
population with uncertain status, and available research on
the topic, while important, is scarce.22
In the US, as in Canada, undocumented families experi-
ence significant challenges in terms of limited access to and
differential outcomes in education and health.23 While the
Canadian context is different from the more well-studied
US case, findings from studies of the undocumented in
general, and families in particular, provide an important
literature and should inform Canadian research. A recur-
rent theme in this work is that undocumented or uncertain
status compounds other forms of exclusion and marginal-
ity, making it difficult for those without full status to expe-
rience well-being. At the same time, the presence of a large
undocumented population can mitigate the effects of indi-
vidual undocumented status.
In his work with undocumented Mexicans and Central
Americans in San Diego and Dallas, Chavez examined the
multiple understandings of one’s sense of community, not-
ing that it may be “imagined” and not confined to a specific
geographic area. Ideally, suggested Chavez, migrants, even
though undocumented, come to have “a sense of belonging
to multiple communities.24 In his sample, 60 per cent of
Mexicans and 50 per cent of Central Americans felt they
were a part of their American community. For these indi-
viduals, a sense of community came from shopping, having
friends, and participating in community events including
church functions. Chavez underscored the fact that for
most of these people, feeling a sense of belonging to their
American community was separate from other feelings of
severed ties with the “home” community. His regression
analysis yielded som e important correlate s of belonging, for
instance, residing in the US for more than three years,
higher family income, and intention to stay permanently.
However, contrasting findings were reported by Rees in
her qualitative study of East Timorese women asylum seek-
ers in Australia. She found their sense of well-being to be
“dangerously compromised.” Some had been tortured or
traumatized in East Timor and their difficulties during the
asylum-seeking process can be considered re-traumatiza-
tion. Rees quoted a typical informant as stating that the
several years of waiting for a decision on their case had an
effect, which was “absolutely overwhelmingly enormous.
Many people are becoming mentally ill or having total
breakdown.”25 She mentioned such factors contributing to
the lack of w ell-being of the participants as acce ss to medical
care and access to post-secondary education.
Menjivar’s studies of Salvadoran and Guatemalan immi-
grants of uncertain legal status in the US presented similar
disturbing findings. She particularly stressed the all-pervasive
effects of long-term uncertainty about one’s legal status. She
proposed the concept of “liminal legality” to capture the
ambiguity between documented and undocumented status
that she has observed in research she conducted between
1989 and 2001. For many of her participants, their existence
in the US was “a condition of permanent temporariness.”26
Impacts on Children
Parents’ immigration status often disadvantages their chil-
dren even if these are native-born.27 This calls into question
the mainstream assumption that citizenship or legal status
operates at the level of the individual, describing citizenship
(or – by extension – lack thereof) as a status conferred on
individuals by the state or a relationship between an individ-
ual and a polity.28 While feminist and other scholars have
critiqued Marshall’s classic formulation, citizenship theo-
rists have been largely silent on the issue of children, as
childhood has been seen as a transitory status on the way to
adulthood and citizenship.29 While limited, existing re-
search on children and legal status points to the importance
of considering the impact of parents’ status on the entire
primary social unit.
Young’s study of youth living with uncertain status in
Toronto explored how they experienced their legal status,
particularly its impact on their feelings of belonging and their
ability to have agency. She found that youth with limited
status were trying to participate and lead “normal” lives but
found themselves in a position of having to constantly nego-
tiate their status and explain why they did not have key
documents such as health cards. Although at times they could
be with their friends and try to forgetabout their status, they
also indicated that they felt like outsiders who did not belong
and worried about their own and their family’s futures.30
In the US, the five-year Longitudinal Immigrant Student
Adaptation (LISA) study carried out by Suarez-Orozco and
Suarez-Orozco looked at immigrant youth’s academic en-
gagement and outcomes and made a point of noting which
participants were undocumented.31 Parents and children
living in this situation viewed teachers, nurses, police offi-
cers, and other authority figures with distrust and fear, and
worried that they could be detained and deported at any
moment. The researchers reported that many of the chil-
dren they interviewed felt “constantly hunted” or worried
that if one of them was detained, “they will never be re-
united with their parent.”32
Living with Precarious Legal Status in Canada
103
It is worth looking in more detail at the specific effects of
parents who decline to register their children for school or
health-care access.33 Parents are often fearful of revealing
their status to authorities. In Toronto, families with uncer-
tain status are not eligible for subsidized childcare and the
cost of child care is prohibitive to many families, even those
with full legal status.34 In addition, they are ineligible to
receive the Canada Child Tax Benefit that is in place to
support families with children under age eighteen.35 Bern-
hard et al. found that this lack of access to services for
children placed a strain on mothers with uncertain status
who were often hesitant to even find out whether they were
eligible for various services. Crucially, the high cost of child
care influenced some mothers’ decisions to send their chil-
dren to be cared for by relatives in the home country for a
time, which was a source of shame both while they were
separated and once they were reunited.36
Of particular relevance to the present paper are US at-
tempts to prevent undocumented parents from benefiting
from their US-born children’s citizenship status, with some
policy makers and lobbyists calling for the abolition of
birthright citizenship which is currently constitutionally
enshrined. Fix and Zimmermann point out that imple-
menting such legislation would bring hardship to both the
families and citizen children involved as their rights may be
affected by restricting their access to services or, in some
cases, by their even being forced to leave the country.37
Children born in Canada to parents with uncertain status
have been deported along with their parents.38
The present study focuses on the effects of precarious
status on well-being with particular attention to factors
including access to education, health care, settlement serv-
ices, and housing. We address the following three topics
andassociatedresearchquestions:(1)Attempts to claim
services. What discrepancies are there between the services
that persons with precarious status are actually able to
access and those to which they and their children are legally
entitled? How does this gap affect well-being? (2) Feelings
of belonging and sense of social support. To what extent does
the uncertain status of parents affect their well-being, spe-
cifically their sense of belonging to a community and their
hopes for themselves and their children? What are the
negative effects on emotions? (3) Effects of parents’ status on
children. To what extent does the uncertain status of one or
both parents limit the ability of children, including Cana-
dian-born citizen children, to access the services to which
they have rights? What impact does this limitation have on
the children’s well-being?
Method and Sample
The findings reported in this paper emerged from a mixed-
method pilot study. The study, the most recent collabora-
tion by a team of researchers that has worked together for
several years on issues relating to immigrants and refugees
in Canada, focused on fifteen individuals (twelve females
and three males) living with precarious legal status in
Toronto. In addition, a telephone survey of sixty-two agen-
cies serving newcomers was also conducted to ascertain the
extent to which agencies restricted services due to legal
status.39 The study of the fifteen individuals consisted of a
semi-structured interview protocol that was administered
in the language with which the participants were most
comfortable. We sought to ensure the validity and authen-
ticity of the data by using interviewers who were fluent in
the native languages of the interviewees as well as familiar
with the cultures involved. The languages represented in
the study were: English (three participants); French (two);
Spanish (five); Portuguese (two); and Tamil (three).
The interview guide included questions in the following
areas: socio-economic profile; participants’ migration and
status histories; social networks; and use of services. The
open-ended interview questions provided participants with
an opportunity to discuss their experiences, particularly
barriers faced when accessing services, in greater detail. The
interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed, and lasted
between forty-five minutes and two hours. Participants
received a Canadian $50.00 honorarium as compensation
for their time and participation.
In order to maintain the confidentiality of participants,
interviewers and researchers were not permitted to record
participants’ names or contact information. A number of
additional measures were taken to preserve the confidenti-
ality of information and ensure that the participants had all
the benefits of a research process that conformed to the
university’s research ethics review process.40 Community-
based workers and researchers from front-line service-pro-
viding organizations that work with individuals and
families with uncertain status (including health-care cen-
tres, legal clinics, and settlement agencies) recruited partici-
pants; consequently, the sample was not random. Reliance
on community organizations as points of entry limited the
selection of participants to clients of those organizations
who were available for interviews during the working hours
of the organizations. The sample did not include individu-
als who have never sought help at an organization and who
may be quite isolated.
Volume 24 Refuge Number 2
104
Profile of the Respondents
The fifteen participants represented a broad range in terms
of country of birth, age, ethnoracial background, and edu-
cation. Three respondents were from Sri Lanka, two each
were from Brazil, Costa Rica, the Democratic Republic of
Congo, Grenada, and Mexico, one was from Chile, and one
from St. Vincent. The respondents ranged in age from 23 to
64; four were between 21 and 30 years of age, five were
31–40, four were 41 to 50, and one was over the age of 61.
Just under half of the respondents (seven) had some high
school education or had graduated from high school. Six had
some college or university (four) or trade certification (two),
and two respondents were university graduates.
Data on marital status and parenthood did not present
surprises, although the proportion of single respondents
(46.6 per cent) was high. One-third (five) lived with a
spouse or partner, two were widowed, and one was di-
vorced. Two-thirds of the respondents (ten) had children.
Of these, one respondent had six children, the others had
from one to three, for a total of twenty-three children.
The children’s place of birth and current location com-
bined to create cases of mixed-status families and geo-
graphically dispersed families. Half of the respondents with
children (five) had children who were all born outside of
Canada; two respondents had children who were all born
in Canada; three had children of whom some were born in
Canada and some abroad. That is, five adult respondents
with less than full status had at least one child born in
Canada, placing one-half of those with children in the
category of mixed-status families (or one-third of the total
sample). Furthermore, the current location of children was
not always the same as their place of birth. Thirteen of the
children, belonging to seven respondents, were living in
Canada, while ten children were living abroad. More spe-
cifically, six respondents had children born outside of Can-
ada who were living with them in this country (accounting
for nine children),41 four had Canadian-born children with
whom they lived in Canada (four children), three had
children born outside of Canada who were not living with
them (seven children).42 Three respondents had children
living outside of Canada, and two of these also had a
Canadian-born child living with them in the country.
In terms of migration hi story, it was the first time coming
to Canada for ten of the individuals (two-thirds of the
sample), while for five it was their second. Five (one-third)
of the participants had been in the country with uncertain
status for more than six years, three had been in Canada
from four to six years, two from two to four years, four
between one and two years, and one for less than one year.
At the time of the project interviews, seven participants
were awaiting the outcome of a Humanitarian and Com-
passionate (H & C) application or appeal, three were await-
ing the outcome of a refugee claim, three were denied
refugee claimants (one of whom had received a deportation
order), and two had overstayed their visas. Despite the fact
that the participants constitute a heterogeneous group, we
suggest that there are similarities in their experiences be-
cause of their uncertain legal status.
Findings
Finding One: Limited access to services due to
uncertain status affects the well-being of all family
members.
Several participants spoke of their inability to access health
care due to their uncertain status and lack of health coverage.
Thus, they experienced barr iers due to their lack of full status
and/or documentation as well as financial constraints. For
example, although Ms. Rodriguez43 and her family were
eligible for limited health coverage under the Interim Fed-
eral Health Plan, it took three years for her husband to
succeed in gaining medical attention:
Even though I tried to do everything they would tell me, even
following the process, it took me three years to be able to find a
doctor for my husband. So this was a very difficult time for him
and for my son because it was all at the same time—the medical
attention for my husband, the need to eat—but we managed.
We would make the rounds going to the different shelters,
stopping for coffee in one, eating in another, and we continued
making stops like this, going from one place to another. And
then, we would primarily look for my husband’s medication.
Then he was happy. The fact that we were here made him very
happy. But we ended up dead tired, just dead.
Significantly, Ms. Williams revealed that she was turned
away from a health clinic because of her lack of status:
They said to me, “You know what? You don’t have full status.
We are booked with non-status women.” And I was pregnant,
sick, nauseated, depressed—everything. And they told me,
“You don’t have status. You need to find another clinic. We
don’t have space.”
Ms. Rodriguez spoke of the different treatment she experi-
enced in attempting to access health care without full status
and documents:
Yes, you see this is the problem. The health clinic is very good
when one has papers; there is all the help in the world. But when
one does not have papers, that is a totally different question.
And, if you go once to the centre, you can’t go back because then
Living with Precarious Legal Status in Canada
105
you are risking your status. In other words, you risk your ability
to stay in the country.
In addition to the restrictions faced by individuals with
uncertain status in receiving medical treatment, the cost of
health care is prohibitive and is a significant barrier to
accessing services for those people who are not covered by
health insurance plans. Tellingly, Ms. Jackson indicated,
“I’m praying not to get sick because it’s very expensive and
I don’t have the money right now to go to the doctor.”
A few participants spoke of being denied employment or
having difficulty finding and keeping a job due to their lack
of papers and status. For instance, Ms. Jackson found that
“some places, they don’t want to hire you because you don’t
have certain documents. It’s really hard.” Similarly, Ms.
Williams was constantly asked for various documents when
she was looking for work: “It’s hard. When you go job
searching, they ask ‘Do you have a social insurance number,
do you have a work permit, do you have…?’ It’s very hard
for non-status. And not only non-status, women espe-
cially.”
Mr. Raveendran indicated that he was regularly asked to
show two pieces of identification, which he did not have, in
situations ranging from when he attempted to open a bank
account to when he tried to register for English as a Second
Language classes. In addition, he felt that the document he
was given to indicate his status as a refugee claimant was
problematic:
We have no ID to give. When I filed the refugee claim, they gave
me a big sheet. We cannot take that document everywhere.
Hence, they should give us a small ID. They should definitely
make a change regarding this. They should give a small docu-
ment with an ID number on it to keep in our wallet. Because it
is a big sheet, we cannot take it everywhere.
Several participants mentioned the high financial and
emotional costs of the migration process, particularly in
terms of figuring out applications, working with lawyers,
and facing uncertainty. Ms. Williams pointed to the finan-
cial barriers that she experienced: “Because sometimes you
don’t have the money. Number two, to go to get help is
another problem. Lawyers’ fees are one problem.” Simi-
larly, Ms. Rodriguez revealed that her family did not even
have money for the necessary bus fare as they attempted to
navigate the immigration system on their own:
In order to be able to explain my husband’s case and to be able
to say what was happening to him—that was the worst. There
were times when we’d spend hours looking for a bus transfer on
the ground that was still valid so we could take the bus. And to
think of the number of times we would get to a lawyer’s office
and they would say, “You don’t qualify,” or “Do you have your
return ticket all in order?” We always left crying. And in many
places they said to us, “You don’t have a case.” But even so, we
persevered. We persevered and each day I would try harder and
harder to find a place where they would give me good informa-
tion.
The significant time spent on learning the legal intricacies of
a complex system and having to constantly explain their
eligibility for essential services took a high toll on the par-
ticipants and their children.
Finding Two: Precarious status leads to pervasive feelings
of fear and isolation.
Feelings of fear and isolation limit positive interaction for
people with precarious status, limiting their interaction
within their ethnoracial communitiesand in Canadian soci-
ety more broadly. Moreover, the stress of uncertain status
manifested itself in disturbing ways. In the case of Ms.
Latouré, her husband became abusive:
At the beginning, I even tried to be among women who are
victims of violence to join their support group. Because then,
when my husband and I would begin to talk about this problem
around the papers, he would get irritated. And when I would
say something, or he would ask me for something and I did not
do it right away, he would get irritated and he would come
towards me to try to hit me. And the children would tell him,
“No, daddy, you mustn’t do that, because when you do that, the
neighbours will call the police. We will have serious problems
and our chance to get papers will be finished. Our file cannot
have a police blot on it.” So really he was very aggressive until
he found a job, then he calmed down a bit. But when we started
talking about the problem around the papers, then he started to
act up again.
Some of the participants spoke of the social isolation they
experienced due to their uncertain status. Mr. Raveendran
revealed that he felt so separate even from his own ethno-
racial community that he at times believed it would be
better for people living with uncertain status not to interact
with the larger society, or even their ethno-racial peers,
until they had some documentation or official status:
We Tamil people are unable to show our identity. We’re in a
situation where we need to isolate ourselves. When we look at
other families, those who lived here before look down upon
those who came later. It’s true. This is because they did every-
thing officially. Hence, they continue to do everything. We are
unable to do anything officially. That is the basic problem. If we
Volume 24 Refuge Number 2
106
were able to do everything officially, then we also could fight.
This is a problem. Therefore, we should get all documents
legally and quickly. If we get them, only then we can do it. So if
not, until we get at least some document in the society we should
not be permitted to mingle in society.
Ms. Bolaños expressed similar feelings of isolation on many
levels:
And for this reason you become completely isolated from your
community, from people, from everything. And it is because of
the fear of being deported that we live with. One becomes totally
isolated to the point that, I don’t even go to the church where
they speak my language … it is because people will ask uncom-
fortable questions.
Significantly, Ms. Rodr iguez spoke of not being able to speak
about her situation and of not having a sense of security:
And if there is still work to do [available], it does not matter
because you know that you may have to move to another city
or another job at the moment when you least expect it. You do
not have a sense of security around other people. You do not
have that. You almost have to walk around without saying a
word all the time. You can’t comment on anything.
Ms. George outlined a vision of how she would like to
participate and live in Canada, a vision that was limited by
her immigration status: “Oh, it’s so hard. I guess for the
things that I want to do. I want to go to school. I want to
have a good job that I can count on. I want to do so many
things. I want to give back to the community, what they give
to me, but it’s too hard.”
Mrs. Jackson vividly illustrated her fears:
Because sometimes you gotta be scared. I used to be scared a lot.
Because true like other people telling me stuff, and you know
that if Immigration tells you that you’re gonna get deported,
and stuff like that. So I used to be really scared! Sometimes I
don’t even want to go out and deal with all this stuff.
Finding Three: According to parents, the family’s
uncertain status had a strong impact on children in
particular, both Canadian and foreign-born (raised in
Canada).
It is important to remember that there are a number of
special considerations that attach to the situations of chil-
dren in families where one or both parents have uncertain
status. Children themselves are entitled to a number of legal
rights. Indeed, they are guaranteed a full range of rights
under international—and consequently national and pro-
vincial—laws. For instance, all children in Canada have the
right to attend school regardless of their own or their par-
ents’ legal status.44 Moreover, the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child affirms that in all decisions affecting
children, the best interests of the child must be primary.45
The children of the individuals who participated in this
study were particularly affected by their famil ies’ precarious
legal status. Ms. Bolaños spoke about the challenges her
children faced at school and of not being in a position to
seek help from school authorities due to the family’s status.
Other students bullied her children but she felt there was
no recourse due to their status situation. In addition, the
school identified that Ms. Bolaños daughter would benefit
from seeing a speech pathologist, but that due to her legal
status, they could not refer her to one:
The simple fact of seeing my children so isolated is incredibly
painful. Now when they meet people, they are shy and with-
drawn. Even in school my children have been abused in the
sense that there are children who hit them. My daughter, for
example, is a child who has trouble speaking. When she is very
nervous, sometimes she can’t speak at all. I was looking for a
way to get her therapy. They told me that she needs a speech
pathologist, but unfortunately they haven’t been able to help
her with this because of my legal situation.
Canada, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights
of the Child, is obligated to uphold the best interests of the
child in all decisions that affect them regardless of their legal
status. The school’s inability to help Ms. Bolaños’s daughter
to access a speech patholo gist due to her mother’s legal status
contravenes the spirit of the Convention.
Another challenge faced by the families in this study was
that of overcoming their feardue to their status and register-
ing their children in school, according to their right under
international, national, and provincial legislation. It is im-
portant to reiterate that this right applies to Canadian-born
and non-Canadian-born children alike. Ms. Ayala’s family
faced a peculiar situation while living with precarious status
after she had overstayed a tourist visa: she had two children,
the older born outside of Canada and the younger in the
country. Interestingly the younger, Canadian-born child was
not in child care (as the mother did not qualify for subsidized
child-care rates due to her uncertain status), while the older,
non-Canadian-born child was attending school. In this case,
the younger child was experiencing the impact of her
mother’s status while the older one was successful in access-
ing her right to education regardless of her own and her
mother’s status. In addition, Ms. Ayala was unable to submit
a claim for alimony from her former husband due to her
status, a limitation that disadvantaged both of her children.
Living with Precarious Legal Status in Canada
107
In the case of Ms. Latouré, she was unhappy that her
children would be unable to pursue post-secondary educa-
tion due to the family’s uncertain status in Canada. They
were in high school and in two or th ree years would be rea dy
for university; however, they would be considered interna-
tional students and as a result would be required to pay
much higher tuition fees than their peers. This cost would
be a barrier for the family and the children would not be
able to pursue their studies:
And even if my children are in school – they will soon be old enough
to attend university – they won’t go to university. This, this is what
hurts me very deeply, again for my children…. Not to have papers
inCanada,formeitsreally,itsasifyourlifehasbeencutoff.
Because for me in any case…we have children, the children grow
up, they have to study. Children are tomorrow’s future.
Although the situation of these children would not likely fall
under the terms of the UN Convention, as it applies to
children up to age eighteen only, it is nonetheless problem-
atic and disadvantages the children on the basis of their
uncertain status, regardless of how long they may have lived
and studied in the country.
Finally, the fear of their status being discovered may
cause parents to limit their children’s and their own inter-
actions with people outside of the family. For example, Ms.
Bolaños noticed that her children were quite shy and sug-
gested that this could be due to their limited interactions
with other children:
For example, my two children are very shy because they live only
with their mother and father and are always at home. That’s all
we do. There is no comradeship so that they can say, “This
weekend we are going to play with our friends, with the children
of my father’s friends.” We don’t have anything like that.
Five of the fifteen participants in the study had Cana-
dian-born children. These women faced considerable chal-
lenges in accessing services on behalf of their children,
especially services such as Ontario Health Insurance Plan
(OHIP) coverage and health-care access to which these
children were entitled as Canadian citizens. For instance,
Ms. Jackson was a denied refugee claimant awaiting the
outcome of a Federal Court Review and she had a seven-
teen-month old, Canadian-born daughter:
I find they give you a really hard time when you don’t have status
because, for instance, my daughter was born here and some
things I can’t get for her. For instance I can’t get child tax
benefits for her. I only get a year…. I have to renew her health
card every year. And I find that that should not be. I find this
very hard. Regardless of the parent’s status, I find they should
give the child what belongs to them because they were born
here. That’s what I find. I don’t find they should take away the
child’s rights because of the parents.
Ms. Williams, who had a three-year old, Canadian-born son,
found that her status had a negative impact on her ability to
access services for him: she had been unable to get full OHIP
coverage for him. She went on to speak more generally about
the impact of the uncertain status of parents on Canadian-
born children:
I believe that as a Canadian-born, a child should have access to
everything. Whether a woman doesn’t have status, or the father
doesn’t have status, or whatever, the child is a Canadian-born.
They should have everything that is supposed to be for them.
For example, you can’t file for baby bonus for them because of
status. You cannot file for childcare because of status. It’s not really
fair for the kids that because the mother and thefather don’t have
status, they cannot have access. So it’s really unfair. You know,
because they have to survive as any other kid in this country.
In such cases, the parents’ status means that their chil-
dren could not benefit from the financial assistance of the
child tax benefit or subsidized child care. For example, Ms.
Williams’s son was not in child care because of her uncer-
tain status, her low income, and the high cost of programs:
For the money. You have to give the money but it’s too much.
Because I tried for him, and for one month, the cheapest child-
care I got was $700 dollars a month. And it’s very hard for
non-status who only take a job at a time….and, not only that,
the little income they get is very hard too.
Ms. George’s four-year-old, Canadian-born son was also
not in child care and she cou ld not afford to take him to other
children’s programs offered in the community:
I stayed home because I didn’t have money to put him in
childcare, and it was easier for me. That’s the way that we grew
up, that we take care of the babies for a certain time. It was kind
of hard. There were programs that I wanted to take him to but
I didn’t have money, so I did it on my own.
Ms. George was deeply affected by not being able to provide
adequately for her son:
There is one thing that I wanted to do, that was go to school and
take care of the child’s health care. And I needed a social
insurance number for that. You can’t have that, so right about
there, I think my heart was broken. So I just gave up.
Volume 24 Refuge Number 2
108
Discussion
As our data demonstrate, the precarious status of one or two
parents can have negative repercussions on the well-being of
the entire family. The stresses reported were shared among
all members of the families we interviewed. There were some
families who felt isolated and had to deal with constantly
being turned away or turned down by the organizations
where they went to seek help. Some parents found that their
children were shy and isolated and at times unable to receive
services that other children are offered through the school.
This is consistent with Young’s findings of youth being con-
stantly confronted by their precarious status and reminded
that they were different from their friends.46 Our findings also
agree with those of Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco who
observed fear and distrust of authority figures among the
undocumented children and youth in their study.47
We found fifteen different experiences of uncertain legal
status lived by the fifteen participants. Some were likely
destined for eventual success in regularizing their legal
status, as they had fewer legal hurdles to overcome than
others in securing permanent residence for themselves and
their families. Our findings demonstrate that if one mem-
ber of a family does not have full legal status, all members
will have limited rights and entitlements. They also lend
support to non-binary conceptions of legal status such as
Menjívar’s “liminal legality” and Goldring, Berinstein, and
Bernhard’s “precarious status.”48 Regardless of their differ-
ent pathways to uncertain status, the fact of being in a grey
legal area and an unclear social situation dominates the
accounts of the people we interviewed. In short, we found
that living with precarious status had the “overwhelmingly
enormous effect” reported by Rees.49
Regarding our first question about accessing services,
common to the reports of most participants was the inabil-
ity to access vital services, especially health care. Many of
these difficulties occurred along with problems in finding
employment. Consistent with earlier findings, participants
in this study were often afraid to even ask about their
eligibility for various services even when their children were
Canadian-born.50 In our interviews with participants we
were constantly reminded of the pervasive effects of insta-
bility and uncertainty in areas such as settlement, child care
and education. “Normal” family life seemed to disappear
in the constant struggle to survive.
Why are we hearing such reports when in the city of
Toronto, for instance, there are dozens of community agen-
cies that do not ask about their clients’ legal status? Of the
sixty-two agencies we surveyed during this project, most said
they did ask about legal status and a majority (77 per cent)
stated that they do not turn people away for any reason.51 The
answer appears to be that a participant’s chances of facing
barriers even in potentially friendly agencies is quitehigh: this
is related not to the presence or absence of goodwill toward
people living with uncertain status at the level of an agency
or worker but instead to restrictions on access to programs
funded by government agencies.52 This raises the question of
why clinics that do not ask any questions are not accessed by
more people with precarious status? Further research is nec-
essary to identify deficiencies in public awareness campaigns
directed toward immigrant communities and the effects of
funding constraints. We can state, however, based on our
interviews, that fear of the authorities is apparently upper-
most in the minds of these people. Perhaps if churches and
settlement workers were provided with additional informa-
tion, individuals living with uncertain status would be able to
overcome their fears and seek support from appropriate
community agencies.
On questions of the extent to which peoplewith precarious
status feel a sense of belonging and social support, our par-
ticipants’ described pervasive feelings of fear and isolation.
This finding is consistent with work by Menjívar, Rees, and
Wayland53 Uncertain status undermines one’s ability to de-
velop networks within both one’s own community and the
host society. One respondent, Ms. Bolaños, indicated she did
not go to the church where they spoke her language because
people would ask uncomfortable questions. We were sur-
prised at the number of participants who felt separate even
from their own ethnoracial, religious, or linguistic commu-
nities. It is often assumed that people living with precarious
status derive benefits from established communities of their
peers. The facts are not so simple. Mr. Raveendran spoke of
those in the Tamil community who are already established
and had done everything officially. These people, he said,
“look down” on later arrivals so a person’s official designa-
tion as legal or illegal has inescapable consequences even at
the micro level of intracommunity interactions.
Regarding the extent to which the families’ precarious
status influenced the experiences of their children, we found
that the participants in our study were not clear about their
children’s rights, and, as a result, children’s entitlements were
curtailed. Similar to Young’s report, we found participants
greatly affected by the lack of key documents, especially
health cards.54 Two of the most glaring gaps had to do with
children’s access to medical services and education. The fact
that in principle, the law establishes the rights of these chil-
dren does not mean that in practice the law is working as
intended. In simple terms, Canada has not succeeded in
meeting its obligations to children. This study has found that
there is a particular impact on children living in families with
uncertain status despite the protections that ought to be
afforded them under the UN Convention on theRights of the
Child.55 The absence of systematic data on people with un-
Living with Precarious Legal Status in Canada
109
certain status makes it difficult to estimate the magnitude of
the problem, but there may be several thousand children in
Canada who are not able to obtaining their basic rights under
national and international law.
It is crucial to highlight here a group that is particularly
disadvantaged: the Canadian-born children of individuals
with uncertain status. Although these children are born in
Canada and have rights as citizens, they seem to acquire their
parents’ precarious status rather than having their citizenship
taken as their status. There experiences of the mixed-status
families in our sample are consistent with Fix and Zimmer-
man’s finding that the uncertain status of parents has, in their
words, a “chilling” effect on the citizen children’s use of
benefits. All of these findings undermine the common belief
among Canadians that the children of immigrants usually
end up in a better situation than that of their parents.56
This pilot study has several limitations. Chief among them
is the fact that the small sample we worked with may not be
representative; however, our aim was to produce a qualitative
research study that would be illustrative of a range of experi-
ences and situations. Secondly, all of the participants we
interviewed were living in Toronto. Itis likely that individuals
living with uncertain status in smaller Canadian citiesor rural
locations would have differentexperiences due to lower avail-
ability of services and less awareness of the presence of a
population living with precarious legal status. Of course, it is
also possible that in small communities residents ignore the
uncertain status of long-time residents, or people who have
fallen out of status—including workers who fill labour mar-
ket needs.
Conclusion
The present study provides a glimpse of a social problem
whose dimensions are largely unknown. The accurate enu-
meration of adults and children living with precarious legal
status in Canada has not been carried out. We know of no
coordinated efforts underway to improve the delivery of
settlement, health, and education services to these individu-
als, especially to children. The funding restrictions under
which many agencies work are likely to remain in place. Our
general conclusion is that an unknown but not insignificant
portion of the Canadian population, including vulnerable
children, is accessing far fewer of the benefits available in
Canadian society than they might reasonably expect. Fur-
ther research is needed to establish the scope of this dimen-
sion of social exclusion.
A key finding of our research is that an individual’s status
has broader repercussions: parents’ status in particular can
contribute to barriers for children and seems to be used to
justify denying children rights to which they are entitled by
international, national, and provincial laws. It is crucial to
delve further into this question, not merely in the case of
mixed-status families,57 but rather in all cases where chil-
dren are involved and where they risk being disadvantaged
as a result of their parents’ or their own legal status. Fur-
thermore, this study sheds light on the financial, social, and
emotional burdens experienced by individuals and families
living with precarious legal status in Canada. In particular,
fear and isolation both play a role in people’s ability and
willingness to access services such as health care and edu-
cation. Notions of status and access to services become
complicated, as fear and lack of information (or misinfor-
mation) blur lines drawn around rights and entitlements.
It is important to recognize that there is a distinction
between inability to access services or claim rights and
unwillingness to do so, yet this distinction is not always
clear to individuals living with uncertain status or to the
service providers and practitioners who work with them.
The resulting uncertainty is likely to lead to inequitable
access and differential outcomes. This unevenness has im-
portant implications for service providers and practitio-
ners, including settlement workers, teachers, and
health-care providers: these individuals ought to be aware
that the families they work with may be in precarious
situations and fearful of accessing services for themselves
and for their children, or to participate in programs. We
emphasize here that the legal rights of the children of people
with precarious status are, in many respects, quite clear, at
least on paper. Hence it isa matter of our society implement-
ing the necessary means to arrive at policy objectives which
are already agreed upon and in legislation. All service provid-
ers and educators need to make greater efforts to help give
these children the life in Canada to which they are entitled.
Appendix A: Socio-Demographic Profile
Area Number Percentage
Status Upon Entry to Canada +
Tourist visa 9 60%
Refugee claimant 3 20%
Missing data 3 20%
Current status (at time of interview)
Awaiting outcome of
refugee claim
320%
Awaiting outcome of H&C
or appeal
7 46.6%
Denied refugee claimant
(1 with deportation order)
3 20,0%
Visa overstayer 2 13.3%
Volume 24 Refuge Number 2
110
Notes
1. In recent years, media coverage has begun to draw attention
to the presence of persons living without status in Canada
(Marina Jimenez, “200,000 Illegal Immigrants Toiling in Can-
ada’s Underground Economy,” Globe and Mail, November 15,
2003; Nicholas Keung, “Hope Fades for Plan to Aid Illegal
Workers: Illegal Workers Fear Effect of Election,” Toronto
Star, May 16, 2005; Maureen Murray, “Hopes, Dreams but No
Status: Illegals Meet to Share Stories,” Toronto Star, November
15, 2003; Grant Robertson, “Canada Has No Handle on Illegal
Immigrant Workers,” Edmonton Journal, May 30, 2005; Isabel
Teotonio, “Working in the Shadows,” Toronto Star, March 25,
2006.). However, it has been difficult to get an idea of the
precise size of this population as there are no census data or
reliable published sources providing accurate counts. Esti-
mates have ranged from 200,000 (Peter Cheney and Colin
Freeze, “200,000 May Be in Canada Illegally: Economic Un-
derclass Faces Bleak Future, But Now Everyone Supports Am-
nesty,” Globe and Mail, May 26, 2001) to 400,000
“underground workers” (Robertson). Possible regularization
programs have also been discussed, although their implemen-
tation at this time seems, due to recent changes in the federal
government, particularly unlikely (CTV, “Panel Discussion on
Immigration Amnesty Program,” CTV Sunday Edition, CTV
Television Network, 1994); Keung; Status Campaign, “Non-
Status Immigrants: Not So Underground, Not So Visible,”
<http://www.ocasi.org/status/index.asp> (accessed Decem-
ber 20, 2006).
2. This paper reports on findings from a pilot study carried out
as part of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
developmental grant under the Community-University Re-
search Alliance funding program. This community-university
partnership involved representatives from Access Alliance
Multicultural Community Health Centre, Community Legal
Education Ontario, Community Social Planning Council of
Toronto, Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre, FCJ Refu-
gee Centre, Folk Arts Council of St. Catharines, Hospital for
Sick Children (Community Health Systems Resource Group),
Laidlaw Foundation, London Cross Cultural Learner Centre,
Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic,
New Canadians’ Centre of Excellence, Ontario Council of
Agencies Serving Immigrants, Ryerson University, and York
University.
3. Carolina Berinstein, Jean McDonald, Peter Nyers, Cynthia
Wright, and Sima Zerehi, “Access Not Fear”: Non-Status Im-
migrants and City Services (2006), <http://www.dadt-
toronto.org/members/publications/Access%20Not%20
Fear%20Report%20(Feb%202006).pdf> (accessed April 19,
2006); Status Campaign.
4. Luin Goldring, Carolina Berinstein, and Judith Bernhard,
“Institutionalizing Pathways to Precarious Legal Status in
Canada” (unpublished, 2007), based on Luin Goldring and
Carolina Berinstein, “More and Less Legal: Bringing Legal
Status and Rights into the Open in Canada” (presented at
Migration and Integration in the Americas, annual conference
of the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Carib-
bean, York University, Toronto, September 19–20, 2003).
5. Ibid.
6 Examples of categories of uncertain status situations include:
(1) denied refugee claimants; (2) approved Convention Refu-
gees who did not apply for landing within the required 180-day
limit; (3) persons with work permit breakdown; (4) expired
visa holders; (5) persons with sponsorship breakdown; (6)
refused Humanitarian and Compassionate (H & C) appli-
cants; (7) persons refused by various other programs. This list
is not exhaustive, as people can move into uncertain status
through various means, including changes in administrative
procedures. See Goldring, Berinstein, and Bernhard for more
detail. The situation of refugee claimants and asylum seekers
is a case in point. After the December 2004 implementation of
the Safe Third Country Agreement, claimants from other
countries who had stopped in the United States or another
country considered to be “safe” became ineligible to apply for
refuge in Canada. At the same time, opportunities for making
inland claims were limited severely. This affected many poten-
tial claimants already in Canada, as well as those in the United
States but on their way to Canada. See CBC News, “Refugee
Claims Down 40% in Deal’s Wake,” (July 27, 2005),
<http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/07/27/refu
gee-claims050727.html>.
7. Susan Rees, “Refuge or Re-trauma? The Impact of Asylum
Seeker Status on the Wellbeing of East Timorese Women
Asylum Seekers Living in the Australian Community,” Aus-
tralasian Psychiatry 11 (2003): 98.
8. Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre, Ra-
cialised Groups and Health Status: A Literature Review Explor-
ing Poverty, Housing, Race-Based Discrimination and Access to
Health Care as Determinants of Health for Racialised Groups
(Toronto: Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health
Centre, 2005); Dennis Raphael, Social Determinants of Health:
Canadian Perspectives (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press,
2004).
9. Goldring, Berinstein, and Bernhard; Rees; Carola Suarez-
Orozco and Desiree Baolian Qin, “Gendered Perspectives in
Psychology: Immigrant Origin Youth,” International Migra-
tion Review 40 (2006): 165–198; Helen Schwenken, “For All:
The Political Self-Organization of Female Migrant Domestic
Workers in the European Union,” Refuge 21 (2003): 45–52.
10. Denise Gastaldo, Gavin Andrews, and Nazilla Khanlou,
“Therapeutic Landscapes of the Mind: Theorizing Some In-
tersections between Health Geography, Health Promotion
and Immigration Studies,” Critical Public Health 14
(2004):162.
11. Morley Beiser and Feng Hou, “Ethnic Identity, Resettlement
Stress and Depressive Affect among Southeast Asian Refugees
in Canada,” Social Science and Medicine 63 (2006): 138.
12. Leo Chavez, Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in
American Society, 2nd ed.(Toronto: Harcourt Brace College
Living with Precarious Legal Status in Canada
111
Publishers, 1998); Gastaldo, Andrews, and Khanlou; Jessica
Goodkind, “Promoting Hmong Refugees’ Well-Being
through Mutual Learning: Valuing Knowledge, Culture and
Experience,” American Journal of Community Psychology 37
(2006): 77–93; Suarez-Orozco and Qin; Anne-Marie Wallin
and Gerd Ahlström, “Unaccompanied Young Adult Refugees
in Sweden, Experiences of Their Life Situation and Well-Be-
ing: A Qualitative Follow-up Study,” Ethnicity and Health 10
(2005): 129–144.
13. Luin Goldring, “Blurring Borders: Constructing Transna-
tional Community in the Process of Mexico-U.S. Migration,”
Research in Community Sociology 6 (1996): 69–104; Luin
Goldring, “The Power of Status in Transnational Social
Fields,” Comparative Urban and Community Research 6
(1998): 165–195; Patricia Landolt, “Building Communities in
Transnational Social Fields: The Case of Salvadoran Refugees,
Migrants and Returnees,” Estudios Migratorios Latinoameri-
canos 17 (2004): 627–650.
14. Goldring, Berinstein, and Bernhard; Elsy Jetty Chakkalakal
and Alex Neve, “Living Without Status in Canada: Human
Rights Underground” (Human Rights Underground Confer-
ence, Toronto, 1998); Patricia Landolt, “The Institutional
Landscapes of Salvadoran Refugee Migration: Transnational
and Local Views from Los Angeles and Toronto,” in Organiz-
ing the Transnational: The Experience of Asian and Latin Ameri-
can Migrants in Canada, ed. L. Goldring and S. V.
Krishnamurti (Vancouver: University of British Columbia
Press, 2007); Parkdale Community Legal Services and Vigil
Toronto, Final Report to the Trillium Foundation for Docu-
menting the Undocumented, Living Without Status: Human
Rights Underground (Toronto: Parkdale Community Legal
Services, 1999); R. Magaly San Martin, “Unwanted in Para-
dise: Undocumented Migrant Women Sex-Workers in
Toronto,” in Calculated Kindness: Global Restructuring, Immi-
gration and Settlement in Canada, ed. R. B. Folson (Black Point:
Fernwood Publishing, 2004); M. Y. Tam and A. Alfred, People
without Status in Canada: What Do We Know? Where Do We
Go from Here? (Toronto: Faculty of Social Work, University of
Toronto, 2003); Sarah Wayland, Unsettled: Legal and Policy
Barriers for Newcomers to Canada (Ottawa: Community Foun-
dations of Canada and Law Commission of Canada, 2006).
15. Berinstein, McDonald, Nyers, Wright, and Zerehi.
16. M. Bannerman, P. Hoa, and R Male, South Riverdale Commu-
nity Health Centre’s Exploration of Services for Non-Insured
People in East Toronto (Toronto: South Riverdale Community
Health Centre, 2003); Berinstein, McDonald, Nyers, Wright,
and Zerehi; Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment
(CAAT), Improving Access to Legal Services and Health Care for
People Living with HIV/AIDS who are Immigrants, Refugees or
Without Status (Toronto: Regent Park Community Health
Centre, 2001); Community Legal Education Ontario, Every
Child’s Legal Right to Education (Toronto: Parkdale Commu-
nity Legal Services), <http://www.cleo.on.ca/english/pub/on-
pub/PDF/immigration/ev chlde d.pdf>; Wayland; Maria Yau,
Refugee Students in Toronto Schools: An Exploratory Study
(Toronto: Toronto Board of Education, Research Services,
1995).
17. In studies of immigrant families, for example, it is often
possible to discern examples of children and parents with
uncertain legal status even though the investigators may have
stayed away from explicit questions about immigration status.
These examples occur in several studies that examine the
experiences of immigrant and refugee children and families in
both Canada and the US: Judith K. Bernhard and Marlinda
Freire, “Caring For and Teaching Children of Refugee Fami-
lies,” in Include Me Too: Human Diversity in Early Childhood,
ed. K. M. Kilbride (Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1997); Ana
Marie Fantino and Alice Colak, “Refugee Children in Canada:
Searching for Identity,” Child Welfare 80 (2001) 587–596;
Kenise M. Kilbride, Paul Anisef, Etta Baichman-Anisef, and
Rhanda Khattar, Between Two Worlds: The Experiences and
Concerns of Immigrant Youth in Ontario (Toronto: Joint Cen-
tre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement,
2000); Marjorie F. Orellana, Barrie Thorne, Anne Chee, and
Wan Shun E. Lam, “Transnational Childhoods: The Partici-
pation of Children in Processes of Family Migration,” Social
Problems 48 (2001): 572–591; Ruben G. Rumbaut and Alejan-
dro Portes, Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America
(New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2001); Carola Suarez-
Orozco and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, Children of Immigration
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
18. John Lowman and Ted Palys, “Ethics and Institutional Con-
flict of Interest: The Research Confidentiality Controversy at
Simon Fraser University,” Sociological Practice 2 (2000):
245–264.
19. Peter Gorrie, “Tories Begin Deporting Illegal Workers,”
Toronto Star, March 21, 2006.
20. Margaret E. Martin et al., “Report of the ASA Technical Panel
on the Census Undercount,” American Statistician 38 (1984):
252–256; Jeffrey S. Passel, “Undocumented Immigration,”An-
nals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 487
(1986): 181–200.
21. Frank D. Bean et al., “Circular, Invisible, and Ambiguous
Migrants: Components of Difference in Estimates of the
Number of Unauthorized Mexican Migrants in the United
States,” Demography 38 (2001): 411–422; Marc Berk and
Claudia Schur, “The Effect of Fear on Access to Care among
Undocumented Latino Immigrants,” Journal of Immigrant
Health 3 (2001): 151–156; Chavez, Shadowed Lives; Wayne
Cornelius, “Interviewing Undocumented Immigrants: Meth-
odological Reflections Based on Fieldwork in Mexico and the
US,” International Migration Review 16 (1982): 378–411;
Passel.
22. Berinstein, McDonald, Nyers, Wright,and Zerehi; Chak-
kalakal and Neve; Community Legal Education Ontario, Every
Child’s Legal Right to Education; Wayland.
23. Berk and Schur, Chavez, Shadowed Lives; Michael Fix and
Wendy Zimmermann, All Under One Roof: Mixed-Status
Volume 24 Refuge Number 2
112
Families in an Era of Reform (Washington, D.C.: Urban Insti-
tute, 1999); Gabrielle Lessard and Leighton Ku, “Gaps in
Coverage for Children in Immigrant Families,” The Future of
Children 13 (2003): 100–115; Carola Suarez-Orozco and Mar-
celo Suarez-Orozco, Children of Immigration (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
24. Leo Chavez, “The Power of the Imagined Community: The
Settlement of Undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans
in the United States,” American Anthropologist 96 (1994): 68.
25. Rees.
26. Cecillia Menjívar, “Liminal Legality: Salvadoran and Guate-
malan Immigrants’ Lives in the United States,” American Jour-
nal of Sociology 111 (2006): 1030.
27. Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment (CAAT); Fix and
Zimmermann; Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco; Wayland.
28. Trevor Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1950).
29. Alison Brysk, “Children across Borders: Patrimony, Property,
or Persons?,” in People Out of Place: Globalization, Human
Rights, and the Citizenship Gap, ed. Alison Brysk and Gershon
Shafir (New York: Routledge, 2004).
30. Julie Young, “’This is my life’: Questions of Agency and Be-
longing among Youth Living with Less than Full Status” (mas-
ter’s major research paper, Ryerson University, Toronto,
2005).
31. Note that the LISA researchers did not explicitly ask about
uncertain status, but instead they were able to discern this
status through the interactions they had with families through-
out the duration of the project and through responses to
particular questions. For example, if the question was, “What
was the most difficult part of the immigration process?” and
the response was, “Crossing the border,” it was probable that
this child was undocumented at some point (Suarez-Orozco
and Suarez-Orozco).
32. Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco.
33. Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment (CAAT); Jimenez;
Ratna Omidvar and Ted Richmond, Perspectives on Social
Inclusion: Immigrant Settlement and Social Inclusion in Canada
(Toronto: Laidlaw Foundation, 2003); Wayland.
34. City of Toronto, Subsidized Childcare: How Do I Apply for a
Fee Subsidy? (Toronto: City of Toronto), <http://www.city.
toronto.on.ca/children/subsidy.htm>; Martha Friendly and
Donna Lero, Social Inclusion through Early Childhood Educa-
tion (Guelph: Laidlaw Foundation, 2002), <http://www.laid-
lawfdn.org/cms/file/children/lero.pdf> (accessed January 7,
2007).
35. In order to qualify for this benefit, the applicant or their spouse
or common-law partner must be “a Canadian citizen, a per-
manent resident, a protected person, or a temporary resident
who has lived in Canada for the previous 18 months” (Canada
Revenue Agency, 2005).
36. Cheryl Teelucksing, Luin Goldring, and Judith Bernhard, Sur-
vey of Agencies Serving Persons with Less Than Full Status.
(Toronto: Ryerson University, 2005).
37. Fix and Zimmermann.
38. Young.
39. Teelucksing, Goldring, and Bernhard.
40. The agency personnel screened potential participants and
retained all identifying information, which never appeared in
the researchers’ records. Participants gave verbal (rather than
written) consent and were clearly informed that they were free
to withdraw at any time during the process. In addition, they
were asked to give double consent to participate: first to the
community service providers who recruited them, and second
to the researcher who carried out the interview. The service
provider made clear that whether or not an individual chose
to participate in the study, her/his access to services at the
organization would not be affected. Moreover, the double
consent process ensured that service providers would not
know who did or did not choose to participate in the project.
41. This group includes one woman whose grown daughter, over
age thirty, lived in Canada. Note that participants may be
counted under more than one of these categories.
42. This group includes one woman with two children over age
twenty-five.
43. All names used are pseudonyms.
44. Section 30(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
(IRPA) states: “Every minor child in Canada, other than a child
of a temporary resident not authorized to work or study, is
authorized to study at the pre-school, primary or secondary
level.” In Ontario, children of temporary residents may be
permitted to attend school but they are required to pay inter-
national student fees in the range of Can. $7,000 to10,000 per
year, which is a barrier for many families; this fee has been
waived for children whose parents have submitted an applica-
tion for permanent residence (Community Legal Education
Ontario, Every Child’s Legal Right to Education; Government
of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (2001),
<http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/I-2.5/64755.html> (accessed
June 10, 2006); Government of Ontario, Educational Act
(1990), <http://www.elaws.gov.on.ca/DBLaws/Statutes/Eng-
lish/90e02_e.htm>. (accessed April 19, 2006).
45. United Nations, Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990),
<http://www.unicef.org/crc/crc.htm> (accessed April 19,
2006).
46. Young.
47. Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco. .
48. Menjívar; Goldring, Berinstein, and Bernhard
49. Rees.
50. Judith Bernhard, Patricia Landolt, and Luin Goldring, Tran-
snational, Multi-Local Motherhood: Experiences of Separation
and Reunification among Latin American Families in Canada
(Toronto: Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immi-
gration and Settlement, 2005).
Living with Precarious Legal Status in Canada
113
51. Teelucksing, Goldring, and Bernhard.
52. Berinstein, McDonald, Nyers, Wright, and Zerehi; Wayland.
53. Menjívar; Rees; Wayland.
54. Young.
55. United Nations, Convention on the Rights of the Child.
56. Fix and Zimmermann.
57. Ibid.
Judith K. Bernhard is Professor at the School of Early Child-
hood Education at Ryerson University. Luin Goldring is
Associate Professor of Sociology at York University. Julie
Young is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography
at York University. Carolina Berinstein works with the Access
Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre. Beth
Wilson is a researcher with the Community Social Planning
Council of Toronto.
Volume 24 Refuge Number 2
114
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Is any previous course work or experience indispensable for success in this course? NO Suggested Prerequisites: COURSE DESCRIPTION The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have been a time of large-scale movements of people in the world. Latin Americans, in particular, are experiencing immigration and, more often, emigration to the United States and Europe. This course will provide students with an understanding of the causes and continuation of migration of people across national borders. We will examine legal migration, clandestine migration, and refugee migration by people in most of the countries on the Semester At Sea itinerary. We will explore why people migrate and the impact it has on the migrants' lives, the lives of the people where they move, and the lives of those left behind. We will explore how migration introduces change in many directions, including in gender relations and community life. Transnational networks are important, as some migrants manage to maintain important connections with life back in their communities of origin, as we will explore for Mexico and Peru. Many migrants move to take advantage of labor opportunities, but the Otavalo Indian merchants of Ecuador offer an example of an entrepreneurial diaspora. Latin American countries have also been sites of immigration, as we will explore with the Nicaraguans in Costa Rica and the Japanese in Peru. Recent policy debates in the United States over immigration will also be examined in relation to Latin American immigration. Student projects will examine specific issues of transnational migration by comparing at least three of the countries on the Semester At Sea itinerary. COURSE OBJECTIVES Students will gain an appreciation of the complex variables involved in transnational migration.
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"This report contains recommendations reflecting the views of the ASA Technical Panel on the Census Undercount concerning [U.S.] Census Bureau procedures and plans in the fall of 1982." The report consists of technical statistical advice on measurement and estimation problems. A response by Barbara A. Bailar, reflecting the views of the U.S. Census Bureau, is also included (pp. 257-60).
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One important characteristic that distinguishes contemporary immigration from previous waves of immigration is the presence of significant numbers of undocumented, or illegal, immigrants. The dearth of sound information on undocumented immigrants makes formulating and implementing policy concerning this clandestine segment of the population extremely difficult. The first part of this article presents up-to-date empirical studies of the numbers of undocumented aliens in the country. The principal conclusion to be drawn from these studies is that the size of the undocumented immigrant population is substantially smaller than the figures most often cited. Although the largest numbers of undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, virtually every area of the world contributes some undocumented immigrants. The available evidence regarding the social, economic, and demographic characteristics of undocumented immigrants is reviewed in this article. The various arguments concerning the economic and social consequences of undocumented immigration are reviewed, together with the contradictory evidence used to support them. Finally, the consequences of research findings for policy alternatives are presented and various options for dealing with undocumented immigration are discussed.
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Drawing upon ethnographic research in contemporary California, with case studies of migrants from Mexico, Central America, Korea, and Yemen, we analyze children's presence and participation in processes of migration and in the constitution of transnational social fields. Various facets of child-adult relations enter into children's movement across national borders, including their economic dependence and growing capacity to contribute labor; varied ways in which the needs and capacities of children of different ages and genders are defined; and their status as persons who are being "raised" and "developed" toward desired end points. These dimensions help shape patterns of chain and circulating migration; decisions about leaving children behind and sending for them; and the unusual circumstance of children who take the lead in migration (South Korean "parachute kids" living in suburban Los Angeles). "Sending children back" (or threatening to do so) is a deliberate strategy of child rearing used by transnational families. We consider how children help families stay connected across long distances, as well as the strains, conflicts, and emotional costs that may be involved. Children help constitute and reconfigure transnational social fields, and transnational practices, in turn, shape the contours of particular childhoods.