As newcomers power our cities, our cities must empower newcomers
How newcomers are welcomed to this country is an important issue. It shapes their subsequent experiences, and reflects our perceptions and values as Canadians.
We can also respond compassionately to those who live and work in our communities even though they lack a legal right to do so, either because they never applied, their status was revoked or a refugee claim was denied, for example.
Those concerns are shared elsewhere, too, as countries around the world struggle with their own migration and settlement challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Research and public outreach at Ryerson is contributing to new ideas around belonging and membership for newcomers of all kinds and laying the groundwork for positive change not just here, but beyond our borders, as well.
Changing the world through sanctuary cities
How do we include migrants and refugees in our communities and ensure they enjoy the same opportunities that others take for granted?
One area about which he has written extensively is the role of sanctuary cities in protecting and including migrants who are denied legal status by nation states. Those cities provide services without asking about immigration status, and they refuse to cooperate with national authorities seeking to punish or deport non-status individuals. They may also ask their police boards to develop similar practices, so that someone can call 9-1-1, for example, without fear that it could lead to deportation.
There’s a reason municipalities opt to show such solidarity. Despite their precarious circumstances, non-status migrants pay property taxes through their rent and help boost local economic growth through their employment. They also contribute to a city’s cultural vitality. That’s why Toronto declared itself a sanctuary city in 2013 — the first in the country to do so. Others now include Hamilton, London, Montreal and Vancouver.
There are similar implications for Canada as a whole. An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 non-status migrants live in the country, according to the Canadian Labour Congress, which also acknowledges the value of their presence.
The most important thing I want people to get from my research is that we can organize our societies in different territorial ways, and that municipalities are an intuitive level of governance in this context.Harald Bauder, Professor, Geography and Environmental Studies
Yet, there is still much to learn and understand about integrating a hidden part of the population, says Bauder. For that, he is taking a broader perspective in a project for which he is the lead investigator.
“The label ‘sanctuary city’ tends to be used mostly in Anglo-American contexts, but innovative urban approaches that work toward the inclusion of migrants and refugees without full legal status also exist in cities elsewhere, such as Barcelona in Spain, Berlin and Freiburg in Germany, and Quilicura, Chile,” he explains. “My research examines urban sanctuary policies and solidarity practices in various parts of the world.”
The outcome of that work will be useful to a variety of local actors, including municipal policymakers, activists and community organizations, as well as those with a global or regional outlook on migration, he adds.
“The most important thing I want people to get from my research is that we can organize our societies in different territorial ways, and that municipalities are an intuitive level of governance in this context.”
Ryerson enables that research because of the importance it confers to city building. Bauder’s work is all about working with partners to not only to change Toronto and other cities in Canada, but also the world.
80%of migrants are estimated to reside in urban centres around the world
Understanding the true value newcomers bring
Alongside the widespread social disruption and tragic loss of life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been at least one positive outcome: it has served to remind Canadians just how important many non-status migrants, as well as legitimate temporary workers, are to this country’s essential services.
Indeed, those employed in the agricultural and health care sectors, for example, have been regarded as much as anyone else as front-line workers during the crisis.
“The work they do was revealed for what it is — neither irrelevant nor superfluous,” says Usha George, a professor and Director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, which aims to be a leader in the transdisciplinary exploration of international migration, integration, diaspora and refugee studies.
“Whether it is in food production, transportation and distribution, hospitality or health and social care, those individuals are often filling significant gaps in the workforce and doing work that needs to be done,” she adds.
For a more cohesive, inclusive society, it is important for us to understand how newcomers actually live and work in Canada once they have ‘settled down’ after their arrival.Usha George, director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement
George’s research focuses on the experiences of newcomers in Canada and the issues they face in adjusting to a new life and developing a reshaped identity and sense of belonging over time. She’s particularly interested in the experiences of women, driven partly by her own as an immigrant from Kerala, a state on India’s tropical southern coast, and those in racialized groups.
The pandemic adds a new dimension to her work, inasmuch as it renews calls to grant greater protections to non-status migrants and temporary workers and make the path to more permanent status easier — thus altering the newcomer experience — in light of the dramatic decline in the number of permanent residents admitted to Canada due to Covid-related travel restrictions.
“For a more cohesive, inclusive society, it is important for us to understand how newcomers actually live and work in Canada once they have ‘settled down’ after their arrival,” George explains. “
“I imagine the outcome would be a deeper appreciation of the immigrant experience and the contributions those individuals make to communities and the economy.”