Ottawa’s use of AI in immigration system has profound implications for human rights

Good discussion of the main issues and the need for care and accountability frameworks in the development of AI and its algorithms.

The authors also note that “Human decision-making is also riddled with bias and error” (unfortunately, we don’t have any comparable analysis to that of Sean Rehaag with respect to IRB and Federal Court immigration-related decisions – Getting refugee decisions appealed in court ‘the luck of the draw,’ study shows):

How would you feel if an algorithm made a decision about your application for a Canadian work permit, or determined how much money you can bring in as an investor? What if it decided whether your marriage is “genuine?” Or if it trawled through your Tweets or Facebook posts to determine if you are “suspicious” and therefore a “risk,” without ever revealing any of the categories it used to make this decision?

While seemingly futuristic, these types of questions will soon be put to everyone who interacts with Canada’s immigration system.

A report released Wednesday by the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) and the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy finds that algorithms and artificial intelligence are augmenting and replacing human decision makers in Canada’s immigration and refugee system, with profound implications for fundamental human rights.

We know that Canada has already introduced automated decision-making experiments as part of the immigration determination process since at least 2014. These new automated techniques support the evaluation of immigrant and visitor applications such as Express Entry for Permanent Residence. Recent announcements signal an expansion of the uses of these technologies in a variety of applications and immigration decisions in the coming years.

Exploring new technologies and innovations is exciting and necessary, particularly when used in an immigration system plagued by lengthy delays, protracted family separation and uncertain outcomes. However, without proper oversight, mechanisms and accountability measures, the use of AI threatens to create a laboratory for high-risk experiments.

The system is already opaque. The ramifications of using AI in immigration and refugee decisions are far-reaching. Vulnerable and under-resourced communities such as those without citizenship often have access to less-robust human rights protections and fewer resources with which to defend those rights. Adopting these technologies in an irresponsible manner may serve only to exacerbate these disparities and can result in severe rights violations, such as discrimination and threats to life and liberty.

Without proper oversight, automated decisions can rely on discriminatory and stereotypical markers, such as appearance, religion, or travel patterns, and thus entrench bias in the technology. The nuanced and complex nature of many refugee and immigration claims may be lost on these technologies. This could lead to serious breaches of internationally and domestically protected human rights, in the form of bias, discrimination, privacy breaches, due process and procedural fairness issues, such as the right to have a fair and impartial decision maker and being able to appeal your decision. These rights are internationally protected by instruments that Canada has ratified, such as the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, among others. These rights are also protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and accompanying provincial human rights legislation.

At this point, there are more questions than answers.

If an algorithm makes a decision about your fate, can it be considered fair and impartial if it relies on biased data that is not made public? What happens to your data during the course of these decisions and can it be shared with other departments, or even with the government of your country, potentially putting you at risk? The use of AI has already been criticized in the predictive policing context, where algorithms linked race with the likelihood of re-offending, or when they link women with lower paying jobs, or purport to discern sexual orientations from photos.

Given the already limited safeguards and procedural justice protections in immigration and refugee decisions, the use of discriminatory and biased algorithms have profound ramifications on a person’s safety, life, liberty, security, and mobility. Before exploring how these technologies will be used, we need to create a framework for transparency and accountability that addresses bias and error in automated decision making.

Our report recommends Ottawa establish an independent, arm’s-length body with the power to engage in all aspects of oversight and review all automated decision-making systems by the federal government, publishing all current and future uses of AI by the government. We advocate for the creation of a task force that brings key government stakeholders, alongside academia and civil society, to better understand the current and prospective impacts of automated decision system technologies on human rights and the public interest more broadly.

Without these frameworks and mechanisms, we risk creating a system that – while innovative and efficient – could ultimately result in human rights violations. Canada is exploring the use of this technology in high-risk contexts within an accountability vacuum. Human decision-making is also riddled with bias and error, and AI may in fact have positive impacts in terms of fairness and efficiency. We need a new framework of accountability that builds on the safeguards and review processes we have in place for the frailties in human decision-making. AI is not inherently objective or immune to bias and must be implemented only after a broad and critical look at the very real impacts these technologies will have on human lives.

Source: Ottawa’s use of AI in immigration system has profound implications for human rights

How Black Activists Changed Disney’s Mind About Princess Tiana’s Skin in ‘Wreck It Ralph 2’

Good example of positive activism and the receptivity to criticism, reflecting likely both openness as well as fears of a public backlash to the film:

This summer, Disney’s upcoming Wreck-It Ralph sequel created a good deal of buzz, thanks to a heavily teased princess sleepover scene. But while many fans went wild for the 2018 take on animated royalty, some were quick to point out that certain princesses were more noticeably “updated” than others. Princess Tiana, Disney’s first black princess, appeared to have had some work done. As The Root pointed out in August, “The newest iteration of Tiana seems to have traded in her dark skin and more African features for a seemingly more caramel hue and prototypical Pixar snub nose, complete with a mane of 3c curls.”

The internet didn’t take kindly to Disney tweaking Tiana’s appearance, underscoring that the shift toward more Eurocentric features and a lighter skin tone reinforced colorism and racist beauty standards. The racial justice organization Color of Change crystallized these sentiments in an online petition, writing that, “To re-create Princess Tiana with Eurocentric features sets a harmful precedent that Black features are considered less valuable than white features.”

“It is crucial that Princess Tiana remain the same as her original depiction,” the petition continued. “Disney must take responsibility for changing Tiana’s image and work to restore her to her original image.”

Rashad Robinson, the President of Color of Change, told The Daily Beast that the organization had been in the process of drafting an email to its over 1.4 million members when they first made contact with Disney. “We wanted to reach out to them first,” Robinson recalled. “We were very transparent on our end, by actually sharing with them the copy. We have well over a million members, and when we send out a petition like this, oftentimes news media will cover it before we even get a lot of signers, especially on an issue like this. We never had to send out that email.”

“We had that back and forth, and then on August 21 we had a phone meeting with Disney,” he explained. The group received a “verbal agreement” that changes would be made to restore Tiana to her original depiction. Next, they had a “series of text exchanges confirming the extensive changes that had been made,” and were invited to come to Burbank to walk through the alterations in person.

Color of Change’s campaigns span the government, technology, media, and culture sectors. As Robinson puts it, “We do everything from working on the written rules of policy to the unwritten rules of culture.” The Princess Tiana controversy was a natural fit for the organization, and an issue that members were extremely passionate about. “It wasn’t that I was sitting at home and saw the Wreck-It Ralph trailer,” Robinson joked. “It’s that people really reached out to us with this.”

“When Princess Tiana’s character came out, this princess who was from the Gulf Coast, from New Orleans, Louisiana, it was a character that we hadn’t seen before at that high level of a princess movie. And she represented the image that a lot of black girls could see in themselves, could see in their aunt or their cou sin or their mother. And then when the new representation was coming out, it just looked radically different, and the image of Tiana had become something that took away some of the features that made Tiana so unique in the first place for a Disney character. Doing that without a conversation felt, for us, deeply troubling.”

For Robinson, Disney’s willingness to re-draw Princess Tiana and reanimate portions of Ralph Breaks the Internet sends a strong statement—not just about Disney’s openness to critique, but about the community’s power to band together and effect real change. “I think Disney did the right thing here,” he told The Daily Beast. “Disney heard from the community, they recognized there was a problem, they sought to work with us as a racial justice organization, and they kept us informed. We wanted to let our people know that they spoke up and changes were made.”

He explained that, from the get-go, Disney “recognized that there was a problem, and they were willing to work on it… They explained various reasons for how the problem came about, but there did not seem to be any interest from them in saying that they just wanted to go forward, or hoping that we would be OK with that.” And, as Robinson pointed out, the redraw “certainly was not cheap.”

“Hollywood still has work to do,” Robinson stressed, noting that “this country had a black president before it had a black superhero.” Still, he continued, “I really want to celebrate the fact that this was not months of fighting with Disney. This was a conversation. If they didn’t make the changes, I would be here pushing hard at them for not doing that, but I think it’s important when folks do make the changes that you celebrate the fact that they were willing to listen, especially in this era when so often we are really closed off from listening, and from hearing concerns from communities that are not our own.”

Disney has been repeatedly criticized for whitewashing, from casting Johnny Depp as Tonto in 2013 to recently creating a new character just so they could cast a white person in Aladdin. The Ralph Breaks the Internet trailer actually set off multiple parallel controversies, with fans arguing that both Pocahontas and Mulan appeared to have lighter complexions and altered facial features. Asked how Disney was unable to recognize the potential pitfalls of Tiana’s redesign before unleashing it on the critical masses, Robinson replied, “I really can’t speak to it, but I’m assuming that Disney will be able to catch these in the future! I also hope that this opens up more space for black women and black folks who are animators to be in positions of power and positions of opportunity.”

On Instagram Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Tiana, shared that she also spoke with Disney about the Wreck-It Ralph alterations. “This summer new images were released where [Tiana] looked very different, with lighter skin and much sharper features,” Rose wrote. “My team and I immediately put in a call to the studio to talk about the visual changes.”

Through an in-person meeting, the actress explained, animators “explained how CGI animation did different things to the characters’ color tones in different light compared to hand drawn original characters, and I was able to express how important it is to the little girls (and let’s face it, grown women) who felt represented by her that her skin tone stay as rich as it had been, and that her nose continue to be the little round nose that [original animator Mark Henn] so beautifully rendered in the movie; the same nose on my very own face and on many other little brown faces around the world, that we so rarely get to see represented in fantasy.”

Rose concluded, “I also appreciate that this far into the process Disney had enough care and respect of all who love Princess Tiana and her legacy to spend the time and money to make the adjustments necessary.”

Source: How Black Activists Changed Disney’s Mind About Princess Tiana’s Skin in ‘Wreck It Ralph 2’

Immigration In Germany: Separating Signal From Noise After Chemnitz

Informative regarding the divide between former East and West Germany and those with an immigrant background or not.

There is a theory in migration and integration studies that the more foreigners one is exposed to the less hostile one becomes to them. It is known as the Contact Hypothesis. The inverse is that the less interaction between groups the more hostility one could expect.

The recent anti-immigrant rioting in Chemnitz and Köthen, two of the cities with the lowest immigration in Germany, appears to bear this idea out in a vivid way. It was a display that shocked many Germans and has caused a somewhat separate political scandal. Above all, the hand-wringing is about how, in politically liberal Germany, such displays of outright xenophobia could be possible. This is where the Contact Hypothesis comes into it and can help us to understand what’s going on.

“I think it makes perfect sense to think (in terms of the hypothesis) because there are so few people coming from abroad or from foreign countries into Eastern Germany,” said Dr. Hans Vorländer, German political scientist and member of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR). “There is a kind of xenophobia, they just don’t know what these people are all about so they are not used to contact with them.”

As of the end of 2017 both Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, the East German states that contain Chemnitz and Köthen respectively, had around 48 foreigners per thousand inhabitants. That is less than half the national figure of 128.4 and significantly lower than national leaders Berlin (246.7) and Bremen (185.1). In fact, the combined average for all the states of former East Germany (excluding Berlin as the statistics don’t discriminate between former East and West) is 47.1 while the average for the former states of West Germany is nearly three times that at just under 137.

Eastern states, however, show markedly more anti-foreigner attacks than in the west. According to the annual Status of German Unity report for 2016, which looks at the continuing divides between East and West, there were significantly more violent attacks motivated by right-wing extremism in the former East German states, with an average of 45.7 attacks per million inhabitants, compared to the 10.5 attacks per million inhabitants in former West German states.

At the same time, support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is strongest in East Germany, and Dresden, Saxony’s second largest city, is the home turf of the far-right anti-Islamist movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West).

But despite all the hand-wringing about the rise of xenophobia in Germany, things long-term might not be quite as extreme as the headline numbers would lead one to think. The SVR just released their 2018 Integration Barometerwhich measures public sentiment on the integration of first- and second-generation migrants into German life. The barometer shows that despite a slight drop in their key metric on integration, from 65.4 in 2015 to 63.8 in 2017/18, people still had a positive attitude overall toward integration in the country.

Drawing conclusions from the barometer is a little tricky, as certain ethnic and cultural groups tend to push the overall number in one or another direction on certain issues. For instance, according to the barometer, 60% of those without a migration background believe Germany should continue to receive refugees, “even if it were the only EU member state to do so.” This overall number is pushed up by the overwhelmingly positive response from people of Turkish descent, while the majority of ethnic Germans were against receiving more refugees.

Despite those caveats, one thing is clear, and it brings us back to the Contact Hypothesis. From the report: “It is above all people without a migration background who have hardly any or no contact with cultural diversity who regard integration more pessimistically, especially those living in Germanyʼs eastern federal states.”

For a long time, Dr. Vorländer has been researching the far-right in Germany, and he says it’s clear there is an anti-immigrant sentiment in East Germany but it is not at the level of an existential problem for the country: “There is hostility, there is xenophobia and there is Islamophobia, to a greater extent than in West Germany. But it’s not that high, it’s a small percentage that makes the difference.”

Nonetheless, and even though studies such as the SVR integration barometer point towards the relative health of the system, it’s understandable some people want to see something done to lessen the hostility in East Germany and improve relations between migrants and “native” Germans.

Though the solution will never be simple, for researchers such as Dr. Vorländer the Contact Hypothesis provides something of a road-map: “The authorities have to support any kind of network within civil society that increases interaction between refugees, migrants and the people.” He said he’s optimistic in the long run but, as with so many problems, integration in East Germany is not one to be fixed overnight: “It takes time, you know, it takes time and it takes an awful lot of constant work, maybe it takes 20 to 30 years to find some forms of successful integration.”

And indeed such integration could be vital to the country’s future overall, and to reviving East Germany’s flagging economy. The same Status of German Unity report quoted above also suggested skilled immigration from the EU and beyond would be beneficial to East Germany, as Dr. Vorländer emphasizes: “We need migration for reasons of the job market, it’s very essential. We need labor migration, we need people coming in and it’s the only solution for the future in East Germany.”

Source: Immigration In Germany: Separating Signal From Noise After Chemnitz

Mississauga’s population is 57% visible minorities. So why does its city council look like this?

In general, diversity is significantly greater at the federal and provincial levels than municipal.

I look forward to comparing the results of the upcoming Toronto election: thanks to the (disruptive) change to electoral boundaries, it will be possible to compare federal, provincial and municipal results given identical boundaries:

According to the 2016 census, 57 per cent of Mississauga, Ont., residents identified as visible minorities. However, not one of them was elected to the city’s 11 council seats in 2014. (Mississauga)

As a rookie politician taking on an incumbent city councillor, Safeeya Faruqui is already staring down long odds in the upcoming Mississauga, Ont., municipal election.

But if the 24-year-old succeeds in her bid for Ward 4 on Oct. 22, she’ll have made history too — becoming the first woman of colour elected to city council in the mostly suburban city west of Toronto.

“That would be another glass ceiling broken,” Faruqui told CBC Toronto at her campaign office. “We need to make sure that all voices are being heard to create the best society that we can.”

Faruqui’s campaign is bringing new attention to the glaring disparity between the general population in southern Ontario’s Peel Region and the makeup of its city councils.

According to the 2016 census, 57 per cent of Mississauga residents identified as visible minorities. However, not one of them was elected to the city’s 11 council seats in 2014.

In neighbouring Brampton, where 73 per cent of residents identify as visible minorities, just one of the city’s 10 councillors is a person of colour.

Neither city has ever had a non-white mayor.

Why it matters

Faruqui says lack of diversity on council has resulted in some policy decisions that don’t fully account for the city’s diverse population.

“The decisions aren’t reflecting everybody,” she said.

Gurpreet Singh Dhillon, the lone visible minority on Brampton’s council, points to an ongoing struggle in the city to build a shade shelter for seniors to explain why diversity can be helpful.

He said older residents in his community have been seeking to recreate the tradition of gathering and socializing under a large willow tree, which began in India, with an artificial shade as a replacement.

Singh, 38, said the project has been stalled because some elected officials and city staff did not understand the request, since they were not familiar with the tradition.

“It’s really important that we have people in our staffing, and our council who understand,” he said. After serving one term as a city councillor, Singh is now running as the regional councillor for Wards 9 and 10.

“It’s even more important going forward that we do have a council that does reflect the community,” he added.

There are also concerns that the lack of accurate representation has also stalled civic engagement and created distrust in local governments among visible minority communities.

“Our community has not been doing a good enough job to remedy that,” said Faruqui, who added that “real, frank, open discussions” are needed to restore faith in local politics.

If elected, Dhillon says he will advocate for the creation of a diversity officer at Brampton city hall, who would review everything passed by city council to ensure no minority communities — whether by ethnicity, gender, age or sexual orientation — are negatively affected.

He said similar initiatives have been successful in other cities around the world.

‘Overwhelming but… exciting’

During her first term in office, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who is running for re-election, helped introduce a diversity and inclusion advisory committee. The group provides strategic advice to council in an effort to better serve the city’s diverse population.

Still, Crombie said she would welcome more variety among the city’s elected officials.

“It would be wonderful if we could have a very diverse council that reflects the diversity that is our city,” Crombie told CBC Toronto.

As to why so few visible minorities have been elected, Crombie pointed to a slew of long-serving incumbent councillors, who are notoriously difficult to unseat in municipal elections.

“Some of them have been in office a long period of time,” she said. “And the city has changed over the years.”

Due to a death and a retirement, two of the city’s council seats will be open races this election. She said that has opened up an opportunity for a number of “wonderful diverse candidates” running this fall.​

Faruqui, however, is competing against incumbent John Kovac.

“Going through this for the first time, not really having any role models who look like me doing this, it’s something that is overwhelming but also very exciting,” she said.

Source: Mississauga’s population is 57% visible minorities. So why does its city council look like this?

Here’s how to beat the populists: stop talking about immigration

Not sure whether this approach will be anymore effective but it does have the advantage of addressing the more fundamental and broader threat of populism to the rule of law:

While the British Brexit debate rages on, it continues to ignore entirely a more important European political battle: the search for the best way to defeat populists on the continent within the next eight months – the time left before the EU parliamentary elections. That little of this seems to get factored into internal British discourse is not surprising: for all the headlines about Theresa May’s “Salzburg humiliation” or “EU dirty rats”, Brexit is essentially the British talking to themselves.

Across the Channel, a new line of attack against Europe’s populists is taking shape: it focuses on breaches to democratic rule of law, rather than the issue of immigration. That’s why the most important piece of EU news this month was not the Salzburg situation (entirely predictable) but the 12 September vote in the EU parliament on the rule of law in Hungary (much less so). For the first time, an EU institution which is hard to describe as “anti-democratic” (it is elected directly by its citizens) called for the activation of article 7 procedure against a member state’s government because of the way it has been disemboweling essential democratic institutions and rights.

For a long time now, Europe’s liberal democrats have been struggling to curtail political forces that threaten core principles. But since the 2015 refugee crisis they have let themselves get dragged into precisely the debate that populists can thrive on: migration. Not only was the EU at a loss over how to deal with the arrival of a million people in 2015, but its liberals have mostly failed to convince large swaths of the population that immigration is needed, that it needn’t upend social services, and that it does not spell the end of a certain sense of European or national identity.

Migration conjures up fears that rational argument struggles to cope with. Hungary’s avowedly “illiberal” Viktor Orbán and Italy’s far-right Matteo Salvini have secured major electoral breakthroughs by relentlessly pounding away at migration, depicted as a “Muslim invasion” (Orbán) or as something that requires “mass cleansing, street by street” (Salvini). With that rhetoric, they are now preparing to launch their bid to take control of the EU parliament, along with like-minded European politicians.

With that rhetoric also, the Swedish far right has won a position that allows it to foster political instability, as shown by this week’s no-confidence vote in Stockholm. Pushing back at these forces with talk of multiculturalism and inclusiveness will go only so far. A better strategy is to nail them on the democratic rule of law. That’s where the populist achilles heel is found; and it’s where the EU has tools to act, such as article 7, which can suspend EU voting rights, or European court rulings.

By this, I certainly don’t mean that the moral and legal argument for saving people fleeing war and persecution should not be made. But it may be too late now, before the May 2019 vote, to shift those parts of public opinion in Europe that have come to believe asylum is shorthand for demographic upheaval or “replacement”. Studies show European citizens overestimate the percentage of migrants in their countries (Italians believe it is three times higher than the real figure). The bare fact that migration flows have dropped steeply since 2015 does not register in perceptions. It is no coincidence that anti-immigration narratives have now spread from Europe’s hard right to its hard left – with Germany’s Sahra Wagenknecht and France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon arguing that the arrival of migrants is a capitalist European plot to suppress workers’ wages.

At this point, to shift the argument against Europe’s extremes away from migration makes much better sense.

Saying that the democratic rule of law is under siege holds more political potential. This is what happened on 12 September, when two-thirds of European lawmakers drew a line marking what is acceptable and what isn’t. Think of it as a case of European checks and balances at last kicking in. The resolution voted through that day is a clear indictment of everything Orbán has done to violate democratic standards, from restricting freedom of the press to undermining the electoral system. It ought to serve as a template for a wider grassroots European campaign to protect the democratic rule of law.

Rather than lambasting Orbán for rejecting the 2015 EU refugee redistribution scheme (compulsory quotas that never translated into reality), cornering him on the dismantling of mechanisms that give citizens a proper say in democracy, and allow them to make informed decisions, is likely to be more rewarding. A better way to counter Orbán and Salvini is to focus on how they threaten what protects citizens. Populists aim to destroy the safety that comes from being able to count on an independent judge if you have been the victim of abuse; the safety that comes with getting pluralistic information, not state propaganda; the safety that comes from being confident your shop or your business won’t be choked by kleptocratic, corrupt power networks.

It helps to picture populists as a bulldozer over which a large banner reading Migrants Out has been slapped to hide the grinding wheels and huge metal shovel that are busy dismantling the democratic rule of law. It’s happened in Hungary and Poland, and it’s threatening to happen in Italy if Salvini gets his way. Ask a European citizen if they want more migrants and they may answer uneasily. Ask them if they want their government to deprive them of the tools that give people a say and the protections that come with democratic rule, and the response will be more forthright.

Rule of law – as a shield against abuse of power and corruption – should be the signature theme of next year’s election.

Choice of vocabulary matters too. Framing the debate as a battle of “progressives versus nationalists” has limits because populists will push back by equating “progressivism” with enforcing “open-border” or “anti-Christian” policies. A shrewder approach would be to cast this existential battle for Europe’s soul as “democrats versus authoritarians”. At the end of the day, our common enemy is autocracy. Arbitrary rule leaves citizens unprotected; Europe’s body of law protects them. Populists want that to come undone, so they can redraw the continent as they like. That’s where the real, immediate danger lies – not in all the fantasising that, from Brexit to Orbán, has surrounded migration.

Source: Here’s how to beat the populists: stop talking about immigration

Des demandeurs d’asile revendiquent l’accès aux services de garde subventionnés

I understand the logic as labour market permits, school attendance and healthcare already available to claimants. However, given shortage of childcare spaces, expect some political pushback.

Will be interesting to see how Commission responds:

Dans une démarche inusitée, des demandeurs d’asile portent plainte pour discrimination devant la Commission québécoise des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse, parce qu’ils n’ont pas accès aux services de garde subventionnés, a appris La Presse.

Cette exclusion oblige plusieurs d’entre eux à refuser un emploi et les contraint à vivre de l’aide sociale, ce qui retarde leur processus d’intégration.

Parallèlement, dans une lettre ouverte, un comité qui regroupe une quarantaine de demandeurs d’asile appelle le gouvernement à ouvrir les garderies subventionnées aux personnes en attente de statut.

Une réglementation laissant place à interprétation a longtemps permis aux demandeurs d’asile d’inscrire leurs enfants dans un CPE. Dans une directive envoyée en avril dernier, le ministère de la Famille a clairement fermé cette brèche.

Les demandeurs d’asile n’ont pas non plus accès aux remboursements anticipés du crédit d’impôt qui aident les familles à faible revenu à assumer les frais des garderies privées. Concrètement, cela exclut des centaines d’enfants nouvellement arrivés au Québec du réseau des garderies.

Cette politique «nous empêche d’accéder à la francisation et à l’emploi, nous isole avec nos enfants de la société qu’on voudrait activement intégrer et affecte surtout les femmes demandeuses d’asile», déplore le comité des demandeurs d’asile dans sa lettre ouverte, qui réclame l’accès aux CPE et aux versements anticipés du crédit d’impôt pour frais de garde.

Effets dévastateurs

La politique d’exclusion a un effet «dévastateur» sur les familles, dénoncent les demandeurs d’asile.

C’est ainsi qu’une des plaignantes, Blessing, Nigériane de 30 ans arrivée au Québec en avril dernier, a dû refuser deux offres d’emploi, l’une dans une usine de matériel électrique, l’autre dans un centre d’appels, parce qu’elle n’avait pas les moyens de payer une garderie privée pour son enfant de 4 ans.

«Je me sens coincée, impuissante et déprimée», confie la demandeuse d’asile, qui préfère taire son nom de famille et qui veut gagner sa vie en attendant que la Commission de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié (CISR) statue sur son sort – ce qui peut prendre jusqu’à 18 mois.

Au lieu de ça, déplore-t-elle, elle est dépendante de l’aide sociale.

Un autre plaignant, Vladimyr Mathieu, arrivé d’Haïti en juin 2017, vit une situation particulière. Son fils né à Montréal n’a pas accès au service de garde. Pourtant, il est citoyen canadien. Sa fille aînée, née en Haïti, a été admise en garderie avant la directive d’avril dernier, et continue à profiter de son droit acquis – pourtant, elle n’est pas citoyenne. La garderie qu’elle fréquente est disposée à accueillir son petit frère, mais Québec refuse de contribuer aux frais. La demande d’inscription a donc été rejetée.

Pour que Valdimyr et sa femme, qui occupent tous deux un emploi, puissent continuer à travailler, ils se sont résolus à faire garder leur plus jeune enfant, âgé de 1 an, par un voisin, une situation que les deux demandeurs d’asile jugent insatisfaisante.

«Je ne comprends pas, le système nous demande de travailler, nous recevons un permis de travail, mais nous n’avons pas accès aux garderies; c’est comme si on nous disait de rester sur l’aide sociale pour prendre soin de nos enfants», déplore Valdimyr Mathieu.

Au total, six demandeurs d’asile vivant des situations semblables, à un moment où les délais de traitement des dossiers s’allongent, ont demandé à la Commission des droits de la personne d’examiner leur plainte.

L’exclusion des services de garde est discriminatoire, tout particulièrement pour les femmes, qu’il s’agisse de mères seules ou de conjointes étant les plus susceptibles de rester à la maison pour prendre soin des enfants, soutient le comité de demandeurs d’asile dans sa lettre ouverte.

«Les travailleurs temporaires ont bien accès aux garderies, alors que les demandeurs d’asile, qui disposent d’un permis de travail, en sont exclus, je ne comprends pas la logique de cette politique», s’étonne l’une des signataires de la lettre ouverte, l’avocate Claude-Catherine Lemoine, selon qui ce traitement à géométrie variable n’a pas de raison d’être et entraîne à moyen terme des coûts sociaux importants.

«C’est complètement contre-productif, ça pénalise non seulement les familles, mais aussi la société québécoise, parce que ça retarde l’apprentissage du français et l’intégration au marché du travail», croit Stephan Reichhold, de la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.

«En barrant l’accès aux CPE aux demandeurs d’asile, on se tire simplement dans le pied», résume-t-il.

Écoles, mais pas les garderies

Depuis l’adoption du projet de loi 144, à la fin de 2017, tous les enfants, incluant ceux des demandeurs d’asile, ont accès au système scolaire. «Si on veut être cohérent, on devrait étendre ça aux garderies», plaide Geneviève Binette, du Comité d’aide aux réfugiés.

D’autant plus que ce n’est pas par manque de places que les garderies refoulent les enfants de demandeurs d’asile, mais à cause d’une politique gouvernementale.

La quarantaine de demandeurs d’asile qui ont formé le comité demandant l’accès aux services de garde ont dû surmonter des résistances intérieures, souligne Rachel Shugart, du Collectif Bienvenue, qui vient en aide aux nouveaux arrivants.

Membre, à titre personnel, du comité formé par les demandeurs d’asile, Rachel Shugart souligne que plusieurs d’entre eux viennent de pays qui ne respectent pas les droits. La démarche était «effrayante pour eux, ils se sentent inquiets, nerveux», selon Rachel Shugart.

Mais ces nouveaux venus en attente de statut sont aussi déterminés à accéder aussi vite que possible à l’autonomie financière et à ne plus dépendre de l’aide de l’État.

Source: Des demandeurs d’asile revendiquent l’accès aux services de garde subventionnés

Sajid Javid’s immigration proposal exposes the insanity of Brexit

Ongoing disaster, more apparent as the deadline looms:

Reality is at last dawning. The home secretary, Sajid Javid, is reportedly to propose that EU passport holders will be waved through immigration “for 30 months”, in the event of a no-deal Brexit next March. They will only need to apply for visas later, if they wish to stay permanently.

This is reportedly a concession to business, employers and the chancellor, Philip Hammond. They have been frantically pointing out that farms, hospitals, care homes, construction sites, hotels and restaurants will simply close if their regular input of EU labour, skilled and unskilled, dries up from March. It is already declining at the prospect of Brexit. Stopping it or smothering it with bureaucracy would be the most savage act of self-harm by a British government in living memory.

The truth is that Javid has other problems. It is an open secret that Home Office officials have told him they cannot possibly construct a hard border for all EU visitors at ports of entry by next March. They cannot even contemplate one in Northern Ireland, where the argument is still over lorries, let alone people. Free movement of EU citizens will remain of necessity, until some hard-Brexit thinktank can devise an alternative to the free market in continental labour, so ardently championed by their hero Margaret Thatcher in 1986. They have 30 months to do so, or it will be 30 years.

Reporters returning last week from Salzburg expressed dismay that few heads of government seemed to care about Brexit. It was a minor local trouble on the fringe of Europe. Overwhelmingly they cared about migration. All face an anti-immigrant electoral backlash and many are now installing border controls. While the issue is mostly non-EU migrants, open borders are likely to be the first of the single market’s four freedoms to crumble.

This makes Brexit bitterly paradoxical. Leave voters were never worried over trade or tariffs, and no survey suggests otherwise. Brexit was driven by a concern with immigration. Yet at the very moment when the EU agrees, and starts to tackle it, Britain jumps the gun and leaves in a huff. Now, to pile irony upon irony, Britain’s home secretary moves in the opposite direction. Britain’s EU border must remain open for the simple reason that he cannot close it. Closure is economically harmful and practically impossible.

Perhaps Javid should talk to those of his colleagues now talking of a Brexit “Canada option”, defying Theresa May’s frictionless border pledge. This would impose border checks on all exports – merely admitting roughly half tariff-free. It would also require Britain’s tradable products, including food, to meet EU regulations, over which Britain will have surrendered all control.

If Javid can “wave through” people on grounds of economic expediency, he can surely wave through trade. That is called membership of a single market. With each passing day, we learn that leaving it is massively against Britain’s interest. It is perhaps no surprise that Brexit fanatics tend also to be climate change deniers.

Source: Sajid Javid’s immigration proposal exposes the insanity of Brexit

Italy to narrow asylum rights in clampdown on immigration

Will have to see how far the final bill goes and the degree to which it may be found to be unconstitutional:

Italy’s populist government on Monday escalated its clampdown on irregular immigration with a decree aimed at slashing the number of people awarded asylum and doubling the time irregular migrants can be detained.

The legislation promoted by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the far-right League party, comes as boat arrivals plummet and the minister refuses to allow charity ships carrying rescued migrants to dock in Italy’s ports.

“This is a step toward making Italy safer,” Salvini tweeted.

The League, which took power in June in coalition with the 5-Star Movement, has promised to deport hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants. Already, the move to refuse to let rescue boats dock has proven popular, doubling opinion poll support for the League since the election in March to more than 30 percent.

The Salvini Decree aims to limit the use of a form of international protection that has been widely used in recent years but is not strictly tied to political persecution or war.

“Humanitarian” asylum was given to more than 20,000 people last year, or 25 percent of those who sought asylum, against the 16 percent of asylum seekers awarded one of the other two forms of international protection.

It is given to migrants who are deemed to have “serious reasons” to flee their home country – a category that has often included homosexuals fleeing harsh anti-gay laws in Africa.

The decree limits humanitarian protection to victims of domestic violence, trafficking, work exploitation and natural disasters, to those needing urgent medical care, and to people who carry out “particularly valuable civic acts”, Salvini said.

“Humanitarian protection was supposed to be used sparingly,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters. “In Italy, there has been an indiscriminate reception (of migrants) and the rules helped support this.”

MIGRATION PACKAGED WITH SECURITY

Other immigration measures include extending to 180 days from 90 the time an irregular migrant can be detained before being freed, to give the state more time to complete the deportation procedure.

The decree would also widen the range of criminal offences that trigger the stripping of asylum privileges applied for or already granted.

Such a move could fall foul of the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, which is intended to protect all refugees, whether formally recognized or not, from being forcibly returned, except where they are a danger to public safety or national security.

Before the government approved the draft decree, a source in President Sergio Mattarella’s office had said parts of it might be unconstitutional – which could open the way for Mattarella to block it

The new immigration guidelines were packaged together with new security rules in an emergency decree, which has 60 days to secure parliamentary approval. Salvini said parliament was likely to make changes.

The security measures include heightened controls on those who rent trucks, in response to a series of attacks in Europe aimed at causing mass casualties. It also foresees stripping naturalized foreigners who are convicted on terrorism charges of their Italian citizenship.

The head of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, Nunzio Galantino, on Sunday criticized the decision to link immigration and security in the same piece of legislation, saying:

“We cannot consider the immigrant’s condition to be automatically that of a criminal.”

Source: Italy to narrow asylum rights in clampdown on immigration

High-Skilled Immigrants Call Out The Trump Administration’s ‘Hypocrisy’

Great advantage for Canadian immigration and Canadian efforts to encourage US tech investment in Canada:

The Trump administration says it wants to move to a “merit-based” immigration system — one that gives priority to immigrants who speak English and are highly educated.

But critics say that rhetoric is at odds with the administration’s actions.

“Show me any policy that’s come out so far that has actually made it easier for highly skilled immigrants,” says Doug Rand, who worked in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Barack Obama.

“I haven’t seen any,” Rand said.

In practice, critics say the administration is making high-skilled immigrants’ lives harder, in all sorts of ways. It has gotten tougher to get or renew an H-1B visa, a program that brings in tech workers, doctors and other professionals. And the administration is getting rid of other visa programs altogether.

That includes a special program for the spouses of H-1B guest workers that has been widely embraced by immigrants like Neha Mahajan. She hosts and produces a TV talk show in Edison, N.J., that’s targeted mainly at Indian expats like her.

“This is the kind of work I always wanted to do,” said Mahajan. “I am picking up topics that typically don’t get talked about in the South Asian community. So I’m trying to be a change-maker in my community.”

Mahajan has a master’s degree in English literature and worked as a journalist in India. It never occurred to her that she would have trouble finding opportunities in the U.S. But Mahajan was not allowed to work when she first got here.

“So here I am in the U.S., the most advanced nation on this Earth,” Mahajan said. “But I’m in a cage. A metaphoric golden cage.”

Mahajan moved here with her husband and daughter in 2008 when he secured an H-1B visa to work as a software developer. But she wasn’t able to work legally until 2015, when the Obama administration launched the H-4 EAD program. It allows the spouses of H-1B guest workers to get work permits once they’ve been approved for a green card. About 100,000 people have signed up — mostly women, and mostly from India, which has a years-long waiting list for green cards.

Now the Trump administration is poised to end the program, which it considers an overreach.

“For me, one of the main reasons for proposing to rescind that is because I don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Lee Cissna, the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency in charge of legal immigration. “I don’t think that Congress intended for the spouses of H-1Bs to work.”

Cissna did not respond to requests for an interview. But he did speak last month to the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration.

“Everything we do is guided by the law,” Cissna said. “That’s all we’re doing.”

The administration is also trying to kill another Obama-era program known as the International Entrepreneur Rule, which Doug Rand helped create.

“This was designed for entrepreneurs from other countries to more easily come to the U.S., or stay in the U.S., build companies here, create jobs for U.S. workers,” said Rand, who now runs a firm called Boundless Immigration.

All of this has infuriated corporate America. The CEOs of Apple, Pepsi and other U.S. companies say the administration is scaring away high-skilled workers, which could hurt the economy.

“What the administration is saying is, we want to make it difficult for companies to employ anyone who is not an American citizen,” said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council.

But the head of Citizenship and Immigration Services dismisses that.

“The idea that we are intentionally, mischievously, impishly, malevolently trying to build an invisible wall on purpose because we don’t want foreign workers to come is false,” said Cissna.

Nonetheless, immigrants like Neha Mahajan wonder whether the administration is serious about “merit-based” immigration.

“I don’t know what to think,” Mahajan said. “Hypocrisy, maybe? They want us to stay. They don’t want us to stay. Why put people’s lives into a limbo?”

Mahajan and other spouses of guest workers are pushing to save the H-4 EAD program that allows them to work. The Trump administration is expected to announce the official end of that program any day.

Source: High-Skilled Immigrants Call Out The Trump Administration’s ‘Hypocrisy’

How Trump Can Use Welfare To Stymie Immigration — And Vice Versa

Yet another restrictive measure:

The Trump administration is following through on a long-rumored plan to make it harder for immigrants to get green cards if they’re poor or might become poor.

The proposal is a double whammy that could scare people away from safety net programs and keep immigrants out of the country ― with the added benefit of simultaneously demonizing both immigrants and welfare.

″It’s an opportunity to fuel the nativist fire and scapegoat immigrants as a drain on our economy,” said Wendy Cervantes, senior policy analyst for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonpartisan organization that works to improve the lives of low-income people.

The U.S. government has almost always had a rule against legal permanent resident status for anyone who might become a “public charge,” meaning someone who is likely to wind up on welfare. The proposed rule, which will not take effect for at least 60 days and is subject to change, would broaden the criteria the government can use to deny applicants.

The proposal will likely scare immigrants out of applying even for benefits that wouldn’t hurt their green card chances, Cervantes said, such as food stamps for their children. Already, officials in several states have reported sharp declines in child nutrition program enrollment that they attribute to earlier news reports about the possibility of a new “public charge” rule. (The final proposed rule considers only an individual’s use of public benefits, not any use by their dependents.)

Experts said it’s impossible to estimate how many people will be affected by the rule, but some said it could be in the millions ― some directly because they would be denied a green card, others indirectly because they declined to use a benefit out of fear or because a family member was kept away.

The Department of Homeland Security said in its proposal that it estimated more than 324,000 people would disenroll from safety net benefits “due to concern about the consequences to that person receiving public benefits and being found to be likely to become a public charge,” saving the federal government more than $2 billion annually. (That’s less than 1 percent of what the government spends on food and health benefits for the poor each year.) The proposed rule wouldn’t make those individuals ineligible for public benefits ― the administration is predicting it would cause people to not use help even if they were qualified for it.

Cervantes said the proposal as written would affect several million people if you count a program beneficiary’s family members. More than 40 percent of the nearly 40 million food stamp recipients in the U.S., for instance, are children whose parents receive the benefits on their behalf.

Immigrants could be fearful of enrolling their families in certain benefits even if they wouldn’t have an adverse effect on a future immigration decision, either because of confusion about what is included or fear that it could be expanded in the future, said Melissa Boteach, senior vice president at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, who works on poverty issues.

“People are confused, and the stakes are too high for them to make an educated guess,” Boteach said. “I think there’s a sense that even if you are technically exempt, who knows what they’ll do next?”

Undocumented immigrants and people on work visas are ineligible for most federal benefits in the first place, and green card holders are only eligible after five years. The proposal would not affect people applying to become U.S. citizens. It primarily targets people abroad hoping to be reunited with family members living in the U.S. and those already living here and seeking green cards.

In fiscal 2017, the State Department initially denied more than 280,000 immigrant visa applications. Of those, only 3,200 were refused on public charge grounds, according to the Congressional Research Service (most of those refusals were overcome on appeal). Cervantes said the number of public charge refusals would likely skyrocket under the new proposal.

The current public charge guidance considers a person’s age, education, assets and employment status, as well as his or her current enrollment in a small number of state and federal programs. Republicans have long complained that the biggest programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid, were excluded. The Trump administration’s rule would broaden the criteria to include most federal safety net benefits.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement announcing the proposal that it would “implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”

The current guidance says an immigrant would only count as a public charge if he or she is likely to depend “primarily” on government assistance, meaning for more than 50 percent of his or her income. The new rule would lower the threshold to receipt of government benefits totaling 15 percent of the poverty line in a given year.

The meaning of “likely” is entirely up to immigration officials, said David Bier, an expert at the libertarian Cato Institute who wrote in an analysis of the proposal.

“They just are very vague about how this whole thing is going to go down,” Bier said in an interview. “So inevitably what we’re going to see when this rule is enforced is just wildly varying outcomes depending on who’s adjudicating applications.”

Source: How Trump Can Use Welfare To Stymie Immigration — And Vice Versa