Varela: Joe Biden should be trumpeting this immigration policy victory

One take:

Given the intense focus journalists place on migrants who come to the United States, it’s disappointing that they pay such little attention to the employers on this side of the border who recruit and exploit migrants and then, if they dare complain, fire them and make them even more vulnerable to deportation. The systematic oppression of migrants doesn’t get sufficient attention, partly because journalists haven’t done their jobs but also because those who are abused and exploited don’t speak up because they’re afraid or can’t speak up because they’ve been deported.

That’s why an announcement last week from the Biden administration that it will extend some protections to migrants reporting employer abusewas so historic. In a Jan. 13 news release, the Department of Homeland Security said that “noncitizen workers who are victims of, or witnesses to, the violation of labor rights, can now access a streamlined and expedited deferred action request process. Deferred action protects noncitizen workers from threats of immigration-related retaliation from the exploitive employers.” As a result, DHS noted, the whistleblower program confirmed the current administration’s “commitment to empowering workers and improving workplace conditions by enabling all workers, including noncitizens, to assert their legal rights.”

While I and multiple immigrant rights groups have generally criticized President Joe Biden for muddled immigration policies that carry forward former President Donald Trump’s misguided policies, I stand in agreement with those groups that were quick to praise Biden for this move.

“Today opens a pathway full of hope for those of us workers who fear reporting workplace abuses, so that we can come forward to share the challenges we face every day in hostile workplaces, suffering abuses like wage theft,” Jonas Reyes, a worker leader at Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center, said in a statement published on the website for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, or NDLON. “When we speak up and exercise our rights, we face retaliation. These protections are an important step to be able to speak up safely, and an opportunity to improve our working conditions and our lives.”

The Biden administration should have played up this announcement and drawn attention to a new policy that will further humanize one of this society’s most exploited populations. Instead, the administration conveyed the news in a press release on the Friday before the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. NDLON held a virtual news conference to discuss the policy change, and while it did an excellent job of humanizing migrant voices and shining a light on their real plights, as of Thursday, that video had barely more than 150 views. By not playing up the news of the new whistleblower policy, the Biden administration missed an opportunity to transform the immigration debate by focusing on a plan that helps migrant workers instead of punishing them.

That missed PR opportunity means that when the topic is Biden and immigration, one of his progressive moves is likely to be ignored. The focus will remain on his administration’s failures to distance itself from Trump and the presidents before him who have treated immigration not as a humanitarian crisis but as a law enforcement and national security problem.

The White House statements that were released this month during Biden’s first official visit to the U.S. border with Mexico focused on “new enforcement measures to increase security at the border” meant to “reduce the number of individuals crossing unlawfully between ports of entry.” At the same time, those statements claimed that such measures “will expand and expedite legal pathways for orderly migration and result in new consequences for those who fail to use those legal pathways.” Part of these measures includes a mobile phone app that migrants can now use to apply for asylum.

New data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouseposted Wednesday said the immigration court backlog of close to 1.6 million cases is “the largest in history.” While the Biden administration’s announcement of a phone app may have been meant to decrease the number of people making the trek here, U.S. Code still makes it very legal for individuals to physically seek asylum at the U.S. border.

Despite the relative lack of attention the Biden administration and the media have given to the new DHS rule, the announcement does demonstrate that any real positive change in immigration policy will always come from grassroots movements. Rosario Ortiz, another worker leader at Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center, said in a statementthat she and coworkers had met with U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “to call for these protections.” Ortiz said, “I am proud of my coworkers and our brothers and sisters across the country who have helped open a pathway for others in our circumstances to seek the protections that we have won.”

That successful grassroots campaign is similar to the grassroots campaign that ended with Arizona voters last year granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. Like the whistleblower policy, the policy change was the result of a targeted campaign that took time to mature.

This kind of substantive change in national immigration policy that considers the rights of migrant workers has been long overdue. The groups who have been fighting for their communities know this, and there is no indication that they will slow down their efforts, no matter who’s in office — whether it’s Republicans who brag about being tough on immigrants or Democrats who are seemingly too afraid to draw attention to those fleeting moments when they’re doing right by them.

Source: Joe Biden should be trumpeting this immigration policy victory

P.E.I apple orchard firm ordered to pay thousands to foreign workers in ‘cash for pay scheme’

Classic case of exploitation and abuse:

P.E.I.’s Employment Standards Branch has ordered an apple orchard company in Kings County to pay thousands of dollars to four foreign workers who refused to participate in what the province’s chief labour standards officer called a “cash for pay scheme.”

Canadian Nectar Products has been ordered to pay the former employees sums ranging from about $5,000 to nearly $15,000 for unpaid wages. A related company, Fruits Canada, was ordered to pay one former employee $233 for unpaid wages.

The companies, and others linked to them, are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency related to similar allegations, in which workers claim their employer demanded cash payments in exchange for paycheques of lesser value than the cash that was remitted.

Source: P.E.I apple orchard firm ordered to pay thousands to foreign workers in ‘cash for pay scheme’

@DouglasTodd Nine million people have scooped up Canada’s 10-year visas. Some abuse them

More anecdotal than evidence-based regarding the extent of the abuse. It would be relatively straightforward to request a dataset from IRCC that would provide the basis for answering the issues raised in the article:

  • people relinquishing permanent residency by country and immigration category;
  • those being sponsored for permanent residency; and,
  • those requesting asylum status.

Canada has given out more than nine million 10-year visitor visas since the program began, with by far the largest bulk of recipients coming from China and India, followed by people from Brazil and Mexico.

The super-popular multiple-entry visas are generally a benefit to Canada’s economy, say immigration lawyers. But they caution the 10-year, multiple-entry visas can be abused by “shadow investors” to avoid paying property and income taxes in Canada — and as a dubious means by which to claim asylum.

Source: Douglas Todd: Nine million people have scooped up Canada’s 10-year visas. Some abuse them

There is No Room in Islam for Clerics Who Abuse Women—Not in Iraq, Not Anywhere | Opinion

Of note:

Child abuse revelations have rocked the Catholic church in the last generation, leading to lasting damage to how the Church is viewed worldwide and even shaking the faith of some believers.

Some speculate that a similar scandal is brewing in Shia Islam, with abusers exposed to be using egregious misrepresentations of religious law to facilitate their attacks.

The limelight has been shone on this in a recent BBC documentary, provocatively titled “Undercover with the Clerics.” Girls as young as 13 were essentially pimped out by Iraqi men who claimed religious legitimacy. Specifically, the men stated they were followers of Grand Ayatollah Syed Sistani, despite the fact that the cleric has condemned their actions as abhorrent not only to Islam’s values but to Iraqi law and human rights.

Those human rights have come on in leaps and bounds in Iraq since the toppling of Saddam and his dictatorship in 2003.

Civil society has gone from being all but non-existent to becoming one of the more vibrant examples of life in the region. Iraq’s constitution guarantees that at least a quarter of the country’s members of parliament are women (a slightly higher percentage than in the current U.S. House of Representatives.)

This renaissance is most pronounced when it comes to Iraq’s Shia Muslims.

Despite being a religious majority in the country, the community’s members are still recovering from decades of repression under Saddam. But in in the mere 16 years since Saddam’s removal, Iraq’s Shia, including Shia clerics, have gone from being brutally persecuted to forming the backbone of Iraq’s civil society. This makes it all the more shocking that what is an overwhelmingly progressive, democratizing institution is now being accused of providing cover for abusers.

The man who bears no small amount of responsibility for this progress is Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of the leading global authorities in Shia Islam with perhaps 200 million followers. The 89-year-old cleric is the antithesis of Islamophobic ideas of a Muslim scholar: he has single-handedly driven the embrace by Iraq’s largest confessional community of elections and democracy, and has relentlessly campaigned for human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular.

I have visited Iraq several times every year since 2003. On many of those visits I have had private meetings with Ayatollah Sistani. I cannot remember ever meeting him without him mentioning women’s rights.

In Iraq, these issues are not an ideological luxury; they are a societal necessity. There are over a million war widows in Iraq, many of whom have no access to welfare or assistance. This has become exacerbated in recent years as the international community’s attention has shifted towards Syria, and policy makers tend to view Iraq through a security, rather than a humanitarian, lens.

Iraq’s largest charity, the Al-Ayn foundation, was formed and is supervised by Syed Sistani’s office. It is funded directly from within the Shia community, allowing it a continuity of service that is difficult when dependent on international donors and NGOs.

It looks after more than 57,000 orphans and widows in everything from healthcare to education to psychotherapy. The potential of Iraq’s Shia clerics for social good has become clear since they were allowed to function independently in post-Saddam Iraq.

Al-Ayn also has safeguarding procedures to internationally recognized standards, far beyond what some Western aid volunteers adhere to. All staff undergo thorough background checks and only contact beneficiaries through official channels. Syed Sistani has personally insisted, for example, that only female members of staff deal with vulnerable women beneficiaries.

This makes it all the more infuriating to see the allegations the BBC report that so-called Shia Clerics are using the cover of religious institutions to coax Iraqi women and children into prostitution.

Any abuse of vulnerable women and girls, anywhere, must be absolutely stamped out. When it is done in the cloak of religion, it is even more repugnant. Syed Sistani has issued an absolute and unequivocal disavowal of those acts, and instructed his followers to root out these behaviours wherever they are found.

It is not entirely clear what claim the abusers can make to being clerics themselves, or if this religious affiliation is as deceptive as the rest of their trafficking scam. The main abuser’s most demonstrable link to religion was his title of “Syed” which can, as the program noted, mean that he is a descendant of the Prophet’s family, but can also mean “Mister.” Based on decades of intimate knowledge of the Iraqi Shia clergy, I would like to believe that these men are imposters. But whether they are or not doesn’t substantially change how the Shia community should respond to these revelations: if they are imposters, they need to be exposed as such; if they are—or ever were—clerics, they deserve condemnation all the more.

Reports like these, where religious legal instruments such as fixed-term marriage, or mut’ah, are abused, disgust me and all Muslims.

That those abuses repeatedly victimize vulnerable women and children is bad enough. But they also feed into Islam’s worst sectarian divides. Distortions and actual malpractices of the mut’ah concept are also seized on by fanatical anti-Shia jihadists like Daesh. Fixed-term marriage between consenting adults exists in Shia religious teachings as a way, for example, for an engaged couple to get to know each other without contravening gender boundaries. It is a marriage relationship with strict requirements, and rights, for both parties. As Syed Sistani’s office stated in their own comments to the BBC team, they are not mean to pimp out women, least of all underage girls.

To some extremists, however, the notion of mut’ah marriages is falsely used to feed their narrative that Shia Muslims are not Muslims at all, but infidels, who do not believe even in the sanctity of marriage.

It is essential that the most vulnerable in every society, whether they are Iraqi widows seeking assistance, parishioners in the far-flung world of the Catholic church or British children appearing on popular BBC shows, are protected. And at the same time, we must protect important institutions from those criminals and charlatans who abuse not only their innocent victims, but also the organizations to which they claim to be affiliated and whose values they so obviously betray.

Source: There is No Room in Islam for Clerics Who Abuse Women—Not in Iraq, Not Anywhere | Opinion

International education in Canada is booming — but the system is flawed. Here’s how to fix it

Final part of the Star’s series on international education and their recommendations how to address the abuse and challenges. Some are more realistic than others (hard to see provincial funding increasing to reduce reliance on international students, and not sure what the capacity is for settlement services to handle students) but many are eminently practical:

Make more classroom supports available. Provide better information on employment rights. And begin regulating education recruiters.

Those are just some of the ways to bolster the experience of international students in Canada and improve the burgeoning international education system, according to students, teachers, policy-makers and others.

A months-long joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard found the explosive growth in the number of international students in Canada, particularly in Ontario colleges, has left students feeling overwhelmed and teachers frustrated.

There are now more than 572,000 international students in Canada — the largest cohort ever — and a 73 per cent hike since 2014. That unprecedented growth has proven extremely lucrative, with international students pumping $21.6 billion into campuses, communities and the economy nationwide last year. But it has also brought significant challenges.

Part 1 of the Price of Admission series looks at how international students have increasingly been used as a key source of revenue to prop up an underfunded Canadian education system. Part 2 examines how one Ontario college scrambled to deal with a crisis on campus in the wake of a surge in international enrolment. And Part 3 explores how international students, desperate to stay here permanently, are sometimes exploited by employers.

Reporters spoke with students, teachers, school administrators, policy-makers, academic researchers, recruiters and advocates on how we can make things better.

Some have suggested one way of preventing international students from being taken advantage of in Canada, would be to grant them permanent residence upon arrival. But others say this is unrealistic and it is unlikely any political party in power would want to do that.

Here are some of their other suggestions:

For the provincial government:

  • Invest in post-secondary education to reduce reliance on revenue from international students to fund public education.
  • Regulate education recruiters to crack down on misinformation about Canada’s education and immigration systems, similar to a mechanism in place in Manitoba that monitors designated education providers, recruiters and contracted agents.
  • Reach out to international students to inform them about their job rights and enforce employer compliance.

For the federal government:

  • Make pre-arrival information and checklists available to incoming students on such things as housing, transportation, cost of living, health care, immigration and employment.
  • Grant students access to settlement services, including help with job searches, housing and counselling.
  • Provide clear information to prospective students about the pathways to immigration and the criteria for permanent residence down the road.
  • Raise the threshold of the GIC deposit required of international students to ensure they have the minimum savings to complete their studies in Canada.
  • Enhance and expand the immigration department’s current “letter of acceptance verification project” and “international student compliance project” to ensure students are not using their study permit just for the purpose of entering the country. Make this part of the regular audit of Canada’s international education strategy.
  • Work with provincial partners to survey students about their needs and experience, and track their progress through the education and immigration systems, using the data for policy reviews and decisions.

For schools:

  • Improve vetting system to ensure English language admission test scores accurately reflect a student’s actual language proficiency, including interviews with college staff.
  • Provide improved linguistic supports, including better access to translators, to help students from non-English speaking countries navigate the education system, student and medical supports, and to assist teachers in the classrooms.
  • Provide additional classroom and counselling support to help international students unfamiliar with Canada’s education system, teaching styles and culture throughout their studies and not just limited to the initial orientation.
  • Offer cultural sensitivity and awareness training to teaching and administrative staff about international students and the unique challenges and circumstances they face.
  • Implement an early warning system among school administration to assist failing students.
  • Start a buddy system matching international students with their domestic peers to ease their transition and better integrate them into the school community.

Source: International education in Canada is booming — but the system is flawed. Here’s how to fix it

Angus Reid 2019 Crisis of Faith? Even practicing Catholics say Church has done a poor job handling sexual abuse issue

Of interest given the greater shifts of net favourability with respect to Roman Catholics, Sikhs and to a lessor extent, Muslims:

There has been slightly more variation in Canadians’ views of specific religious groups between 2015 and today. Looking at “net positivity” – the percentage of Canadians saying they have a positive view of each group minus the percentage who say they have a negative one – shows Canadians feeling more warmly in 2019 than they did in 2015 toward six of the nine faith groups asked about in this survey.

There has been slightly more variation in Canadians’ views of specific religious groups between 2015 and today. Looking at “net positivity” – the percentage of Canadians saying they have a positive view of each group minus the percentage who say they have a negative one – shows Canadians feeling more warmly in 2019 than they did in 2015 toward six of the nine faith groups asked about in this survey.

The three who are viewed more negatively today are Catholics (a net +26, down from +36 in 2015), Protestants (+33, down from +36), and Buddhists (+32, down from +35). That said, it’s notable that each of these groups is consistently more likely to be viewed positively than negatively, overall.

Indeed, only one religious group – Muslims (-22, up from -29 in 2015) – has a net negative score overall. As seen in the graph that follows, net perceptions of Jews, Hindus, atheists, Evangelical Christians, and Sikhs are all more positive than negative, and have improved at least slightly since 2015.

Source: Crisis of Faith? Even practicing Catholics say Church has done a poor job handling sexual abuse issue