I’ve been in Mexico for almost four months now. I’m happy to be here, very much so, but this isn’t what I’d call a vacation. Our new home, in between several stints in Mexico City, is the tiny city of Querétaro, metropolitan population one million. By my Canadian standards it’s a large city, but when you’re next to a city of 21 million it feels quaint and provincial. The historic centre of the city, a well preserved patchwork of narrow roads and colonial architecture, underlines that feeling of tranquility. That was the motivating factor for coming here of all places. Queretaro is a fast growing business hub, close to Mexico City and in the middle of the country along major trade routes, that has somehow managed to avoid the problems plaguing the majority of the country. There’s a lot of work and it is, as the locals say, muy tranquilo.
I’ll admit to my Canadian ignorance and say that before the decision to come here, I never heard of Queretaro. Why would I? On the list of most populous cities in Mexico it’s down at 17 which would make it the Mexican equivalent of Vaughn. If you were to search for news about Queretaro all you’d really find is maybe some sports news and some talk about a new Bombardier factory here. It doesn’t rate internationally. In many ways it’s down right boring but when faced with certain alternatives in other parts of the country it is a welcome type of mundane.
Queretaro, Plaza de Armas
We met in Toronto in what was the start of her fifth year in Canada. We hit it off immediately. Our first date was like something out of a Richard Linklater film, nearly a full day’s worth of walking and talking all around the city. By the time we spent a long weekend together in Montreal that summer, we were in love. That summer was magical. Then autumn came and it was shit. Within the span of a month I lost my mother and the love of my life was denied residency in Canada. She was forced to leave back to her native Mexico. At the end of February, I came with her.
As a first generation immigrant myself, and a refugee claimant at that (back in the days of the Cold War and martial law in my homeland, a decidedly different social climate), I had foolishly expected more from Canada. “No, why would they deny you?” I thought. “You have a business degree from a good school. You are absolutely fluent in English and you speak a bit of French. You’ve lived here for five years, working the whole time (sometimes two jobs), to support the family you came with, never once relying on any social assistance. You paid lots of taxes. Your niece is Canadian, born right here in Mississauga. Why would Canada not want you to stay?” And yet, there we were.
In the final denial she was presented with a written explanation that came across as a poorly researched grasp at straws written by a minister’s unpaid intern. It mentioned the prospect of relocation to Guadalajara, never mind that she’s from Mexico City and has very few, if any, connections to that city. It was probably the only city the staffer could think of, likely because the Pan American Games had just finished there. Guadalajara was spelled wrong multiple times. They referenced a completely inaccurate tax record, showing her income as being considerably lower than it was. The report cited the unemployment rate and noted, correctly, that it’s lower in Mexico than Canada as if that was some sort of indicator of a great standard of living. Yes, with her degree she can secure a job in Mexico easily but isn’t that missing the point? If your own unemployment rate is lagging wouldn’t you want to keep the people that work hard and pay taxes?
(The final insult came on the day we left when she privately met with an immigration official at the airport to receive her Mexican passport and confirm her departure. Expectantly emotional, she lashed out at the immigration officer in French who responded by demanding that she speak in English. Here was a federal representative in charge of immigration matters in a bilingual country that didn’t speak a modicum of French.)
The whole process seemed rushed, with an illusion of procedure to hide predetermined biases. It became clear to me based on this and other second hand stories that Canada was specifically targeting Mexicans for denial. Official figures collaborate that. The rate for accepted applications in the Mexican community was considerably lower than within other communities, especially compared to some Asian colleagues. That rate is likely to drop more with the current government planning to label Mexico a “safe” country, essentially ruling out appeals on refugee claims by turning a blind eye to any social problems here. Never mind that the government’s own travel site warns Canadians, in bold red, to “avoid non-essential travel” to a large chunk of the country.
She had the misfortune of coming to Canada in 2007, after graduating, when the massive surge of Mexicans overloaded the many Canadian immigration offices. It was unfortunate timing, unbeknownst to her back then, as that wave, mostly of Mexicans coming across from the USA, changed the refugee dynamic drastically. The acceptance percentage dropped as the rate of applicants rose by the thousands and, in an effort to combat that flow, Canada later imposed visa requirements for Mexican visitors. You know, despite being friends, continental neighbours and supposed NAFTA partners.
There were many causes for this: tightening restrictions in the USA forced many American illegals to seek asylum one border further north; the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 in the USA essentially created a new market for cross-border crystal meth production and greatly empowered Mexican drug cartels which had predominantly been trafficking intermediaries rather than producers, and the power struggles because of it greatly lowered the country’s security situation; the election of Felipe Calderon at the end of 2006 and his militaristic intervention into the drug situation in the country brought further levels of violence and instability to many parts of the country, particularly the northern border regions; and, tellingly, Canada’s own courting of Mexican immigrants in the preceding years likely contributed too (so much for that.)
Were there people that abused the system? Absolutely. I’m sure there were many. However, in taking such a blanket approach to an entire country rather than legitimately considering cases on an individual basis, Canada has shut the door on many hard-working, skilled immigrants and, even worse, doomed many valid refugee applicants to their death. I can understand that immigration offices were understaffed and unprepared to deal with the load but when a problem like that arises you throw more bodies at it, you don’t clear the slate, throw your hands in the air, and yell out “fuck it” as you delete every old and pending application.
If justice is dependent on fairness, Canada has not shown it to those wishing to call it home. The Catch-22 of the situation is that the government’s official position is that Mexico is “safe” and livable, giving them an excuse to deny most applicants, but if everything was so tranquil would there have been such a surge of migrants in the first place? Isn’t that wave telling of something and doesn’t that deserve a more nuanced approach?
I don’t know what the answers are, but I know that this fight isn’t over: it’s just beginning. I’d write the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (though he seems to be, uhh….) I’d write my Member of Parliament. I’ll write here. I’ll sponsor her. We are evaluating our options and, sadly, some of those options don’t include Canada. We shall see.
Yes I speak from a biased position, but as a first generation immigrant myself I expected more from my adopted country. I’m proud to be Canadian and to have grown up in such an inclusive place, with friends from all over the world — indeed, I knew more people born outside of Canada than from within, not surprising as half of Toronto’s population is from another country — but now I find myself stuck between the country that accepted and fostered me, to a measurable level of success, and the woman that I love. Canada has no chance in this battle.