The Canadian government is seeking to deport Mamadou Konaté, a Black Ivorian asylum seeker who worked on the frontlines through the pandemic. His time in Canada lays bare the violence of the Canadian immigration state, and in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, people are coming together to demand that he be given status now.
Mamadou came to Canada in 2016 to escape armed conflict in Ivory Coast. He was previously a refugee in Nigeria and Liberia. Since making his home in the province of Québec, he has worked for Hydro-Québec cutting trees, and served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis as a janitor at three long-term care centres during peak moments of the pandemic. In spring 2020, Mamadou contracted COVID-19, but then returned to work upon recovery.
Mamadou was still working at a long term care centre in September 2020 when he was arrested and detained at the Laval Immigration Holding Centre. The practice of immigration detention is problematic at any time, but worse during a pandemic, where incarcerated people are made disproportionately vulnerable to the virus—and thus disproportionately vulnerable to death.
After a series of political actions led by the Solidarité pour Mamadou committee, media coverage of his situation, and expressions of support from numerous community organizations and political forces in Québec, in mid-October of 2020 a federal court ordered that Mamadou be released from detention—though several other migrants, including seven who have gone on hunger strike, remain detained in the Laval centre.
But the threat of deportation still looms—with the government aiming to deport him on November 19.
Despite both the Canadian and Québec governments’ rhetoric celebrating frontline health and service workers, and despite being dubbed “guardian angels” by Québec’s Premier François Legault, many workers in the healthcare sector, like Mamadou, now face deportation. Today, Mamadou is one individual among many whose story conveys the urgency of the movement fighting for Status for All.
To demand the immediate status for all is to underline that non-status people are rendered non-status as a product of state policies. These violent legal systems are enforced through dehumanizing immigration controls, detention practices, and national borders, which render illegal and criminalize human beings and their movement. These are people who are maintained in precarious relation to the law and kept vulnerable to immigration enforcement as a result of national, provincial, and municipal policy.
What this structure secures is two-fold: first, it generates a labour market among a racialized population with precarious immigration status and who are a pliable workforce, largely reliant on temporary or otherwise precarious forms of work. This limits corporate accountability to labour—a responsibility made all the more crucial during a public health crisis.
Second, by limiting access to full membership to migrants, it contributes to the wider perpetuation of structural inequalities along racial, classed, religious and gendered lines.
Further, this system of legal exclusion exists on occupied Indigenous territories. We find ourselves advocating for Mamadou in a time when formerly robust institutions for asylum seeking have been eroded, and where accessible legal pathways to regularization have been curtailed and replaced by an increased reliance on policing, mandatory detention, and the ever looming threat of deportations.
Recent negotiations between the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada and the Québec’s Ministry of Immigration resulted in the narrowing of a special program for the regularization of some asylum seekers who have worked on the front lines during the pandemic. While we welcome any scheme that imparts status, the inadequate and highly exclusive nature of the program requirements mean an estimated 3,000 residential and long-term care centres workers are precluded from its protections. This violence and dehumanization is not inevitable; it is a system that could and must be organized otherwise. Today we must reject the cruelty of this system and call for Mamadou to be granted status immediately, along with all other non-status people.
As individuals and groups in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, let us express our solidarity, and to lend our voices where justice demands it. Montréal was unanimously declared a Sanctuary City in 2017, and launched an action plan in 2018 called Montréal Inclusive, which sought the economic, social and cultural integration of new Montréalers.
Most recently, the city council passed a motion to commit to pressuring the provincial and federal governments to regularize people with precarious status, and for the expansion of the special program for asylum seekers who worked on the pandemic frontlines. Still, concrete political actions on the part of the city to prevent detention and deportation have been limited.
Taking pride in the varied and vibrant cultures of the place we all call home means collectively defending all people who are part of this place, people who make Tiohtià:ke/Montréal a reality—people like Mamadou.
To see the full list of signatories to this open letter, please visit this link. The letter was written in consultation with the Solidarité avec Mamadou committee and Mamadou Konaté.