I had to walk away from a hospital emergency room last year because they demanded $700 up front for treatment - a consequence of the fact that I had lost my work permit and was waiting to get a study permit.
I'm just one of an estimated 400,000 people in Toronto who don't have all their immigration papers. We live here, we work here, we pay taxes, but we are denied or are too afraid to access many of the services our money pays for.
I'm talking about people like Maria, a live-in caregiver who had to leave her employer's house when he started making sexual demands, but was turned away from three different shelters. Or Ahmed, who after having worked in the city for 20 years, was stopped randomly by police, who, when they found he didn't have status, handed him over to immigration enforcement.
On Wednesday (February 20), city council will vote on motion 18.5, which aims to make life a little easier for the undocumented. It comes from the Community Development and Recreation Committee at the urging of the Solidarity City Network, a coalition of 11 organizations, from Social Planning Toronto and No One Is Illegal Toronto to Justice for Migrant Workers and Parkdale Community Legal Services.
If the vote carries, Toronto will become the first city in Canada and the 31st in North America (joining Chicago, San Francisco and others) to become a Sanctuary City.
The motion includes: a review of ways to improve access to city services, compulsory training for all front-line service providers, ensuring organizations that receive city grants do not deny services based on immigration status, and community outreach to make sure everyone in Toronto knows of these policies.
The proposal also requests that the province ensure undocumented people have provincial services - housing, health care, welfare - and that the feds develop a program providing immigration status for the undocumented.
Living in fear of simply going to school, visiting a food bank or community centre or just walking down the street has been a reality for thousands of Torontonians for too long. On February 20-21, I'll be at City Hall to help make sure that changes. Will you?
Syed Hussan is an organizer with the Solidarity City Network.