Toronto, Part II: Making Sanctuary For Ourselves

by undoingborders

We were really excited to have conversations with a number of No One Is Illegal folks about their strategies for approaching sanctuary.  In San Francisco, we have had laws on the books since the 1980s that designate us as a Sanctuary City.  This means that the city does not direct any municipal resources towards collaboration with federal immigration authorities.  It means that you should be able to enroll your kids in school, access city services, or call the police without being asked about your immigration status or being reported to ICE.

anti-S-COMM posterBut in San Francisco, like it cities all over the country, sanctuary is under attack, elements of this non-cooperation are being eroded at all levels of government, and federal programs like S-COMM mandate local collaboration with ICE regardless of municipal sanctuary laws.  It feels important to note here that SB-1070 was originally named “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act” when it was drafted as model legislation by ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections committee.

Even before S-COMM and SB-1070, then-mayor Gavin Newsom changed our city’s policy in 2008 to make it so that youth under 18 would be referred immediately to ICE when arrested on felony charges.  This means that they no longer got to see a judge, lawyer, or sometimes even their parents before being sent into deportation procedures.  One memo from one politically ambitious mayor, and suddenly hundreds of youth are being deported from our community.  Suddenly it feels very little like a sanctuary after all.

In Canada, undocumented people can’t enroll in even elementary or high school, use public health care, or otherwise access social services.  As a result of these particularly difficult conditions, groups like No One Is Illegal have come up with an interesting approach to building sanctuary.  In addition to petitioning the city for policies that would make city services available to all residents, regardless of their immigration status, NOII is also organizing to create sanctuary autonomously within specific sectors of the community.  This is how they define sanctuary:

“A Sanctuary City is one where all people, regardless of immigration status, can live without fear of detention or deportation. It is a city where individuals can exert autonomous control over the places they gather at, their schools, their health centers, their food banks, their social services and their neighbourhoods.”

To accomplish this, they organize sector-by-sector to build a commitment to these principals among individuals and institutions providing essential services, like the Toronto Unified School District, or the shelter system.  We left Toronto asking, what would sanctuary look like if we built it ourselves? 

One of the actions NOII has been working on recently is an effort to Jam the Snitch Lines— a phone number set up by members of Canada’s Conservative party to report undocumented people.  Sarah describes it in the video above, and also in more detail in this one below: