Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Follow LeftTurn:

Special Offer from PM Press

Now more than ever there is a vital need for radical ideas. In the four years since its founding - and on a mere shoestring - PM Press has risen to the formidable challenge of publishing and distributing knowledge and entertainment for the struggles ahead. With over 200 releases to date, they have published an impressive and stimulating array of literature, art, music, politics, and culture.

PM Press is offering readers of Left Turn a 10% discount on every purchase. In addition, they'll donate 10% of each purchase back to Left Turn to support the crucial voices of independent journalism. Simply enter the coupon code: Left Turn when shopping online or mention it when ordering by phone or email.

Click here for their online catalog.

No One Is Illegal!

Harsha Walia
Date Published: 
February 01, 2005
    The No One is Illegal Campaign across Canada brings together immigrants, refugees and allies in full confrontation with Canadian colonial border policies. We struggle for the right for our communities to maintain their livelihoods and resist war, occupation and displacement, while building alliances and supporting indigenous sisters and brothers also fighting theft of land and displacement.

Borders, a creation of colonization, are the cartographies of anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggle. As a Chicana protestor declared, "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us." The majority of displaced throughout the world are indigenous peoples in the settler states or from communities of colour in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. There is a clear link between capitalist globalization worldwide and the displacement of indigenous peoples in the global South and North. Free trade is used to open borders to capital, while exploiting the people whose free movement it regulates through displacement, deportation, and an apartheid system that creates hyper-exploitable labor on which the economy of the North is built upon. Those colonial forces are the same forces that have caused and continue to perpetuate genocide and dispossession of indigenous peoples within the colonial project of "North America."

There has been some tension with left politics, as those who are focused on anti-corporatism believe that nation-states are a bulwark of protection, while others in the labor movement maintain that "immigrants are stealing jobs." Such hysteria is an attempt to subjugate communities of colour to remain in ghettoized spaces in the South or on reserves across North America, reinforced by a sense of national entitlement that white people feel to "North America."

One response to this reality of global apartheid is to demand charity or reformist approaches to "improving" immigration policies that accept the colonial control of the territory. Contrary to such approaches, the No One is Illegal Campaign sees strength in our unity and rejects any government attempts to control the lives of migrants and their destiny.

The No One is Illegal Campaign has two goals: to attain justice and victories for immigrants and refugees and to develop the communities own capacity to attain dignity for themselves and their families. Real justice will come as immigrants, refugees and non-status people build greater trust in visions of an alternate world and organize, educate, act and fight for their own self-determination.

This has resulted in the formation of self-organized committees of hundreds of refugees facing deportation. They represent a fundamental change from reactive survival tactics for individuals and families to an assertive resistance for entire communities. Various forms of disruptive and generalized resistance and mass mobilizations have created a counter power to government and created the conditions for its defeat.

A major victory For example, after eight months of public meetings, petitions, demonstrations that brought thousands to the streets, delegations of the Women's Committee to Immigration offices, and after the Bourouisa family sought sanctuary in a Montreal Church, the Committee of Non-Status Algerians won a major victory - Immigration Canada and Immigration Quebec announced the implementation of a special Joint Procedure for the regularization of a majority of the 1000 non-status Algerians.

The role of No One is Illegal is to facilitate these committees in various ways: from logistical support to engaging in dialogue about tactics and strategy. Relationships of respect, trust and accountability are built much more quickly in the course of day-to-day struggle. As one No One is Illegal member in Montreal has consistently stated, "There are times when leadership comes from the committees of directly affected individuals, and times when leadership comes from political allies." The importance of political struggle is not to delineate who leads and who follows, or who is affected and who is in solidarity, rather it is to realize when and how these relationships overlap and manifest themselves.

The No One is Illegal Campaign (itself made up of predominantly people of colour), recognizes that a broader fight for decolonization involves not only those directly affected by detention and deportation. Unless we exercise our own roles within this struggle and fight our own governments, then we risk reinforcing the isolation of immigrant communities and their resistance.

These self-organized communities have built strong multiracial, multilingual alliances and networks. As the inherent nature of the immigration and refugee system serves to individualize and ghettoize peoples experiences; through organizing, communities have build strength in numbers and collective histories and experiences.

People do not automatically develop multi-focused political priorities, yet separate efforts dilute strength and compete for allegiance, priority, and resources. So a national network between No One is Illegal and the various refugee committees - Algerian non-status, Stateless Palestinians, Pakistani refugees, men held on Security Certificates, the Sanctuary movement, Rainbow Refugee Committee and many others - is gradually working together in a larger framework designed to pursue collective efforts and mutual support, while also retaining each individual committee/organization intact for separate efforts.

Unlike other coalitions however, this network is not built on the lowest-common denominator set of demands. Instead, ideas of 'genuine refugees' and 'good immigrants' are challenged as the network fights for the rights of all migrants - whether economic migrants, or trafficked women, or those with criminal records.

Multiple strategies Immigration and refugee movements are frequently the terrain where radicals debate the merits of casework versus campaign work. There is certainly not much point in negotiating with the state about how exactly to achieve our vision of a borderless world. No One is Illegal does not unconditionally do lobbying; however like any other grassroots movement led by and affecting marginalized and criminalized communities, we understand the importance of multiple strategies and tactics such as politically conscious/direct action casework, none of which detract from the long-term visions and goals for transformation.

Making demands upon the government to stop the deportations of hundreds of families forces the public debate on our terms while making a material difference. These small victories build morale and hence, build movements.
The battle to reclaim justice for immigrants and refugees has been a difficult one. Victories for families and communities means that priorities change and campaigns loose members. No demonstration has been the ideal one. There are varying prejudices that attempt to subordinate others. But no resistance is ideologically pure and pristine and to wait for one would be naive. So we hit the ground running and through genuine alliances we strengthen our political positions and analysis. We never seek concessions because any government will never grant us our freedoms.

Fighting for an end to hierarchies of citizenship seems to be grieving against gravity. But our freedoms were wrested from us, and the battle to retrieve them is our revolution. A comprehensive analysis of capitalism and nationalism will recognize the importance of fighting the war at home. The rights of immigrants and refugees are not a single issue that can be ghettoized amongst a laundry list of issues. It is central to any anti-war, anti-racist movement and anti-corporatization movement and all such movements must honour this and act accordingly.


Harsha Walia is a writer and activist organizing with the No One is Illegal Campaign, South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. She has also worked in India in various anti-corporate globalization movements.