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Migrant Justice, Ten Years and Counting

Local organizers celebrate and reflect on the work of No One Is Illegal

by Heather Gies

Migrant Justice, Ten Years and Counting

Also posted by hgies:

No One Is Illegal Vancouver Unceded Coast Salish Territories (NOII) is inviting community members to “Bring the NOIIse!” this Sunday to celebrate NOII’s 10th anniversary and the past 10 years of resistance and community-building.

“It’s an amazing feeling, to be celebrating the people that have supported this work for so long,” said Sozan Savehilaghi, a NOII collective member who started getting actively involved during the resistance to the 2010 Olympics. “And also to honour and offer gratitude to all the folks that have been amazing throughout this, to all of our Indigenous comrades…and folks from all the different kinds of communities that have been involved at various levels throughout the 10 years.”

No One Is Illegal is a grassroots migrant justice and decolonization movement that resists and challenges multiple forms of domination and injustice. In particular, NOII focuses on the injustices of immigration controls and enforcement, including detention and deportation, racial profiling, and exploitation of migrant workers. 

Teresa Diewert joined the NOII collective two years ago, finding it a good fit with her own work in Indigenous solidarity and migrant justice. She told the Vancouver Media Co-op that she sees the 10-year anniversary event as embodying two core elements: celebration and community.

NOII resistance is the result of hard work on the part of both the members of the NOII collective and broader communities and support networks. That’s what the event seeks to celebrate. 

“And to offer that [celebration] to…the people that have been supporting us over the years as well,” said Diewert, “is just a gift for each other.”

“Every year I am amazed at the level of work and dedication [from] the people that are in NOII, and that are allies with it,” said Savehilaghi. “It’s incredible to see that sustained for so long, and that it has been sustained, in all honesty, by the community that surrounds the NOII collective; it’s not just the collective.”

NOII members reflected that recent rapid and major changes in federal immigration policy are creating a new context for migrant justice movements in the Lower Mainland. Although NOII already has begun to see the reality of this changing context, it’s expected to intensify in the future.

“It’s definitely a drastic change,” said Savehilaghi. “More and more people are becoming undocumented, and this is obviously going to impact the work that we do.

“There’s just more people in a really hard place, where they’ve got a deportation order and legal avenues…are just not there.”

This disappearance of legal frameworks to build a case of appeal on humanitarian grounds formerly available to individuals facing deportation has drastically reduced the time available to take action. This crunch creates new challenges for people living with precarious status and impacts NOII’s role in supporting those facing deportation.

Despite the difficulties, NOII has reason to celebrate 10 years of constant resistance, a dynamic history that will be reflected on and represented at the celebration on Sunday.

“One of the things that will be there, that I think is going to be really exciting, is this 10 year timeline of things that NOII has done in Vancouver,” said Diewert. “It’s pretty amazing.”

In 2007, for example, NOII coordinated a large mobilization—including South Asian communities, allies, and masses of cabs—at the Vancouver airport to successfully block the deportation of Laibar Singh, a 48-year-old Punjabi man in ill health.

For Savehilaghi, it was an inspiring moment. “It’s such a powerful example of community being able to achieve something tangible for someone in need and someone who’s being unjustly deported,” she said, pointing to it as a concrete answer to the common ‘What can we do?’ question about migrant justice.

In addition to its victory in stopping the deportation, the mobilization also strengthened community. According to Diewert, “It actually built some really significant relationships that are ongoing today.”

That’s the kind of work that NOII has sustained, despite multiple challenges and increasingly unfavourable federal immigration policies. NOII now has the opportunity to celebrate that work as it wraps up its first decade.

For Diewert, this kind of celebration is an important occasion for the volunteers and surrounding community to reflect on the positive outcomes of years of ongoing struggle.

“Often, in organizing, we don’t take time to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve done,’ and then we get really disillusioned—we think we’re not doing anything, we think nothing’s changing,” said Diewert. “So I think it’s super important to just stop, take a step back, and look at it, and just see what we’ve been fighting and what we’ve been fighting for.”

For Savehilaghi, too, so much of what NOII does is all about community. “That’s ultimately what the anniversary will be celebrating: that community that is pretty much the foundation of the work that we do.”

“Bring the NOIIse!” will celebrate 10 years of NOII on Sunday, December 15, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bonsor Community Center in Burnaby. For more information on the event, visit the No One Is Illegal website and the Facebook event page.  

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