It will take more refugees, but not if they have dis­abil­i­ties.

Au­thor Carolyn Zaikowski says the na­tion’s pro­gres­sive im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy is ableist

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - out­look@wash­post.com Carolyn Zaikowski is the au­thor of “In a Dream, I Dance by My­self, and I Col­lapse” and “A Child Is Be­ing Killed.”

It’s no se­cret that many pro­gres­sive Amer­i­cans fetishize Canada as a north­ern utopia: It has univer­sal health care, it le­gal­ized same-sex mar­riage a decade be­fore the United States did, and it has a cute, lefty prime min­is­ter (com­plete with a tat­too and a lit­er­a­ture de­gree). Af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump re­stricted refugees, im­mi­grants and trav­el­ers from seven ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those flee­ing per­se­cu­tion, ter­ror & war, Cana­di­ans will wel­come you, re­gard­less of your faith. Di­ver­sity is our strength #Wel­comeToCanada.” Cue col­lec­tive lib­eral swoon.

The prob­lem is that Canada’s im­mi­grant pol­icy isn’t quite as dreamy as Amer­i­cans might imag­ine. It in­cludes a vir­tual ban on dis­abled im­mi­grants that goes back decades: Un­der Canada’s Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Pro­tec­tion Act, for­eign­ers can be turned away if they “might rea­son­ably be ex­pected to cause ex­ces­sive de­mands on health or so­cial ser­vices.” What this means is fam­i­lies can be re­jected for hav­ing deaf chil­dren and spouses can be de­nied be­cause they use a wheel­chair, a prac­tice too harsh for even the United States’ dif­fi­cult im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

The num­ber of dis­abled im­mi­grants re­jected by Canada is not known. Most of those turned away do not have the fi­nan­cial means to ap­peal, and few cases get me­dia cov­er­age. But the cases that are brought to the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion are eye-open­ing.

In 2000, mul­ti­mil­lion­aire David Hile­witz and his son, Gavin, were de­nied im­mi­gra­tion from South Africa to Canada be­cause Gavin has a mild de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­ity. An­gela Ch­esters, a Ger­man woman who mar­ried a Cana­dian man abroad, was de­nied per­ma­nent res­i­dency af­ter the cou­ple moved to Canada be­cause she has mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. The Chap­man fam­ily was stopped at a Cana­dian air­port when at­tempt­ing to em­i­grate from Bri­tain in 2008 be­cause their daugh­ter has a ge­netic ab­nor­mal­ity. The Dutch DeJong fam­ily was turned down for im­mi­gra­tion be­cause one of their daugh­ters has a mild in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity. Felipe Mon­toya, re­cruited from Costa Rica to teach at a Toronto univer­sity, and his fam­ily couldn’t get res­i­dency be­cause his son has Down syn­drome. In 2015, Canada de­nied Maria Vic­to­ria Ve­nan­cio health care and at­tempted to de­port her af­ter she be­came a para­plegic.

Ac­cord­ing to Roy Hanes, a Cana­dian so­cial­work scholar and dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cate, even though Cana­dian law does not ex­plic­itly state that dis­abled peo­ple are banned, the no­tion of “ex­ces­sive de­mands” still guides the im­mi­gra­tion process. Po­ten­tial im­mi­grants must un­dergo phys­i­cal and men­tal health ex­ams to prove that their bod­ies and minds will not be a bur­den on Canada’s so­cioe­co­nomic struc­ture. The pol­icy, Hanes wrote in a his­tory of Cana­dian im­mi­gra­tion law, makes it “ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to be­come cit­i­zens.”

Hanes ex­plains that this ex­clu­sion­ary pol­icy arose from the out­dated con­cept that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are not use­ful mem­bers of an econ­omy be­cause they sup­pos­edly use too many re­sources. “The long-held con­cern of so­cial de­pen­dence re­mained as a ma­jor ob­sta­cle for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and it ap­pears that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties were con­tin­u­ously eval­u­ated for what they might not be able to do and not what they could do,” he wrote. “In this re­gard, im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion was based on eco­nomic ‘util­i­tar­i­an­ism’ and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties ranked very low when con­sid­er­ing their abil­i­ties in terms of eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

Ac­cord­ing to some schol­ars, this anti-dis­abil­ity im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy might vi­o­late Canada’s con­sti­tu­tion, not to men­tion the U.N. Con­ven­tion on the Rights of Per­sons With Dis­abil­i­ties. De­spite the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture re­form — a piece of fed­eral ac­ces­si­bil­ity leg­is­la­tion that could have im­pli­ca­tions for im­mi­gra­tion is in the works — Canada’s dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies are “en­trenched,” ac­cord­ing to Global Dis­abil­ity Watch, and “show no signs of abate­ment.” The group added that Canada’s prac­tices show “how to build a dis­abil­ity-free coun­try.”

Un­der­ly­ing this pol­icy is the as­sump­tion, borne straight from the West’s nasty mar­riage of eu­gen­ics and cap­i­tal­ism, that a per­son ceases to mat­ter if they can­not be a “pro­duc­tive” mem­ber of so­ci­ety. Worth is de­ter­mined by con­tri­bu­tion to a profit, by in­de­pen­dence and by the abil­ity to pull one’s own weight. Of course the idea that any­one is ever truly in­de­pen­dent, or that we could pos­si­bly sur­vive with­out one an­other, is a com­plete myth. But it’s one of the cen­tral pil­lars of the Western cap­i­tal­ist story — and one that Canada has em­braced when it comes to im­mi­gra­tion.

In the United States, would-be im­mi­grants must un­dergo phys­i­cal and men­tal ex­am­i­na­tions, mostly to prove that they will not cause harm to oth­ers or com­mit crimes. The Amer­i­can sys­tem de­serves plenty of crit­i­cism, but dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cates on both sides of the bor­der tend to see Canada’s pol­icy as con­sid­er­ably more strict in this re­gard. Yes, Trump is at­tempt­ing new re­stric­tions on im­mi­gra­tion, while Canada ad­ver­tises its open­ness. But how many im­mi­grants be­ing rerouted from the United States will be turned away be­cause of dis­abil­ity in Canada, a sup­posed sanc­tu­ary? Let’s not ide­al­ize a coun­try that ad­heres to the ableist idea, rooted in eu­gen­ics, that any hu­man be­ing poses “ex­ces­sive de­mands.”

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