Justice for Ivonne, Status for All! An International Women’s Day Statement from the Shelters, Not Borders! Committee


***An International Women’s Day Statement from the Shelters, Not Borders! Committee***

On International Women’s Day, we took to the streets with hundreds of women in Montreal to resist patriarchy, precarity, and violence. This March 8th, we also reaffirm our support for Ivonne Hernandez and renew our call for an end to the deportation of survivors of gender-based violence.

Having escaped an abusive relationship in Mexico, Ivonne Hernandez arrived in Canada in 2009.  When her refugee claim was refused in 2011, she opted instead to defy her deportation rather than return to a situation of danger and uncertainty.  During this time, she married a Canadian citizen and gave birth to a son in 2012, but her relationship began to deteriorate amidst escalating violence and repeated threats. On December 11, 2013, Ivonne took the difficult decision to leave her relationship and seek refuge at a women`s shelter. Her partner responded immediately by denouncing her to the police. At an ensuing family court hearing on January 10th, the judge awarded temporary sole custody to the father, citing her insecure status and limited financial means.  Then, on Janurary 22nd, Ivonne was arrested and detained in a pre-planned, public take-down at Berri metro station, at what was supposed to be a routine visit with her son.  Although released two days later, she was given a deportation date for February 7th.

Media coverage multiplied, supporters gathered, and more than 50 letters of support poured in from women’s groups and centres across Quebec.  In the face of substantial public outcry and significant mobilization, Ivonne was granted a stay of removal on February 4th.  Last week, she was also reunited with her son when a family court judge awarded her temporary full custody.  However, despite these early and important victories, Ivonne’s struggle to regularize her status and retain long-term custody of her son continues.

But Ivonne is not alone in her struggle.  On this day we also remember Grise, a Mexican refugee who was brutally murdered shortly following her deportation.  We salute the struggle of Evelia Castrejon Santoyo, who was forced to return to Mexico after her chemotherapy treatment was disrupted and her access to potentially life-saving health services was denied.  We mourn the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, ended her life in a CBSA holding cell rather than face deportation.  Above all, we also remember the countless survivors whose names remain unknown and whose stories go unheard but who continue to live in constant precarity when gender and state violence intersect.

Ivonne’s story highlights the challenges faced by non-status survivors of domestic violence. The decision to walk away from an abusive relationship is invariably a difficult one, requiring tremendous courage and self-determination.  On top of this, exclusionary immigration laws collude with other systems of oppression to leave undocumented survivors in tenuous situations. In the context of interpersonal violence, perpetrators often take advantage of situations of precarious status to silence and intimidate their partners. It is not uncommon for abusive partners to exploit the promise of sponsorship, or to threaten to report partners to immigration enforcement authorities as a means of coercion.

Furthermore, many women and trans people living without status face restricted employment opportunities, ineligibility for income support programs, and lack of access to social services, often leaving them with few means of supporting themselves. There are also  instances where non-status mothers lose custody of their children, when their capacity to remain in the country is in question. The daily threat of detention and deportation also discourages many from leaving dangerous situations, as the process of filing a complaint, or calling emergency services can set forces into motion culminating in an eventual deportation.

When survivors do leave abusive relationships, they continue to be targeted by immigration enforcement agents.  We have heard several troubling reports of CBSA agents colluding with abusive partners to uncover the whereabouts non-status survivors.  Despite years of tireless organizing by Toronto’s Shelter| Sanctuary| Status campaign, which succeeded in barring CBSA agents from shelters and anti-violent spaces in the Greater Toronto area, the Canadian Border Services Agency overturned this directive in 2011.  To this day, the CBSA refuses to issue guidelines ordering their agents to respect shelters as places of refuge for survivors of violence.

Survivors should be able to seek support without fearing detention and deportation. In denying access to services, dividing families and communities, and deporting survivors to situations of danger, the immigration system perpetuates violence against women. We demand that the government cease all deportations of and grant status to survivors of gendered violence.  We believe that women’s shelters should be places of safety, free from the incursion of border agents.  We believe that no mother should ever be separated from her child for reasons of poverty and precarious status. In the face of a racist and exclusionary immigration system, we reaffirm our commitment to opening access to shelter places and fighting for safer spaces for all survivors of violence, irrespective of their status. As shelter workers, women’s centre organizers, migrants, feminists and allies, we demand justice for Ivonne and status for all.

The Shelters, not Borders! committee is a network of shelter workers, women centre organizers, migrants, feminists and allies, working towards opening access to shelters and support for women and trans people living without status and who are survivors of violence. Part of the Solidarity City campaign, we demand an end to the detention and deportation of non­-status violence survivors; we also call upon the CBSA and immigration enforcement to recognize and respect shelters and anti­violence centres as safe spaces.

For more information, email: refugesansfrontieres@gmail.com