Alberta is leaving workers without immigration status behind, excluding them from health care coverage in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Marco Luciano of Migrante Alberta joins Team Advantage to discuss the demands migrant and undocumented workers are making, as well as the role workers play in providing essential services during the pandemic.
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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I am your host, Kate Jacobson, and joining me today is Marco Luciano, director of Migrante Alberta. Marco, thank you so much for joining me here on The Alberta Advantage.
you for inviting me.
Kate: So, Migrante Alberta is leading the call to make sure everyone has healthcare coverage, regardless of their immigration status. Over 125 frontline workers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and other healthcare providers, recently expressed their support in an open-letter petition addressed to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Marco, could you explain to our listeners what the fundamental issue is here? Who doesn’t get health coverage in Alberta?
Marco: The principal issue that we’re lobbying for is for undocumented migrants who are not status migrants to be included at the Alberta health systems, which they’re not. Generally when a migrant worker comes to Canada and work as a migrant worker, they are included; however, in changing jobs or applying for permanent residency, many, many fall into the cracks. And when that happens, they lose, also, their benefits, along with their status in Canada. So that means that, you know, if they go to a doctor, they’re getting charged. There are cases where undocumented moms give birth and they’re charged up to $10,000 by the hospital. So these migrants that do not have immigration status at the moment are not covered by the Alberta health systems.
Kate: Right. So if someone without healthcare coverage has symptoms of COVID-19, would they be eligible for testing?
Marco: According to the AHS, everybody should be tested if they get symptoms, and that includes the undocumented. Anybody. I think the problem, though, is that treatment is not covered by that statement. So they get tested, they test positive, they go back home and isolate; but the problem, though, is that they still cannot get care for their illness, right? And that’s what happens.
Kate: Mhm. And, of course, even if the current COVID-19 testing is available to people with varying immigration statuses, do you feel that these communities are aware that this testing is open to them?
Marco: Yes, most are aware that this testing are open to them, and we try to ensure that they know that testing are open to anybody. Again, the issue would be, first, their fear of even getting the test. They always have this notion that, if they go public, they get, you know, arrested, and they get deported. So even education, within the migrant workers, because of that fear of even coming out of their homes, are hard. So when the announcement happens, there was no clear announcement that they will not be subjected to deportation if they go and get tested, right? So even getting testing is hard for them to come out. And, of course, getting treated if they actually have contracted the virus would be harder.
Absolutely. So, we’re in the middle of a pandemic right now, and we’ve heard in
many different ways that a society is only as healthy as its sickest member.
Could you tell us a little bit about why it’s important that testing and health
coverage be expanded to really include everyone, regardless of immigration
status? And I feel like a lot of Canadians might have this mistaken idea that,
because we have a public healthcare system, that everyone is covered by it;
but, as you’re explaining, some people really fall through the cracks. Why is
it so important that these people are included beyond, kind of, their own
health and well-being?
Marco: Yeah, for sure. Just imagine an undocumented migrant, who’s afraid to leave their home because of that fear of deportation, contracted the virus. First, it’s not just the healthcare of the individual that’s at stake, but it’s neighbours, it’s community. You know, they needed to go out and buy groceries, they needed to go out and send money back home, and we cannot really afford for them to be spreading the virus within the community. So their healthcare is really important if you want our community to be healthy. To ensure that we’re safe, we need to ensure their safety as well.
And with COVID-19, one of the things we’re really seeing is that potential
exposure and risk is really falling along class lines. You know, the very
wealthy are holed up in vacation properties, the middle class are often stuck
at home, often taking care of children, and the working class are really on the
front lines of the economy and of our healthcare system right now. Could you
tell me a little bit about how this dynamic impacts migrant or undocumented
workers in Alberta?
Marco: For sure. I mean, the COVID-19 really exposed the class divide in our society, right? First of all, not everyone could stay home or have the privilege of staying home. If those working class are staying home, they are forced to stay home without any support systems. And it’s really exposed the class divide. And of course, aside from that, Canada is very dependent on migrant labour; this cheap and disposable labour that migrants provide prop up Canadian economy. They ensure that we have food to eat on our table, right? They ensure that our offices are clean. They ensure that we have a double double in the morning. So migrant labour is an important aspect of the Canadian economy. Meanwhile, they are regarded as the disposable workforce that they could just throw, like any used rag, if they don’t need them. And that’s the reality that we’re facing now, and the COVID-19 really exposed the class divide in our society.
is your sense of why it is that many people in Alberta — particularly temporary
workers, migrants, undocumented workers — don’t have access to the coverage
that they need?
they don’t have access to the coverage, and even some social services,
precisely because of their status. This coveted status is really the basis of
the access to social services and healthcare in the province of Alberta, even
in Canada, and this status, particularly immigration status, are the basis of
who is the good Canadian worker and not so good Canadian worker. And I think
that it’s important that we acknowledge that, regardless of the immigration
status of these migrant workers, they are workers, they are people, they’re not
invisible workers, they contribute to the economy, they contribute to — they
pay, you know, taxes. A lot of people say, “Well, you don’t pay tax.” That’s
not true. They still live here, they pay rent, they buy their groceries, they
buy their clothes, they pay into the Canadian economy, like everybody else,
right? And the small money that they save, that is the money that they send
back home; not actually harvesting money here and sending everything back home,
but it’s whatever they save, right? They still live in Edmonton, and they still
pay on to whatever needed to be paid in Edmonton.
Kate: Absolutely. Could you tell me a little bit about what other provinces are doing to address the needs of uninsured people and what some of your demands are here in Alberta?
Marco: Fortunately, there are three provinces that recognize the urgency to include undocumented migrants in their healthcare systems, and that is the provinces of Québec, Ontario, and BC. Those provinces have announced that they are including anybody, or removing the restrictions for migrant workers to access healthcare, particularly undocumented workers to access healthcare. And similarly, that’s what we’re asking for here in Alberta is to, first of all, to make sure that everyone have access to AHS, particularly at this crisis. Also, make sure that there’s a clear announced policy that the AHS agents know that this is happening so that there’s no roadblocks that can prevent them. And, of course, lastly is, really, have a public messaging campaign so that migrant workers also, who are fearful of leaving their homes and going to a doctor or a testing center, feel safe, you know? I remember last year the City of Edmonton have announced that the City is now a “Access Without Fear” city. What does that mean? It does not mean nothing for a lot of these workers because they still are fearful to go to a hospital, they still are fearful to go to a testing site because of, you know, fear of getting deported.
Kate: Mhm. So, we know that, currently, emergency supports like the CERB are supporting many Canadians. What kind of supports are available to migrant or undocumented people in Canada, and what kind of supports would you like to see made available for people?
Marco: Well, similar to Alberta, they are not covered in any federal benefits, whether it’s the interim healthcare program of the federal government. Also, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit are not also — undocumented migrants are also not included in that; even though they have been working in the last year, some of them have just lost their status very recently. They have paid their taxes in 2018, 2017, and onwards, but still, they are not included in the income subsidy by the federal government. So one of the things that we have been trying to do as part of the Migrants Rights Network — which is the biggest coalition of migrant organizations across Canada — is to lobby the federal government to include undocumented migrants with the benefits, to include them with the CERB.
if our listeners want to amplify the demands that Migrante Alberta or the
Migrant Rights Network are making, what can we do, and where should we go to do
Marco: If you go to Migrante Canada Website, Migrante Alberta Website — which is migrantealberta.ca — the letter’s there, please do add your voice to the petition. Also, you can write your MLAs; tell them the urgency, that these migrant workers need to have healthcare in the province. As well as please do support the lobbying efforts of the Migrants Rights Network, and call your MPs and tell them the urgency, also, of these migrant workers be part of the CERB. These workers are workers, they shouldn’t be left behind; they’re not invisible workers, they contribute to our economy, and now is the time for us to step up and tell them that they’re welcome here in Canada.
Kate: Absolutely. And if our listeners want to follow you or the work of Migrante Alberta, where can we look?
Marco: We’re in Facebook; look for Migrante Alberta. Our website is migrantealberta.ca. They can also email us if they have questions or if they want to show support at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’re hoping for all your listeners to actually step up and let the undocumented workers know that they are workers, they are not invisible, and they shouldn’t be left behind.
Kate: I think that’s a really powerful sentiment. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about, or any kind of final thoughts that you have that you want to share?
Marco: That’s it. Thank you for inviting me in your program.
Kate: Oh, absolutely. Thank you for joining me on this episode, and for sharing your thoughts and the very important work that migrante Alberta is doing right now. We really appreciate your time.
Marco: Thank you so much.