"Don’t Ask" Policy Urged For Children Of Migrants

`Don't Ask' policy urged for children of migrants
Ontario schools should avoid questions about kids' status, study says

Nicholas Keung
TheStar.com | GTA |
Jun 11, 2008 11:59 PM

Ontario's education ministry should adopt a province-wide “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy to ensure that doors are open for children of undocumented migrants toiling in Canada's underground economy, a new report urges.

“School officials (should) not be allowed to `ask' about a student, parent or guardian's immigration status,” says the report, titled The Right to Learn, to be released today by the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto.

“And if he or she learned that a student, parent or guardian was without status, the staff, administrator or educator would not share this information with others, particularly law enforcement or immigration officials.”

The study was conducted following the high-profile arrest of four “non-status” children by border security officials in two of the city's Catholic schools in April 2006. It hopes to shed light on the challenges, fear and safety concerns undocumented migrant families face in sending their kids to school.

The province's Education Act says all children in Ontario can be enrolled in school regardless of immigration status. But a study researcher, posing as an undocumented individual looking for a school for his child, was denied a spot by officials at several Toronto public and Catholic schools, with one staff member asking him for the family's name with the “insinuation of calling immigration.”

The Toronto District School Board is the only Ontario board to have a “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy, adopted in 2007, but parents are still being asked their date of entry into Canada and to provide documentation, the report notes.

The board maintains it is necessary in order to receive funding for English-as-a-second-language programs and to determine if a student should be charged international fees. Toronto's Catholic school board still requires staff to make copies of both parents' and children's passports.

Researchers interviewed 17 undocumented individuals both parents and students from the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe for the study; others were reluctant to participate for fear of being reported to authorities.

There are an estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants mostly visitors overstaying their visas and failed refugee claimants avoiding deportation in Canada, the majority in Greater Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Fourteen of the study's respondents entered Canada as visitors; the other three were failed refugee claimants.

Four of the parents said their children had been denied enrolment based on immigration status; 15 said they were asked to provide proof of legal status, such as passports, refugee papers, visas or an application pending an immigration decision.

What was startling was that eight of the parents said they were unaware their children had the legal right to attend school in Ontario.

“Many parents needed to explain what having no status in Canada meant, and instructed their children to be extra careful for fear their status would be revealed,” said the study's author, Navjeet Sidhu.

“This need for secrecy greatly affected parent and child involvement in school events and activities.”

The report urges the ministry to provide staff training, public education and clear policies, and to evaluate and monitor schools to ensure students are not rejected based on immigration status. It also asks teachers' unions to educate their members regarding access to education for non-status students.