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Barriers vs. bridges: Undocumented immigrants’ access to post-secondary education in Ontario

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journal contribution
posted on 21.05.2021, 17:30 by Marietta Armanyous, Graham Hudson
Introduction: The governance of migration and human mobility is a contentious matter, and it has only become more prominent in public, political, and legal spheres. One of the most challenging issues is how to protect and promote the rights of undocumented immigrants, who face multiple forms of legal and social exclusion. In the face of public pressure to control borders, governments must decide whether persons already living and working in cities, towns, and rural areas should be able to access public services, such as health and education. The question of education has become more prominent in the United States and Canada. The norm is for governments and schools to deny or outright exclude undocumented persons from accessing education, but this has been changing in certain jurisdictions, including sanctuary cities and states. Canadian policies are also changing. Although access to education in publicly-funded institutions is currently a legal right for all residents of Ontario (subject to some qualifications unrelated to immigration status), attaining access remains a challenge for undocumented immigrants. Recently, activists have been pushing for a right to access higher education in universities and colleges. Even if not provided for in domestic law, access to education is a legal right under international law. The UN Commission on Human Rights notes that the right to education has a special function, in that it “unlocks other rights when guaranteed, while its denial leads to compounded denials of other human rights and perpetuation of poverty” (UN Commission on Human Rights, 2004, p. 7). Others describe education as an “empowerment right” (Kalantry, Getgen, & Koh, 2010, p. 260; UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [CESCR], 1999). This paper examines existing barriers that undocumented immigrants face if they wish to access post-secondary education in Ontario, Canada. It also addresses the policies that Canadian universities have implemented (or plan to implement) to remove these barriers, thereby allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain formal post-secondary education. It argues that access to higher education is a binding international human right and that provincial governments and universities should ensure access. The primary questions that this research paper aims to address are the following: • What are the legal, procedural, and/or financial barriers to accessing post-secondary education? • Are provincial governments implementing policies to remove these barriers? If so, what are they? • Are Canadian universities implementing policies to remove these barriers? If so, what are they? By addressing key obstacles and identifying possible solutions, we can better advocate for appropriate policy changes. Whereas there is significant literature on this topic in the US, there is far less information in the Canadian context; it is an important matter to bring to the forefront of both Canadian immigration and education policy discussions. Since the constant threat of deportation serves as a silencing mechanism and form of political suppression, it is important to advocate with and, when necessary, on behalf of undocumented migrants. My research will help shed more light on this concern and amplify the need for governments/institutions to find pragmatic ways to resolve this issue.



Usha George