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A victory for migrant justice: Hamilton as 'sanctuary city'

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Caitlin Craven and Josee Oliphant talk about the organizing that went into winning a unanimous city council vote in Hamilton, Ontario, that declared it the second 'sanctuary city' in Canada.

Borders are not just lines on a map. They are tools and opportunities for the social relations of which they are part to sort people -- helping some get access to resources and making it harder or impossible for others, bringing safety to some lives and violence and uncertainty to others. Notwithstanding the Canadian self-image as welcoming and open, the rules that have congealed around borders and immigration in this country are now more than ever about dividing, oppressing, and excluding, particularly poor and working-class people of colour from the global south. One way this plays out is that when people who are physically inside the country somehow fall outside of the arbitrary and oppressive rules, they get slotted into the dehumanizing category "illegal" -- a condition more appropriately described as "undocumented" or, in some situations, as having "precarious status." If the wrong authority discovers this fact, no matter the life they have built for themselves in Canada, they can be ripped from it and deported. This very real fear can keep people from accessing resources that they and their families need.

One growing strategy for challenging this fear, as an intermediate step in a larger vision of migrant justice, is getting municipal governments to declare that anyone, regardless of immigration status, can access services that they provide or fund, and that they will not ask to see people's documents or report people's status to federal authorities. These are "sanctuary cities" or "solidarity cities." Perhaps not surprisingly, the first Canadian city to take this step was Toronto, in 2013. Just a few weeks ago, a second city jumped on board -- Hamilton, a city of half a million people on the West end of Lake Ontario. Craven and Oliphant were both organizers in the campaign to make Hamilton a sanctuary city. They tell me about the what they and many others did to win this important victory, and about the hard work they still see ahead for migrant justice organizers in Hamilton and beyond.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada through in-depth interviews that concentrate not on current events or the crisis of the moment, but on giving people involved in a broad range of social change work a chance to take a longer view as they talk about what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. To learn more about the show in general, click here.

You can also learn more about ways to listen or go to the show's page on To learn more about suggesting grassroots groups and organizations for future shows, click here. For details on the show's theme music, click here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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