By: Alan Santinele Martino, McMaster University (Theme: Place and Land)
Early last year, my father, who lives in Brazil, had a serious stroke and almost passed away. That life event pushed my family to seriously reflect about the future, especially that of my older brother, Bruno, who is disabled. As a family that deeply cares about one another, what would we do if care relations were to suddenly change? My brother and I often talk about our futures together. In our dreams, we live side by side, visiting each other every day. We support each other as we navigate the most challenging as well as the happiest moments of our lives. We see each other grow older and we continue to create new memories together. We simply desire to be together, as siblings and best friends. The Canadian immigration policies, however, are not on our side. Canada has a long history of exclusion of people with disabilities from immigration (for more information, see El-Lahib and Wehbi 2012; Hanes 2009; Wong 2011).
In this short piece, I use an autoethnographic approach to discuss my desire to bring over and be with my brother in Canada in the face of “unnatural boundaries” (Anzaldúa 2007:25) and ableist immigration policies and practices. In essence, autoethnography is an “approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)” (Ellis, Adams and Bochner 2010: para. 1).
Among the official guidelines used by immigration officers for determining one’s admissibility to Canada, one criteria states that:
A foreign national is inadmissible on health grounds if their health condition (a) is likely to be a danger to public health; (b) is likely to be a danger to public safety; or (c) might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services (emphasis added, ENF 1 2013:5).
Even though the excessive demands clause does not explicitly state that people with disabilities would not be welcome or be able immigrate to Canada, the common interpretation of this clause makes it almost impossible for disabled people to immigrate (El-Lahib 2015). In such a manner, the only “legitimate” and “admissible” candidates for immigration are the non-disabled. Disabled people are considered to be an “economic burden on the system,” and thus, inadmissible (El-Lahib and Wehbi 2011:96).
Various cases of families with a person with a disability being denied permanent residency in Canada have received public attention lately. For example, Felipe Montoya, a professor at York University and father of a son with Down’s syndrome, and his family were not granted permanent residency on the grounds of excessive financial demands (CBC News 2016). Earlier, in 2012, Jeffrey Niehaus, the father of an autistic son, had also been denied permanent status for having a family member “whose health condition [sic] might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services in Canada” (CTV News 2012).
I still remember the day I had to break down the news to my family and, most importantly, to my brother that the chances of him being able to immigrate to Canada were almost non-existent. Then, a voice in my head reminds me:
I know this memory hurts and haunts you. You wonder, can other people imagine how it feels to tell someone you love and want to share your future with that they simply can’t? You breathe heavily, of both heartache and anger, as the words can’t seem do not want to leave your lips. If only ‘those in power’ understood the pain these policies cause.
The facial expression on my brother’s face had now changed with the sad news. I did not really know what else to say except an unconvincing, “we’ll figure something out.”
I have found myself a home in Canada. As I walk to work, I can’t help but imagine my brother walking right alongside me. In this fantasy in my mind, we joke and tease each other, as we always have. With a smirk, he tells me I must be tired of walking as he uses his power chair without transpiring a single drop of sweat. I then quickly note back, “can you remind me again why we need to buy you new shoes anyway as your feet do not even touch the floor?” Our particular relationship of love, trust and loyalty gives one another the permission to use humor that way. Yet, outside of my reveries of the humor between us, most nights I remain awake – my thoughts burdened by the realities of the future. My heart breaks with a feeling of powerlessness. I just wish this country would welcome my brother the same way it has welcomed me.
Perhaps, as Anzaldúa (as cited in Joysmith and Lomas 2005:102) also notes, while “[w]e are all wounded ... we can connect through the wound that’s alienated us from others. When the wound forms a cicatrize, the scar can become a bridge linking people split apart.” The only thing in excess here is my loyalty and love for my brother. Like Anzaldúa, I too hope for a future with more “bridges.” So, as we plan our undoubtedly intertwined futures, these unnatural boundaries and exclusionary policies, attempt to push us towards separate paths, a long-distance relationship, and different networks of people. As someone who deeply loves his brother and desires the best for him, my love and commitment to my brother will never cease or be fractured by unnatural boundaries.
Short Bio: Alan is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University. His research interest is in the intersection of disabilities and sexualities. His dissertation looks at the romantic and sexual experiences of people labeled having intellectual disabilities in Ontario, Canada.
CBC News. 2016. “York University prof denied permanent residency over son's Down syndrome.” Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/programs/metromorning/costa-rica-down-syndrome-1.3489120
CTV News. 2012. “Son’s Autism Forces Family to Leave Canada.” Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMyXDSuee6k
Ellis, Carolyn. 2009. Revision: Autoethnographic Reflections on Life and Work. London and New York: Routledge.
Ellis, Carolyn, Tony E. Adams, and Arthur P. Bochner. 2010. “Autoethnography: An Overview.” Forum of Qualitative Social Research 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095
El-Lahib, Yahya. 2015. “The Inadmissible “Other”: Discourses of Ableism and Colonialism in Canadian Immigration. Journal of Progressive Human Services 26: 209-228.
El-Lahib, Yahya and Samantha Wehbi. 2012. “Immigration and disability: Ableism in the policies of the Canadian state.” International Social Work 55(1): 95–108.
ENF 1. 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/manuals/enf/enf01-eng.pdf
Hanes, Roy. 2009. “None is still too many: An historical exploration of Canadian immigration legislation as it pertains to people with disabilities.” Development Disabilities Bulletin 37(1): 91–126.
Joysmith, Claire, and Clara Lomas. 2005. One wound for another = Una herida por otra: Testimonios de latin@s in the U.S. through cyberspace (11 de septiembre de 2001 - 11 de marzo de 2002). México, D.F: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Centro de Investigaciones sobre América del Norte.
Wong, Edward Hon-Sing. 2011. “Not welcome: A critical analysis of ableism in Canadian immigration policies from 1869–2011.” Critical Disability Discourses 4:1–27.
 Inspired by Ellis’s (2009) work, I too engage with a second, reflexive, voice as a part of my autoethnographic writing.