Indeed, for immigrant families who were already suffering under the Ford government’s cuts prior to the pandemic, any return to “business-as-usual” would only increase suffering.
Immigrant families have already been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and public health measures. In fact, a recent study in Toronto shows how racialized, low income and recent immigrant neighbourhoods had the highest cases of COVID-19, suggesting that the pandemic is intensifying pre-existing inequalities faced by marginalized groups.
Recent research has shown that immigrant parents are at elevated risk of emotional problems compared with other immigrants who are not parents. Inequities in language instruction are one of the systemic issues that immigrant parents must cope with.
Immigrant students who are English or French language learners or whose parents are not proficient in English or French, are at higher risk of being behind. These pre-existing issues are only exacerbated with school closures and the switch to online learning, where not all parents have the same capacity to support their childrens’ learning needs. It is thus critical for government officials to include immigrant students in post-pandemic recovery plans.
While many families have been cautiously optimistic about the government’s response to the pandemic overall, we should not let this eclipse the drastic cuts to provincial social services that this pandemic has come on the heels of. We must not lose sight of how, just before the pandemic, the Ontario government announced major cuts for child care centres.
In Toronto alone, provincial cuts to child care will eliminate 760 subsidized spaces in 2020. Whereas some parents might rely on family support to assist with child care, many immigrant parents don’t have that option if they are separated from their extended families. This puts an added financial burden on immigrant parents and can impact their employment.
Recently, policy experts argued that a key ingredient of the country’s recovery must be child care and that women have been disproportionately impacted. This important analysis must also consider the impacts on immigrant women, who are among the most likely to suffer the consequences of a failing child care system.
To be sure, as governments attempt to respond to the pandemic, we are learning that if there is a will, there is a way to fund services that ensure that no one is left behind.
We need assurances that the province’s pre-pandemic “slash-and-burn” approach will no longer be seen as an acceptable measure by this government. This is an opportunity to reimagine what education and support for families looks like in a society where basic needs are protected for all.
By Sara Asalya, contributors Dr.Salina Abji
Sara is a Palestinian immigrant, community organizer, human rights advocate, and a volunteer with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre.