Book Review: Enforcing Exclusion: Precarious Migrants and the Law in Canada

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Enforcing Exclusion: Precarious Migrants and the Law in Canada. By Sarah Grayce Marsden. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018. 237 p. Includes bibliographic references and index. ISBN 978-0-7748-3774-3 (softcover) $32.95.

Reviewed by Andrea Black
Dentons Canada LLP, Montreal
In CLLR 44:4

Enforcing Exclusion should be on every immigration lawyer’s bookshelf. It is the result of a pre-2015 study conducted by the author and combines interviews and traditional legal research methods.

Marsden defines precarious migration status as that which “is marked by the absence of any of the [specified] elements normally associated with permanent residence (and citizenship) in Canada” (p. 15). She interviewed 28 migrants with self-reported precarious or uncertain migration status prior to or at the time of the study and five frontline agency workers who interact with migrants daily.

Guided by the reported experiences of the participants, Marsden investigates and analyzes the body of legislation, policies, and institutional practices affecting precarious migrants. She addresses decisions by frontline decision makers and tribunals and incorporates an analysis of a handful of pertinent court and tribunal cases. Her focus is federal, but she also explores provincial laws and policies, primarily those of British Columbia.

The text is very engaging. While setting migrants’ experiences firmly inside a legislative framework, the author strategically sprinkles excerpts and paraphrased anecdotes from interviews throughout. The book is unique in starting from the harmful repercussions of the immigration system on precarious migrants and working backward to the laws, policies, and decisions that led to them.

The book has a short introduction and a postscript that briefly addresses the federal political and legislative landscape in 2018 as compared to the time frame covered by the study. It contains endnotes with bibliographic references, two short appendices describing the interviewees and interview questions, and a detailed index.

The first chapter discusses the historical and demographic context of current immigration laws in this country. It goes on to describe the style of the study’s interviews and research methods, as well as its limitations.

Chapter 2 explains how categories of migration status are determined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and associated regulations, and which services are available to members of which categories. It also highlights the uncertainties, frustrations, and fears that migrants experience at different points within the immigration scheme.

The next three chapters delve into the ways in which precarious migrants are excluded from social benefits and their real and perceived barriers to remedies. Chapter 3 deals with workplace issues such as employer–employee power imbalances, deskilling, job security and mobility, and employment standards. Chapter 4 covers education, health, employment insurance, and income assistance. Chapter 5 examines the ways in which a line is drawn and enforced, formally and informally, between those with membership to a state and those without.

In the sixth and final chapter, the author refers to a collection of Canadian human rights cases. She analyzes whether entitlement to equal benefits and protection under the law should be tied to a person’s immigration status. She then turns her attention to provincial and international law, including the UN’s Migrant Worker Convention. She ends the book with suggestions as to how conditions for migrants could be improved if the walls between “members” and “outsiders” were to be broken down.

While all of the laws and government institutions described in the book operate independently of each other, the author artfully makes it clear how “they are all bound together in migrants’ lived experience” (p. 8), and why we as a society need to do better.

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