Disability plays a key role in immigration policy, policy that has the desire to keep disabled people out of the country embedded in it. In Canada, the 1886 Immigration Act prohibited “the landing of passengers suffering from any loathsome, dangerous or infectious disease.”

Today, one can be deemed inadmissible if their condition “might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services”. People have been excluded from entering Canada for having things like arthritis, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities or for being quadriplegic.

Abdelkader Belaouni was denied immigration status largely because he is blind and, like about 90% of other blind people in Quebec, was unemployed.

Rather than be deported to Algeria, Kader sought sanctuary in a church in Montreal that he has been unable to leave for over 3 years.

In the United States they have a similar policy of discrimination against disabled immigrants. Medical exams for immigration purposes were initiated in 1891. According to historian Paul Longmore in Why I Burned My Book, “exclusion of aliens with disabilities has been a central, if uncontroversial, goal” of U.S. immigration policy. Lomgmore claims that “officials labored throughout the nineteenth century to bar ‘the halt, the lame, and the blind,’ the ‘deformend, crippled or maimed,’iii. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, new laws allowed for even greater powers to deny disabled immigrants entry to the US.

Generally, immigration has been used as a tool for social control and, among others (like racist quotas and practices), the medical exception aspect of immigration law has been used this way. One of the best examples of this was the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952. The act prohibited the entry into the United States of anyone who was “afflicted with [a] psychopathic personality” which was interpreted by the courts to include homosexuality.

As views on homosexuality changed, the bar on homosexual immigration was lifted (1976 for Canada, 1990 for the United States). This definition of disabled or psychopathic which was applied to homosexuals was applied to further political aims.

Disability, especially in the context of immigration, is an ever changing category that is redefined by whim or convenience to segregate undesirables.

The rationale behind this form of segregation is that it is a privilege to come to Canada or the United States and that not just anyone should be allowed in as they may drain national resources.

Here are some problems with this position:

Colonization: The United States and Canada are colonial countries of which the bulk of the population is non-indigenous and occupying this land. As occupiers, we should have no right to dictate who is permitted into these two countries.

Imperialism: American and Canadian governments, corporations and citizens have neo-liberal economic policies which exploit Third-world human and natural resources. The individuals who are impoverished and/or oppressed by these policies should be able to follow the money back to the countries that are implementing them. They should be entitled to thrive on the wealth that North Americans possess because of that exploitation.

War: The victims of the wars waged or supported for political or economic gain by Canada and the United states should have the right to seek refuge in our nations.

Update: Since originally writing this, Kader won immigration status after 3 years and almost 10 months! You can check out his music by clicking here.

In-text links used in this post:

Paul Longmore

Why I Burned My Book

racist quotas

Kader’s music