Time is running out for Mercedes Benitez, a temporary foreign worker who is fighting to stay with her family.
In the Philippines we were really poor. Farmers. We were a family of eight. I worked all through school, farming, selling things. Then I started caregiving. It was okay. I grew up planting rice and planting corn all day in the sun, so I thought as long as I’m in the shade, I’m okay.
After school I got married. I thought getting married would help me escape from poverty, like “you’re not alone anymore.” I was supporting my parents, and I was anxious to start my own life. In fact, Romeo was my only boyfriend. I had no time to play around.
I had my first son, Bill, after one year of marriage. Romeo’s parents were farmers too, and they gave us a part of their land. We eventually made a small grocery store. Then I became pregnant with Harold, my youngest son. I was running a business, being a full-time mother with a grocery store, but you do not make much. We were struggling.
Then El Niño hit. Which meant no rain. It hurt our farm and the grocery store. We started going into debt.
“Oh boy,” I thought. It hit me emotionally. That was the first time in my life, I thought, that I am in real trouble.
After I gave birth to Harold, I decided to mortgage the grocery store and apply for a job in Hong Kong to pay off all the debt.
That was 1999. I worked as a caregiver in Hong Kong. I worked very hard. I even worked on a farm during my “day off” every week—which was only a few hours, not even 24 hours. Instead of relaxing, I worked. But it was too hard for a mother to leave young kids. I lost weight. Every morning you feel sick because of the homesickness. I had to go home.
I went home and worked in the Philippines for two years, but it was hard to make money. So I went back to caregiving.
After I worked in Israel for several years, I then applied to Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program. I heard that after working for 24 months, you could apply for permanent residency and bring your family. I applied right away. In my mind, this was the dream.
I arrived in Canada in 2008. I worked for 24 months. I applied for permanent residency in 2010. My sons and my husband and me, we were so excited.
I didn’t hear anything till 2014. They asked for our medical examinations. My second son, Harold, has an intellectual disability. But he’s perfectly healthy. Takes care of himself, he feeds himself, he bikes, swims, sings, dances. But they said our whole family would be refused because of Harold, unless we had $23,000 a year to support him.
This was such a shock. We can’t do that. We cried. I love Canada, and all of us were dreaming to come, and now, after working for almost 10 years, this impossible situation.
They said Harold will cause an “excessive demand” to Canada’s social services. I don’t believe he will. We will continue to take care of Harold as we always have. Our family knows best what Harold needs. We have no intention of using all the services indicated in the Immigration letter.
Being told that I cannot stay in Canada, and that my family cannot come here and live with me, makes me feel that we are being punished for Harold’s disability. Like Canada is saying we are not good enough. How can it be that in the best country in the world I am good enough to work, caring for your sick and elderly, but not good enough to stay, just because my son has a disability? This is not the country that I thought Canada was.
Note: Mercedes’ legal team at Parkdale Community Legal Services has launched an online campaign to call on Minister Ahmed Hussen to intervene in her case. They’re asking him to grant Mercedes and her family permanent residence and also scrap section 38(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which states that “a foreign national is inadmissible on health grounds if their health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services.” Read more on their website.
Immigrants of Toronto is a weekly feature celebrating Toronto’s diversity as a vibrant city of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers, as told to Stephen Thomas.