Dying nanny wants law change

Filipina caregiver Juana Tejada, ill with cancer, granted residency after battle with federal government led by our friends at Migrante Ontario and other groups

August 26, 2008

Deena Kamel
Staff Reporter - Toronto Star

Juana Tejada, a Filipina nanny with terminal cancer who celebrated becoming a permanent resident yesterday, wants to make her dream of security in Canada a reality for other live-in caregivers.

A campaign led by unions and immigrant support groups is proposing a "Juana Tejada Law" – an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would help guarantee the rights of medically inadmissible but otherwise qualified foreign caregivers living in Canada.

"It's an honour for me," said Tejada, 38, who is facing terminal colon cancer. "I really don't want other caregivers to go through my situation because it's been very tough."

Tejada had her immigration application denied twice because, though healthy when she arrived, she developed cancer while working in Canada and was now deemed a burden on the health-care system. But after strong public support, she was recently cleared to apply for permanent residency.

"I dream of a society that gives value and concern to its people who create its wealth," sang the band at yesterday's celebration and launch of the amendment campaign.

Before arriving in Canada, live-in caregivers undergo stringent medical exams.

They must live with the same employer for 24 months out of three years, then undergo a second medical exam to apply for permanent residence. Tejada's supporters want to see that second exam requirement eliminated for caregivers.

"Through sheer bad luck or fate, after meeting the permanent residence requirement, she faced deportation because she got sick, through no fault of hers," said Tejada's lawyer, Rafael Fabregas. "She did not lie or commit criminal offences or cheat."

The campaign has the support of Migrante-Ontario, the Independent Workers Association and United Steelworkers, among others. Some politicians are already backing it.

"(We) feel very strongly that if you are good enough to work in Canada, you are good enough to apply for landed immigration," Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash said yesterday, to a roar of applause from members of the Filipino community and others. She said she was "optimistic" the proposed amendment would be adopted by Parliament in the fall, barring an election call.

Nash's fellow NDP MP Olivia Chow agreed, suggesting it should be on the election platform of all parties.

"They take care of Canadian children. Working families would not survive without them. They raise our kids. For me, this is priceless," said Chow, responding to criticism about the possible burden on the health-care system. "They deserve our respect and appreciation. Some have left their own kids behind."

The subject of children strikes a chord with Tejada.

"It's sad. I've been taking care of somebody's child, but I don't have any of my own," she said. "There's sickness that's now hindering me." Though doctors say the illness is terminal, she still hopes to recover and have a family.

The amendment would help some of the 13,000 live-in caregivers who arrived in Canada last year, said Fabregas.


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