About 50 people gathered in downtown Montreal on Saturday afternoon to call attention to undocumented workers in Quebec who are struggling due to the province's COVID-19 curfew.
Eloy Rivas-Sanchez, a spokesperson for the group Solidarity Across Borders, told CBC that people without papers live in fear of being stopped by police, even if they have letters from employers confirming they are allowed to be out past the 8 p.m. curfew.
"Because of the fear of being caught, they decide to stay home and leave their jobs. So they have no money to put food on the table, to pay rent, to buy anything you need for living," said Rivas-Sanchez.
"Some of them literally are starving. Some are losing their places. We have rescued some of them from becoming homeless. So there is a lot of suffering."
Undocumented workers don't have access to social safety nets or unemployment benefits. Rivas-Sanchez said that they can't risk losing work, even if it means getting stopped by police, and potentially deported.
He said that the federal government needs to step in to give status to people who do jobs most Canadians don't want to do.
"Normally they work at night. They are very tough jobs," he said.
"We're demanding the Canadian government implement a regularization program so they have access to the social security program like the rest of Canadians. We think that is fair, because they have been working here."
This comes after a push for Quebec's so-called "guardian angels" — asylum seekers working in front-line health services during the pandemic — to be granted residency in Canada.
The federal government announced the program for these workers to be regularized back in August, but with a limited criteria for who would be deemed eligible.
For undocumented workers, however, the choice between taking the risk to keep their jobs and running out of money is pressing.
One man who attended the protest, who CBC has agreed to refer to only by his first name, Hady, said that he had to stop working out of fear that he would be pulled over by police.
"I stopped work because my work was at night-time. Now I can't go to work at all. I'm scared of everything," he said.
Hady, who has lived in Canada for the past four years, said that even with a letter from his employer confirming he works at night, he worries his status might be exposed at any time.
"When you go to work, you are stressed, you don't know what's going to happen to you. Even if you're going to come back home or not," he said.
The protest group said they aren't asking for an exemption from the curfew, but rather a path to status in Canada where undocumented workers like Hady can access benefits like health and social security.
When asked what is being done to address continued calls to grant status to refugees in Canada, Alexander Cohen, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, in a statement mentioned the "guardian angels" initiative, as well as the Economic Mobility Pathways Project, which collaborates with companies to sponsor high-skilled refugees.