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The Low German Mennonite migration from Latin America to Ontario is the most recent leg of a migratory history that began in the 1500s in Europe.

From Latin America to Ontario

Life is better in Ontario

“When we first came to Canada, we had just enough money to get here. We arrived in June 2008 and the beginning was very hard. I was a Canadian citizen but my wife was not. I had to find a job to earn some money, so I worked in the farming industry that first year. I am now on ODSP because I am legally blind, and finding work with a disability is difficult. 

We arrived in June but it took us until November to find a place to live. Before that, we had just been staying with family and friends.

Overall, we like Canada much better than Mexico. The climate is better, as it is not so very hot and dry. Going to the doctors in Mexico was sometimes a total waste of time. My health has been much better here than down in Mexico.

People always say colony life is a good community life. We find more people willing to help us out here. Many people were greedy and jealous down in the colonies. We are doing better here, even on disability, than we did in Mexico.”

John’s Story

John was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. When he was 18, he left home and decided to start a new life in Canada.

John had an interesting journey. He was travelling from Mexico with a friend, who was also lending him the money he needed to make it to Canada. John’s intention was to pay his friend back once he was settled and working.

John laughs now as he retells the story: “My friend didn’t have the documentation he needed and we were at a border check. He got kicked off the bus and I had to go on without him. All he had time to do was pass me two 50-dollar bills as the police were taking him away!” John says he has never felt more lost and scared in his life than he did then.

Fortunately, he had gone to school in Mexico and knew enough English to get by. He was afraid though because for the entire time, he had no idea where he was. He didn’t get off the bus to go to the bathroom and rarely did he get any food. He knew that if he stayed on the bus, it would eventually take him to his destination.

A Difficult Start

“Our start in Ontario was very hard. My husband was a Canadian citizen but I was not. This was only one of the different issues that we faced in the beginning.

We came here in February and I was in the beginning of my pregnancy.

A health card can’t be issued until you have lived in Canada for three months. Also, you need to have the proper documents supporting your status. I applied for my landed immigrant status, but until the application had been processed, I could not get a health card.

We had the baby and ended up having to pay for everything ourselves. What a setback that was! I finally got my health card two years later in time for our next baby.

I had a hard time cooking for my family here. The bread I baked did not turn out right and neither did the cookies. It took me a while but now I don’t have any problem.”

John was lucky because he had family already in Ontario, and they were able to pick him up at the bus stop. John was very relieved to see the faces of his sister and brother-in law that day.

John laughs as he recounts his story, but he also has a glimmer of pride in his eye as he tells it.

Peter and Sara’s Complicated Migration Story

Peter and Sara’s story demonstrates how decisions made in previous generations affect the opportunities of present and future generations. It highlights how different family histories result in different migration stories. It is also an example of how each Low German family’s situation can be quite unique.

After 35 years of working with the Canadian government with these issues, Bill Janzen provides additional background information about why so many family immigration stories can be so complicated.

Peter, Sara and their five children entered a settlement office in Chatham, Ontario early on a Monday morning. Sara was visibly pregnant with their sixth child. The family had hired a driver to take them from Kansas to Ontario and had just arrived in town late the night before. They intended to settle in Canada and needed assistance from a settlement worker to properly navigate the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) system.

Historical Factors Impacting Their Settlement

Peter, Sara and their oldest child, Anna, were born in Mexico while the four other children were born in Bolivia. Immigration laws pertaining to Low German families used to grant citizenship to Canadian citizens’ children born in Mexico. Both Peter’s and Sara’s grandparents were born in Canada but married in Mexico. Sara’s grandparents registered their marriage with the Mexican government and their subsequent children with CIC, which enabled Sara’s parents to also register her. Sara is a Canadian citizen. (Sara had previously applied for Anna’s Canadian citizenship; she was their only child with this status.) Peter’s grandparents married in the church but only registered their marriage with the Mexican government after Peter’s father, Abram, was born. The Mexican government did not recognize the church marriage and Abram was therefore considered born out of wedlock. As a result, Peter’s grandparents could not register Abram with CIC, which also meant that Peter and his siblings were ineligible for Canadian citizenship.

Sara’s Canadian citizenship allowed her to apply for citizenship for their three middle children, Martha, Susie and Jacob. Catalina, their youngest, was not eligible because she was born after April 2009; CIC laws no longer granted this automatic citizenship to children born outside of Canada. Therefore, both Peter and Catalina needed to apply for permanent residency; Sara is their sponsor.

Getting Permanent Resident Status

The settlement worker began the application process with the family that first Monday morning. The initial step was to identify the multitude of documentation Peter and Catalina’s permanent residency applications required. Both of them needed to complete a medical with a CIC-designated medical practitioner. The closest approved doctor was an hour away, which meant that a friend or volunteer would have to take them to this appointment. Additionally, they needed to go to a local police station and get seven sets of fingerprints. The law required that police record checks be completed in each country one lived in for six months or more, so three sets of fingerprints were for Mexico; one set was for Bolivia; and one set each was needed for both Kansas, USA and the West Virginia FBI because he had lived in Kansas for the seven months prior to his arrival in Canada. CIC also required one set. The fingerprint sets and accompanying 14 photographs of himself were costly. Catalina also required seven photographs for her application. There was also the additional mailing expense to the various locations.

The family left the office with the documentation necessary for Peter and Catalina to complete their medicals and obtain the photographs, and for Peter to get his fingerprint sets. Once these requirements had been fulfilled, they could begin the actual permanent residency application and the citizenship applications for the other children.

Completing the Settlement Process

Two months later, the family returned to the office. Sara had given birth to Aganetha since their last visit. Sara had applied for her Social Insurance Number (SIN) card when they first arrived, but she was unable to work due to her pregnancy and the recent birth. She was unable to apply for Ontario Works because sponsors cannot be on social assistance. In the intervening time, she had also applied for health cards for herself and Aganetha but both had to wait three months for coverage to begin. The rest of the children had to wait for health coverage until they had documentation from the Canadian government indicating that they were applying for permanent residency/citizenship. Their application process could not begin until the family could afford the associated expenses. Because Peter was in Canada on a visitor’s visa, he was unable to apply for a SIN card. Peter had to wait for health coverage until CIC approved his permanent residency and gave him a work permit, which could take 10-12 months.

In the two months after they first arrived, Peter worked odd jobs for various contractors and saved up some money to start the application process. They also borrowed money from friends. He now required the settlement worker’s assistance to fill out the different applications because he was unable to read or write in any language, and he was unable to speak English. After becoming a permanent resident, Peter would have to wait another two years before applying for Canadian citizenship. Altogether, it would take him six to seven years to receive Canadian citizenship, barring any further changes to immigration laws or other unforeseen issues.