Challenging Un-Belonging and Undesirability

How Acts of Autonomy Transform Everyday Realities of Living with Precarious Immigration Status in Toronto, Canada


  • Kathryn Tomko Dennler York University


precarious immigration status, agency, Canada, belonging, counterpublics, narrative redfinition


Increasing processing times for immigration applications, increasing numbers of people admitted on temporary visas, and delays processing refugee claims mean that more newcomers spend longer periods of time living in Canada with precarious immigration status. This paper uses qualitative research to examine how people with precarious immigration status exercise agency in the face of restrictions to their rights and risk of deportability, as well as the extent to which agency is able to transform people’s everyday realities. The research shows that regimes of immigration control construct people with precarious immigration status as un-belonging and undesirable as members of Canadian society. The research identifies two ways that research participants exert autonomy over their lives: persistent presence and critiquing their construction as un-belonging and undesirable. Both forms of agency involve the creation of counterpublics to build networks for practical support and recognition of the legitimacy of their presence in Canada. While agency made it easier for participants to sustain themselves, the research shows that participants internalized discourses hostile to people with precarious immigration status, suggesting that agency is both necessary but also limited in its capacity to mitigate the harm caused by the construction of them as un-belonging and undesirable.


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How to Cite

Dennler, K. T. (2020). Challenging Un-Belonging and Undesirability: How Acts of Autonomy Transform Everyday Realities of Living with Precarious Immigration Status in Toronto, Canada. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 19(2), 501–518. Retrieved from