How Should Canada Respond to Trump’s Immigration Policy?

Immigration is never an easy political discussion, but I believe that the Canadian government was moving in the right direction with its announcement in November 2017 that it was working to accept economic immigrants, families seeking reunification with relatives already in residence and refugees fleeing war and/or persecution in other countries.

New arrivals in Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21, Halifax. (By Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada (Crown Copyright) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

New arrivals in Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21, Halifax. (Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque collection/Library and Archives Canada/PA-111579)

The government was also reviewing policies that, at the time, denied access to Canada to those suffering from certain medical conditions. This, at a time when the US government was attempting to close its borders and deport thousands who have enjoyed “protected status” in what they considered for many years to be a home, a refuge, a safe haven, a place to settle and bring up their families free of fear. It puts the lie to the welcoming sonnet at the base of the Statue of Liberty, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Here in Canada, approximately 51,000 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the country, many sponsored by churches or charitable groups, but there is an ongoing anti-immigration discussion centered around those migrants crossing into Canada at the United States-Quebec border, including Haitians and, more recently, Nigerians, who hold visitors’ visas for the United States but stay only a short while before crossing the border into Canada. The US-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement means that migrants crossing the border legally can be deported since the United States is considered “safe for refugees.” If, however, they cross the border illegally, they can stay in Canada while their claim is decided (which Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel and others characterize as a “loophole” that must be closed).

Part of the federal government’s recently announced plan will involve providing temporary housing for about 520 people at a crossing point at St. Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec. Granted, this is an expense for Canadian citizens and some are not in favor of it, especially as the lines could get quite long as matters unfold in the States. In the past six months, according to the Washington Post, the US Department of Homeland Security has eliminated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 50,000 Hondurans, almost 20,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians and 9,000 Nepalis, giving them 12 to 20 months to leave the country and raising the possibility that many will head north to Canada. In the case of the Hondurans, they have been allowed to live and work in the US since 1999. It would seem that the United States can no longer be considered a “safe country” by any stretch of the imagination!

 

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, one out of of every 113 people on our planet is a refugee due to war, violence and persecution. UNHCR data for 2016 shows that 65.6 million people — more than the population of the United Kingdom — have been forcibly displaced. The current refugee crisis is considered to be the worst since World War ll and not all of the discussion surrounding the refugee problem is based on fact. Even the definition of “migrant,” someone who leaves his or her country voluntarily, as opposed to “refugee,” someone who is driven by persecution or forced to leave for any number of reasons, is up for grabs depending on how countries choose to interpret it. And while international law states that “we are legally and morally obliged to respond to refugees who need our assistance,” as early as 2015, according to Huffington Post contributor Willa Frej, some European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Denmark were not open to having refugees or any asylum seekers cross their borders.

New arrivals aboard S.S. ARGENTINA awaiting clearance in the Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21. (Chris Lund/National Film Board/Library and Archives Canada/PA-152023)

New arrivals aboard S.S. ARGENTINA awaiting clearance in the Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21. (Chris Lund/National Film Board/Library and Archives Canada/PA-152023)

When the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, came up with a plan for 22 of 28 states to “open the doors” to 160,000 people, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called it “mad” and built a barbed wire fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia. Denmark went so far as to place ads in Lebanese newspapers discouraging those who might be considering arriving, uninvited, at its border. Orban also suggested that “European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian,” due, of course, to the “rising presence of Muslims in Europe.” (No suggestion that Christ might question their interpretation of what exactly constitutes being Christian.)

Many countries that have accepted refugees have internal problems of their own, including Bangladesh, which has become a “sanctuary” in the most recent crisis, a stream of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar that has increased to almost 1 million since last August. And while the United Nations has sent agencies into the country to attempt to get agreement for these desperate and destitute people to be allowed to return to Rakhine, their homeland for 1,000 years, such a return is not likely to happen any time soon given that so many of their homes have been destroyed. As well, an international appeal for $950 million to assist the Rohingya has been only 10% funded.

 

Meanwhile, in a May 7th announcement, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Transport Minister Marc Garneau gave an update on progress toward addressing “the disproportionate impact of asylum seekers” at the Quebec border. Three Canadian officials have been designated to work with visa officials in Lagos, Nigeria, where Hussen, will travel later in May to discuss the number of Nigerians arriving at the Canada-US border. Both countries have declared themselves determined to “work together to combat abuse of US travel documents.” In addition, 70 more workers have been employed to deal with the increase in claimants seeking asylum in Canada.

Immigration interpreter aids Hungarian refugee, Halifax, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN No. 3298778)

Immigration interpreter aids Hungarian refugee, Halifax, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN No. 3298778)

Keith Banting, research chair on public policy at Queen’s University, told CP’s Teresa Wright back in April that while support for current immigration levels has increased, any attempt to increase those numbers results in more divided opinion. Banting’s research shows that while 50% of Canadians believe the number of immigrants being admitted to Canada is “about right,” many were under the impression that number was under 150,000. When told the actual number over the past few years — about 260,000 — the number of respondents who felt Canada was admitting “too many” immigrants increased from 23% to 32%.

The policy, announced in November 2017, will see us welcoming 1 million newcomers between 2018 and 2020: 310,00 in 2018; 330,000 in 2019; and 340,000 in 2020. While those numbers seem large, they will represent just 1% of Canada’s population by 2020 while the government’s statistics indicate that 5 million Canadians will have retired by then. Declining birth rates and an ageing population also support increased immigration. Banting believes the federal government has taken a middle-of-the-road approach to increased immigration, even though some immigration advocates and economic groups “had called for more significant increases,” because it feared a “public backlash.”

The discussion will probably become more heated as President Trump continues his mission to limit immigration into the United States while promising to deport hundreds of thousands of those who consider themselves Americans. The 2015 picture of tiny Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee who drowned when the raft his family had boarded to cross the Mediterranean flipped, has apparently vanished from the minds of many, including the American president.

Emma Lazarus would be appalled.

Featured photo: Defending DACA protest. Los Angeles, September 2017, by Molly Adams from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. (Filtered)

 

 

 

Dolores Campbell

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.

 

 

 

 

 

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