Commentary by: Jamie Liew in Ottawa, ON
There’s been a lot of talk about getting rid of birthright citizenship in Canada and the United States. President Donald Trump announced that he’ll issue an executive order and the Conservative Party of Canada passed a motion that, should they be the next federal government, birthright citizenship will be no more.
In the U. S., the president will have to contend with the fact that he can’t just unilaterally eliminate a right in the 14th Amendment of the constitution.
In Canada, birthright citizenship can be eliminated simply by amending or repealing parts of the Citizenship Act.
In both countries, the preoccupation with ending birthright citizenship is tied to the argument that migrants are engaging in “birth tourism” and challenging the integrity of citizenship. But the facts say otherwise.
As Andrew Griffith, former director general at Citizenship and Immigration Canada points out, fewer than 0.1 percent of total births in Canada in the last 10 years (except 2012) involved births of children to foreign mothers. Griffiths concludes, “An impartial observer would conclude that there is currently no business case for changing Canada’s birth policy.”
Aside from the business case, what’s not talked about is how the elimination of birthright citizenship would affect not just migrants, but all of us. Undoubtedly, such a policy would increase the number of stateless persons in Canada.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The elimination of birthright citizenship would affect the most vulnerable the greatest[/quote]
Every person born in Canada would have to apply for citizenship. More tax dollars would be needed to process the applications. Clerks would suddenly have the power to make substantive and legal determinations about the status of every person who applies for citizenship. Like any administrative system, mistakes would be made. Bad or wrong decisions would be challenged in the courts at great expense to both the state and people affected. People would struggle with the fact that they are stateless in the interim.
Being stateless has serious implications.
Stateless persons have difficulty accessing education, employment, health care, social services and freedom of movement. Simple things like obtaining a bank account, cellphone account or registering birth, marriage or death are complicated, if not impossible. Stateless persons would be subject to arrest, detention and potential removal to places they may never have been to before.
The elimination of birthright citizenship would affect the most vulnerable the greatest: the indigent, less educated, those with mental illness, children in precarious family situations or wards of the state. These are the people who may not have the appropriate paperwork or proof that they do qualify for citizenship or they won’t have support for obtaining citizenship.
This one policy would create an expensive social problem for the state.
The elimination of birthright citizenship is then not an act to preserve or protect the integrity of citizenship. The policy is a dividing tool that fuels discrimination against those of different races and socio-economic classes. It’s a tool to delegitimize persons who have a genuine and effective link to Canada. It would create barriers to important rights that come with citizenship, including the right to vote.
We only need to look at how stripping citizenship and the denial of citizenship in other places of the world have encouraged discrimination, persecution, and violence against stateless persons. For example, the oppression of and the genocide against Rohingya was precipitated by their denial of citizenship in Myanmar, a country they called home for generations.
Canadians should be cautious when considering the idea to get rid of birthright citizenship. It wouldn’t stop migrants from coming. Instead of making it harder to get citizenship, we should trust our well-oiled immigration system to deal with the entry of persons within our country.
Such a policy would not build confidence in the integrity of Canadian citizenship. Instead, citizenship would be more precarious than ever before.
Canadians should also be mindful that Canada has signed onto the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which obligate Canada not to create situations of statelessness.
My father was born stateless because the state he was born into didn’t confer birthright citizenship. It affected his opportunity for education, employment, and his mental health.
Being a child of a previously stateless person, I’m proof enough that welcoming stateless persons to Canada with the conferral of citizenship is the best way to build a nation.
Jamie Liew is an immigration lawyer and an associate professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, and a contributor with EvidenceNetwork.ca, which is based at the University of Winnipeg.
This piece is published under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post.
By: Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel unilaterally, triggering global protests and rejection of the US as a peace broker.
About 60 Winnipeggers protested on December 10 on Portage Avenue, near the Polo Park Shopping Mall. That day happened to be International Human Rights Day as well.
Many vehicles honked enthusiastically while passing along Portage Avenue, one of Winnipeg’s main thoroughfares.
Rana Abdulla, a Palestinian-Canadian organizer, said, “The protest was diverse, and full of positive energy. It included many community and social justice organizations.”
The event was organized by:
· The Canadian-Arab Association of Manitoba
· The Canada-Palestine Association of Manitoba
· The Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
· Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg)
· Peace Alliance Winnipeg
· The Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid
“The first objective of our public leafleting and rally action was to condemn and rail against United States President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — this, alongside, his fatuous declaration of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel,” said Krishna Lalbiharie, Event co-organizer and member of the Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg): “The second objective of our action was to educate Winnipeg shoppers, media and the larger Manitoba citizenry as to the illegality of Trump’s decision, and the resistance to it — commensurate with International Human Rights Day.”
“I would say the objective was achieved. There was a good turnout, the action received some accurate media attention, and the public response was generally positive,” said Harold Shuster of Independent Jewish Voices.
“We received an overwhelmingly positive response from receptive, kind Polo Park patrons and drivers along Portage Avenue,” continues Lalbiharie: “There was widespread, favourable media coverage too.”
It’s important to recognize, according to Lalbiharie, that President Trump’s ill-conceived decision may be to distract from the hot issue of Russian collusion during his election, and his need to prove his gratitude to Zionist contributors and lobbyists in the US and Israel.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. As a journalist, he has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.
By: Caitlin Atkinson in Montreal
On Sept. 5, in one of his cruellest acts yet, US President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was an immigration policy enacted by the Obama administration that allowed individuals who moved to America illegally as minors to remain in the country, given a certain set of conditions that ensure they make productive contributions to society. If Congress doesn’t find a way to legalize DACA and develop a plan in which DACA participants—affectionately known as “Dreamers”—can apply for US citizenship, upwards of 800,000 individuals face possible deportation to countries they barely know.
While Trump’s actions have led to an emotional outcry both within the US and internationally, at the same time, there exists a rising unwillingness to accept immigrants among Canadians. Under the presumption that an influx of Dreamers will attempt to migrate to Canada, some believe that the Canadian government should have the absolute power to admit only those with high academic or economic abilities. However, Canada’s approach to accepting thousands of Dreamers must reflect the diversity that Canada claims to embrace, and go beyond allowing only those the government subjectively deems as ‘the best.’ As Trump tries to rip these young people from all that they have ever known, Canada—and particularly its universities—has the humanitarian duty to provide a safe place and a legal channel for Dreamers to become citizens.
Though Canadians who oppose the northward immigration of Dreamers argue that it will overwhelm the country’s immigration system, it is incredibly unlikely that all 800,000 individuals in the DACA program will relocate to Canada. In a quote in a Vice article, Ontario Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar suggested that Canada should look to welcome 10,000 to 30,000 Dreamers. Canada, she argues, must capitalize on the opportunity to welcome a new wave of skilled workers, who will help to boost the economy.
Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.
McGill students can surely empathize with the plights of Dreamers, especially those who are in the process of completing university degrees. Dreamers have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, and many have come to hope for the same type of social and financial success that McGill students aspire to. Now, they face the possibility of deportation, compromising their futures. Canadian post-secondary institutions should support the aspirations made possible by the DACA program in the first place, by accepting and helping to fund Dreamers’ transitions into Canadian society.
Huron University College in London, Ont. has already set an important example, offering $60,000 in scholarships to students affected by the overturn of the DACA program. At McGill, compensating for an increased number of transfer applicants when planning classes would allow for more space in programs to accommodate Dreamers. To further ease the transition, McGill students can start groups that lobby the administration to take action and recognize the unique circumstances of Dreamers and work to welcome them into the McGill community. By removing barriers to Dreamers’ enrollment in Canadian universities, Canadians can help to reverse the damage being done by the Trump Administration, and help to give these young adults a third chance at a future. Those who have already dedicated their time and energy into their schooling have a right to finish their education.
Morally, Canadians need to recognize the inherent abuse of power in the argument that the Canadian government should be highly selective in choosing which Dreamers have sufficient test scores or employability, and thus the right to immigrate to Canada. All should have the opportunity to apply and be fairly considered, without the constant paranoia of fitting narrow acceptance criteria. While, opposers of immigration harshly critique prioritizing citizens of other countries over born Canadians, its supporters argue that it is necessary for growth. What critics must recognize is the need for empathy, and to recognize the injustice that will occur if Canada does not provide social and economic opportunities.
Given that none of these individuals have criminal records, nor histories of violence, they deserve the opportunity to continue on their quest to achieve their goals, just like those fortunate enough to be born in Canada. Canada and its universities have the capacity to welcome Dreamers, and as a country that prides itself on compassion and diversity, we have a responsibility to protect the dream that Donald Trump is so desperately trying to crush.
Republished under arrangement with the McGill Tribune.
Commentary by: William Gee Wong in Oakland, CA
My father came to America from China in 1912, the 30th year of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and somehow he was able to get in legally even though he, uh, didn’t tell the whole truth.
The three generations of Gees and Wongs that are his legacy are so grateful he was able to skirt the dreaded, racist Exclusion Act, and that he didn’t try to come here under the Trump Administration’s immigration proposal.
In his mid-teens, Pop, as I called him, was not well educated. He was not well off. He did not speak English. Those are the principal requirements of what the Trump administration wants our future immigration policy to have.
Another is having a job. Pop would have qualified, maybe. He had work waiting for him as a lowly paid herbalist apprentice in Oakland, California’s Chinatown.
Pop’s immigration story was hardly unique. He and thousands of other Chinese immigrants were able to get into America despite the exclusion law that spanned from 1882 to 1943.
Many used the infamous “paper son” scheme. This was making false birthright claims made possible, in part, by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire that destroyed official records. Without records, the government could not legally counter the birthright claims of immigrants like Pop, who said he was a “son of a native,” a category exempt from the exclusion law.
Pop and other Chinese immigrants wanted desperately to come here, largely to escape the utter political, economic, and social turmoil of China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the republican revolution, civil wars, and in the 1930s, the Japanese invasion.
Here in America, because of yellow Jim Crow laws, they were forced to create parallel universes in the many Chinatowns in cities and towns, first in California and the west and eventually throughout America.
Ironically, those enclaves – ostracized, ignored, and targeted for violence as they sometimes were – nurtured self-reliance and survival skills that enabled Pop and his cohort to begin stable and useful lives for their descendants.
Their numbers were teeny. In 1880, just before Congress passed the exclusion law, Chinese were 0.0021 percent of the U.S. population. In 1940, just before its repeal, they were a barely measurable 0.0005 percent.
Supporters of the Trump immigration proposal deny its intent is racist against non-white people, but its effects, if ever enacted, could very well be. Why do the president and the Republican senators pushing this bill want to go backwards to a time when America was much whiter than it is today and going to be in the foreseeable future?
The Congressional debates over Chinese exclusion were blatantly and unapologetically racist. Example: Colorado Republican Senator Henry Teller in 1882 said, “The Caucasian race has the right, considering its superiority of intellectual force and mental vigor; to look down on every other branch of the human family…we are the superior race today. We are superior to the Chinese….”
Some of us descendants of so-called inferior races are worried that if President Trump gets his way on a new immigration policy as offered by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, America will look to the world as returning to the bad old days when white supremacy was thought to be the norm.
Pop probably didn't bother to think much about what American politicians believed. All he wanted was a better life for his growing family. He had three daughters born in China, and three more plus me born in Oakland.
One goal of the immigration bill is to decrease family reunification. A positive feature of the 1965 immigration reform was its family preference provisions that allowed immigrants to bring in members of his or her families. That feature has propelled the growth of immigrant families, especially from Latin America and Asia. Perhaps that is what repels Trump and his backward-looking supporters.
Pop worked hard to provide for his family in Oakland. He learned to speak, read, and write English at Lincoln School, where he graduated from the eighth grade as a 20-something. Besides his herbalist job, he peddled produce in a truck, ran grocery stores and restaurants, and worked as a welder at a Bay Area shipyard during World War II.
Oh, yeah: he ran an illegal business as well, in the 1930s. He sold lottery tickets in Chinatown when such a business was against the law. Many other Chinatown families did the same. After all, this was during the Great Depression, and local police and politicians took bribes to allow the trade to thrive into the 1950s.
To his last days in the summer of 1961, Pop felt he belonged in Chinatown but not in the wider white-dominated society. I, on the other hand, along with my sisters and our extended families feel we are as American as anyone else, regardless of racial or ethnic background.
Let’s hope that what the Trump-backed Cotton-Perdue proposal wants to do never happens, and that wiser and more humane lawmakers create immigration policies that make all of us feel as though we belong here in America.
William Gee Wong is the author of Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America (Temple University Press, 2001) and is currently writing a book about his father. This article was republished under arrangement with New America Media.
Commentary by Hasan Zillur Rahim in San Jose
The pickup truck was following her. Dr. Sarah felt nervous but tried to convince herself it was just her imagination. He couldn’t possible know she was a Muslim, particularly since she was not wearing the optional hijab, the traditional Islamic head-cover to indicate modesty.
She pulled into the parking lot and got out of her car. The pickup slowed. As she crossed the street to get to her office, the driver, a middle-aged white man, rolled down the window and screamed at her: “Go back home!”
The heat of the man’s hate felt as if it were burning a hole in the back of her head. She ran to the safety of her hospital.
Dr. Sarah was born in Chicago to Muslim parents. After receiving a doctorate in psychology, she began working at a hospital in Silicon Valley in the pain management department as a psychologist, a job in which she has flourished for over a decade. When she reported the incident to her concerned supervisor, she advised her not to drive alone for a few weeks.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Trump has indeed loosened the shackles of bigotry among his supporters, emboldening them to threaten those who don’t look like them.[/quote]
A week earlier, an engineer of Asian background, an American citizen, was confronted in the parking lot of a grocery store in San Jose by a driver who screamed: “Go back to where you came from.”
For many residents, the sprouting of bigotry in what is the heart of Silicon Valley, with a diversity of culture, religion and ethnicity rare in the world, is shocking.
“Before, I used to call my friends and relatives in India to ask if they were okay,” said Assemblyman Ash Kalra during a rally organized in response to the growing climate of fear following the election. “Now they call me to inquire if I am safe in Trump’s America!”
Trump has indeed loosened the shackles of bigotry among his supporters, emboldening them to threaten those who don’t look like them, and to hurl insults like, “Go back to where you came from!”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported harassment and threats targeting Muslim women and children in Minnesota, North Carolina, New York and California in just the past two weeks alone.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 hate incidents in the ten days after Trump’s win in November. The advocacy group South Asians Leading Together (SAALT) put out a report in January that documented 207 hate incidents targeting South Asians, Muslims and Middle Easterners in 2016. The report noted the climate resembled the months following the 9/11 attacks, and attributed the spike in hate to campaign rhetoric during the 2016 race.
Here in San Jose, police documeted four cases of crimes targeting Muslims in 2016. There were no cases prior in the years going back to 2011. Experts say the numbers are misleading, and that because victms are often reluctant to come forward, due to cultural or linguistic barriers, or because they are scared, the figures could be higher.
One of those cases involved the Evergreen Islamic Center, where a letter was received just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday that read, in part: “There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He is going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And he’s going to start with you Muslims.” The letter went on to make reference to Nazi Germany, saying Trump would “do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”
Still, despite the rising tide of Islamophobia, something remarkable began to happen among members of the local Muslim community in the days and weeks following Trump’s win. Having learned in the aftermath of 9/11 that a culture of shame and silence only promoted the politics of fear, area Muslims instead started forging bonds with community residents at a grass-roots level.
Several members of Evergreen (myself included) joined “Indivisible East San Jose,” one of nearly 6,000 ‘Indivisible’ groups that sprang up across the nation as a response and resistance to Trump’s presidency.
Meeting once every month, members knock on doors in San Jose’s depressed areas, informing undocumented workers, for example, of their rights if ICE shows up and the availability of free legal help. A few families in dire straits have been escorted to sanctuaries in synagogues and churches.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Evergreen teamed up with local Christians and Jews as members of “Abrahamic Alliance” at a church to prepare meals for the homeless. For most, this was their first experience with a soup kitchen. Many were shocked to find that in one of the most prosperous areas in the world, there were people for whom a decent meal and a bed to sleep on are luxuries often beyond reach.
As remarkable is the growing outreach and solidarity extended to area Muslims from other immigrant communities. There have been several marches staged to commemorate the Japanese internment and to draw connections between that dark period in U.S. history and its echo against Muslims in Trump’s time. Meetings were held with Internment survivors who spoke of the importance of resistance.
Then there are the acts of individual kindness.
“Just think about it,” said Peggy, who drove an hour from the city of Santa Cruz with several friends in a show of solidarity with Evergreen following the recent threats. “Would we have even met if it were not for Trump? No! This is the silver lining in the dark cloud that hangs over our nation now.”
For local Muslims, the bridges now being formed in the era of Trump are a case of serendipity, the unintended but cathartic consequences of hate.
Hasan Zillur Rahim wrote this story with support from New America Media’s Tracking Hate Fellowship program. Rahim is a professor of mathematics at San Jose City College and the Outreach Director of the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose.
Republished in partnership with New America Media.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
For many Sikhs in Canada today, the Komagata Maru incident still looms large in our consciousness.
For anyone not familiar with this event in our nation’s history, in May 1914 the Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong bound for Vancouver, carrying 376 passengers. Most of the passengers were from the Punjab, India. All were British subjects.
At that time, Canada had a regulation referred to as “continuous passage” which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship."
The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 to curb Indian immigration to Canada. The passengers on the ship intended to challenge this regulation. On their arrival, the ship was denied docking privileges, and eventually the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military in July 1914 and forced to sail back to India, where 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.
The Komagata Maru story is an example of what was then the ultimate expression of colonial bigotry, exposing Canada’s deliberate process in controlling immigration by excluding those people the government of the day deemed unfit to enter. These justifications were couched in racist and ethnocentric views of "progress", "civilization", and "suitability" which all were used to support the view that Canada should remain a "White Man's Country".
In terms of immigration policy, the Canada of today is the complete opposite of still colonial pre-World War I Canada.
Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that our borders are open to anyone. But this “openness” is now being tested. Refugee claimants reacting to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stand on immigration have begun to head north to what they may see as greener, more accepting pastures. They are now daily crossings at the border, flouting the Canada – U.S. “Safe Third Country Agreement”, under which refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first "safe" country they arrive in.
In landing in the U.S., but crossing our border as refugees, they are in fact breaking the law and this has become a difficult situation for Prime Minister Trudeau, while simultaneously making many Canadians very uneasy.
Many of us applauded our new government’s efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. I believe a big part of the general acceptance of this policy was rooted in public perception that the process was well organized, refugee claimants were thoroughly screened and upon arrival the housing, schooling and other necessary supports were well in place. The latest development is the opposite of organized, with claimants crossing Canada’s porous and largely uncontrolled border with no pre-screening and no homes and sponsors waiting to receive them.
Canadians are now watching to see how our government will react to this new refugee situation. If Canada does not exert its sovereignty, honour the Safe Third Country Agreement, and deter these opportunistic attempts at what can only be seen as “shopping for a yes” by claimants, this trickle will become a wave.
Canada is ill prepared for uncontrolled refugee claimants streaming into this country, and I believe the majority of Canadians expect our government to act in Canada’s best interest. This means not merely reacting to claimants crossing our borders, but to act by deterring it. We are a country that values fair process and the rule of law.
Today, Canada has a compassionate, principled approach to both immigration and refugees. Our government’s inability to control this developing situation may ultimately do harm to our current refugee system, ultimately causing Canadians to have a lack of faith in the system, and ultimately in the government that is charged with managing it.
Prime Minister Trudeau will need to step outside of his comfort zone and put in place firm measures to respond to this looming crisis. At times like these, his usual “sunny ways” approach will have to give way to more firm leadership.
The Prime Minister is being tested here, and his next move may finally provide Canadians with a true indication of just how fit to lead Justin Trudeau really is.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
By Jeremy J. Nuttall for TheTyee.ca
Residents of a small town in southern Quebec gathered Sunday to try and make sense of their hot spot status in Donald Trump’s new world order.
Hemmingford, Quebec is one of the few places in Canada on the front lines of an influx of refugees coming from the United States.
Representatives for police, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a group that helps refugees in nearby Montreal sat in front of a packed rec centre gym at an event organized by a local United church.
The town is near an increasingly popular place for refugee-status seekers to enter Canada without using a designated crossing. Doing so is illegal under the Customs Act. But if they were to cross into Canada at a legal crossing, they would be sent back under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugees to seek status in their first safe country of entry.
Some who arrive at Hemmingford are reported to have wanted to live in the U.S. but were denied status there. Others intended to end up in Canada, but entered the U.S. first because there they could obtain a visa more easily.
In Hemmingford last month, a photo was taken of a Mountie smiling as he held up a young child making her way into Canada with her family. Around the same time, other photos showed handcuffed refugees detained by Canadian police. Some are calling Hemmingford, population 808, a terminus in a new underground railroad.
As their home becomes known as a back door into Canada, Hemmingford residents Sunday displayed a relaxed attitude toward the situation, and many were at the meeting hoping to find out how they can help.
Happy to have them
Hélène Gravel lives at the end of one of the first driveways refugees pass after they cross the rusty gate and ditch near a white marker signifying the international boundary between Canada and the U.S.
The crossing sits at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, about 10 kilometres from Hemmingford, where Roxham Road crosses into the U.S. near Champlain, N.Y.
There’s no Statue of Liberty here, not even a plaque, just trees and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sitting in their vehicles waiting to arrest those crossing for breaching the Customs Act.
Gravel said it’s nothing new to see people crossing — she’s watched it happen for 20 years — but never like this.
“There were only a few people every year, but now it’s a lot every day,” she said.
Recently the Canadian government told journalists about 2,500 people crossed into Canada via Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. illegally in 2016, and since the beginning of this year alone there have been about 430 in those regions combined.
Almost 300 of those were in Quebec. Quebec borders have seen a 230 per cent increase in “irregular” border crossings over last January.
It used to be mostly young, single men who would cross, Gravel said. If they happened to see her they would ask if they had arrived in Canada. Now, she said, it’s families she sees being picked up by police and driven past her property.
She reckons many of them are leaving the United States fearing the Donald Trump administration as the president targets immigrants and refugees as a place to lay the blame for the nation’s woes.
Last Tuesday, during a speech to congress, Trump invited relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants as guests of the address and launched a website listing “victims of immigrant crime,” despite research showing immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.
On Monday, Trump announced tweaks to his travel ban after it was rejected by a judge last month.
But despite such moves by Trump and his loyalists, Gravel isn’t afraid of living metres from where these refugees come into the country. She’s actually tired of journalists knocking on her door asking her if she’s scared of them.
It is a bit too busy now though, Gravel said, stressing she’s happy to have the refugees come to Canada. She’s already lost one neighbour who no longer comes to his vacation property because the idling police vehicles and crossing refugees have become too much of an intrusion.
“It’s just a quiet place, we are not used to so many people,” she said, explaining she hopes Canada doesn’t establish any permanent processing centre at the crossing. “I live there because it’s quiet.”
Outpost for world’s troubles
It is indeed quiet.
Driving into Hemmingford is like entering a village arranged by a devoted collector of Lilliput Lane housing figurines.
Tall — but not too tall — hardwood trees hug the gutters of the road, giving way to gently sloped grass fields and carefully manicured properties.
A public outdoor skating rink slowly succumbs to the unseasonably warm March temperatures on the cusp of town. Residents stop reluctantly at the town’s lone blinking stoplight at its busiest intersection.
This is rural Quebec; a place for cows, apple cider and comfortable fall fashions. It’s not supposed to be a place where frightened refugees trudge their children across snow in biting cold fleeing a country threatening to send them back to places filled with violence and poverty.
Now Hemmingford has become connected to the world’s troubles as millions of people from places like Somalia and Syria roam outside their countries looking for help.
At Sunday’s rec centre meeting, experts explained why people are coming to Canada, more specifically, why they are coming to this tiny nook of the world.
It’s a matter of geography, RCMP Const. Marcel Pelletier told the crowd at the Hemmingford rec centre. Pelletier said it’s an easy place to cross, but most people using it are bound for places like Toronto, which is obstructed by the Great Lakes.
So, refugees make their way to Roxham Road instead, he said.
There is concern more people could make the trip as the weather warms and how Canada would handle a major influx, and what it would do with the people arrested after crossing.
Canada does hold some refugees, even refugee children, in detention centres, a practice Amnesty International has asked Ottawa to end.
Back at the rec centre, about 150 people who live along the road and in the area were more concerned about helping the refugees than keeping them out of the country or locking them up.
One asks Pelletier if it’s legal for her to feed or shelter people who have crossed illegally. He replies that he’d rather she call the police first.
Others are there to help in a joint letter writing exercise to Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, asking him to rescind the U.S.’s designation as a safe third country.
That would mean refugees wouldn’t have to cross a ditch and rusty gate to enter Canada. They could ask for protection at a legal border crossing and not risk braving the elements to cross in places like Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.
Among the audience on Sunday, knitting a scarf in the third row as she listens, is Jeanine Floyd, who immigrated to Canada herself from the United Kingdom years ago.
She remembers when crossing into the U.S. at the end of Roxham was child’s play for local kids.
“They would go down to the end of the road on their bicycles and they would dare each other to cross,” Floyd said. “This was the most exciting thing that would happen on Roxham, actually crossing the border to America.”
Now the border marker represents something other than fun and games as residents in the area worry about the suffering of those making the journey to the Canadian border.
They want to offer more than meaningless gestures to these people, Floyd says, suggesting that’s why people came together in Hemmingford Sunday.
“I think it’s just that pressure of wanting to fix it,” she says. Her tone goes dour. “We can’t fix it.”
Commentary by Andrew Lam in San Francisco
Recently all 10 of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) submitted their resignations to President Trump. The main reason: Trump’s policies have adversely affected Asian Americans in particular and minorities in general.
“We cannot serve under an administration that seeks to exclude members of our society or take away their rights, especially the Muslim community, which is very much part of our AAPI community,” stated former Commissioner Maulik Pancholy.
The Trump regime has gone against the basic principles in which the advisory committee was set up to perform: protecting the civil rights of all those living in the US, including the most vulnerable, and respecting the unique attributes of all individuals and communities, and ensuring linguistic, cultural, and financial access to health care as well as economic and educational opportunities for all.
In an open letter the Advisory Commissioners wrote to Trump, they noted that they “firmly believe these principles are fundamental to our nation and need to be implemented and enforced at all times.”
Bans on refugees and those coming from the seven predominantly Muslim countries have torn families apart, creating confusion about America’s immigration and visa policies and created tension with countries that it needs to understand better. And by singling out individuals, families and communities for their religious beliefs, the president’s advisory committee concluded, Trump’s actions “create a religion-based test for entry into our country and threaten freedom of religion, a fundamental constitutional right.”
Indeed, America is now at a crossroad. In one direction is a pluralistic society defined by openness and porous borders and the profound understanding that it has always depended and thrived on the energy, ideas and contributions of newcomers, reborn through their hope and optimism.
It is one where there is an explicit understanding that immigrants have always transformed the world they enter, and in time they also influence the world they left behind as well. They are arguably the most crucial part of globalization that integrated the modern world. After all, who were the pilgrims but not the original boat people?
Many refugees along with immigrants resettled in America. And they are far from being helpless. Take the Vietnamese community, for instance. Now, 1.5 million strong, it’s a global tribe and quite an influential one since the Vietnam War ended 42 years ago when the first wave of refugees stepped onto the American shore. They helped build Silicon Valley here in California and from the very start, stood in assembly lines when the first Apple computer was being built. Their children grew up and worked in high-tech companies as engineers and designers, and now many are owners of new start-ups and some are running for local political offices.
Immigrants and refugees come to America to remake themselves and America in turn is renewed by their energy and vision.
Alas, the United States is currently being ruled by a xenophobic White House as it seeks to strengthen law enforcement and going after its most vulnerable population. It is pushing the country down a dangerous path in which the American society becomes dangerously divided, with growing anger and rising racism, and a population that lives in constant fear of arrest and assault.
If America was once a country that opened its doors to immigrants and refugees, today its policies stand in stark contrast to its this tradition and its premise of open societies and sustainable, equitable growth undermined by ineptitude and barely veiled racist intentions. It’s a country in which the immigrant becomes the enemy. And those from the Middle East are automatic suspects, potential subjects for registration and targets for attention and abuse.
To be sure the voice of opposition to the Trump White House and its assaults on civil liberties are reassuring as are the numerous protests and the fights being waged demanding for balance in governance, and to protect the poor and the vulnerable. Town halls are full of angry, unsettled citizens demanding transparency and accountability.
“The question that confronts all Americans now as we put up barriers at the airports and build the wall is whether we are creating a prison for the rest of the world, or for us,” asked Doctor Tung Nguyen, one of the president’s committee member who recently resigned, and a former refugee from Vietnam.
For if the West extinguished itself as a beacon of hope, it will become its own misfortune as well. An America that practices intolerance is an America dangerous to its own citizenry, and to the world.
Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media in San Francisco and the author of “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees in San Francisco, “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” a book of essays on East-West relations, and a memoir, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.”
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America. With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past. As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.
Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts. But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government. First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto. In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.
Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized. Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."
This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament. Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”
Substance, not symbolism
While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest. It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.
Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.
I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.
President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Commentary by Andrew Lam in San Francisco
What is it like to be an immigrant in America these days? Is it still worth coming, you ask, and is the American dream still possible?
Your questions gave me pause. Who from Vietnam, after all, would have thought to ask them a few years back? Didn’t the American dream, or rather the dream of coming to America, cause the movement of millions in our homeland, and stir the soul of many millions more? It breaks my heart then to hear that you might not come. It is to me the worst news yet about my adopted country.
Yet it’s undeniable. The nation of immigrants is turning its back on immigrants once more. The immigrant’s hold on American soil has become increasingly tenuous. Even citizens now face a barrage of hate speech and many are being attacked in a rising wave of hate crimes. In schools, white students scream “build the wall” at their classmates who are Mexicans or Muslims.
“Build the wall” has become a racist mantra chanted by many around the country against non-whites.
Cousin, have you heard the metaphor of the canary in the coal mine? When it stops singing, it means the oxygen has run out, providing a warning to all.
In America, and in the context of a free and open society, often the immigrant is that canary. In economic down times he is often the first to be blamed. And amid the ongoing US war against terrorism, he is fast becoming a scapegoat.
After the 2016 election that ushered in Donald Trump as President of the United States, many hate-crime related incidents occurred in which the President’s name was invoked by the perpetrators, as if to sanction the violence and verbal abuse.
In the name of protection and security, immigrants’ rights are being eroded as I write. Foreign students and workers tremble. I’ve seen an old South Asian man whose hands shook at the airport when he gave his green card to immigration officers, fearing sudden arrest and deportation. I know an undocumented college student at Berkeley — he was brought to the US when he was three years old — who now fakes his address on any application for fear of being deported.
‘I have my hopes’
Yet I have my hopes. Americans rallied at airports in protest when Trump signed an executive order to keep certain groups of people out of the country, including green card holders. The protest against the new tyranny is strong and ongoing. I have hope to that the damage Trump is creating both at home and abroad can be mitigated by his growing unpopularity. After all, he is dismantling international institutions that have been in place since World War II, potentially returning the world to a state of competing nations with hard borders, high tariffs, trade wars, and gun boat diplomacy, turning against the forces of globalization.
And worse, in turning against America’s liberal values and our identity as a nation of immigrant, we are losing our strength in diversity.
Over the years I find it beneficial to look at this country through two different lenses: America versus the United States. The United States is a sovereign nation with permanent interests that is currently waging a war on terrorism. And it will trample upon innocents in its path, be it at home or abroad, if need be, in order to win it. In the process, the newcomer to this country, one without a voice and resources, often becomes collateral damage.
America, on the other hand, has everything you and I ever dreamed of: transparency, freedom, democracy, opportunity, due process, fair play and the promise of progress. America is where you work hard and earn respect.
The two versions exist in a kind of complex dance. In good times, America leads. In bad times, America is forgotten and the United States dances alone. These days, I fear that to be a patriotic immigrant is to love the ideals of America despite what the United States is doing in the name of security.
While I understand the logic of permanent interests, if America is destroyed in the process, then what is the use? And as far as I am concerned the only good patriotism is a civilized one. Blind patriotism always leads to bloody ends. To be patriotic is to dare ask questions. Must rights be abused in the name of security? Is it truly the country’s interest to demonize its minorities and its newcomers?
Dear cousin, I hope I haven’t completely frightened you, but the situation requires honesty. To reach American shores these days is a much more difficult undertaking, with fewer ready-made promises on the horizon.
I still want you to make this difficult journey, but you must be prepared for the challenges ahead. And I’ll let you in on a secret about this American dream you spoke so fondly of: it is you who must renew it. Without you, who dream the American dream, the country is in danger of becoming old. Without your energy, we would weaken. Even if we don’t know it yet, we all desperately need to be reborn through your eyes.
So, is the American Dream still alive? No, cousin, not really. Not without you at the table. Not without you prospering. Not without you.
Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media in San Francisco and the author of “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees in San Francisco, “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” a book of essays on East-West relations, and a memoir, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.” The letter above was originally written after 9/11 as an open letter to a relative who had worries about migrating to America.