Immigration Controls Fail When People Can Walk Across the Border

Well-managed immigration is hugely important to the success of Canada, and even more so to the viability of the Atlantic provinces.

After an exceptional year in 2016, due in part to Syrian refugees, we have had 2,340 immigrants in the first half of 2017. This is good but needs to be better.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, launched this year, will allow Nova Scotia up to 790 additional immigrants, plus families. There are more than 160 employers who have been certified as needing workers that cannot be found in Canada.

More than 60 candidates have already accepted job offers, most in the high-skilled category. Even better, half of them are finding positions outside of Halifax.

As this example shows, both the numbers and the qualifications of new immigrants are tightly managed.

Canada also takes refugees. In almost all cases these must arrive by plane, having been pre-screened for eligibility based on the risk of persecution in their home country. The numbers are limited, simply by limiting the resources available to do that pre-screening.

Sometimes we make an extra effort. It took a year longer than promised, but by the end of 2016 we had received 25,000 government-supported Syrian refugees, together with 15,000 who were privately sponsored.

The box having been ticked on that promise, and the photo-ops having been recorded, the government abruptly reverted to its usual glacial pace, even though there are still millions in need in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Canada has land borders with only one country. That has enabled Canada’s system for refugees and other immigrants to carefully select who gets to come here. Until now.

The Trump administration has been visibly hostile to immigrants, particularly from Muslim countries. That prompted a trickle of Muslims to begin crossing into Canada at unofficial crossing points last winter, mostly in Manitoba and Quebec.

The Americans admitted and granted temporary protected status to 60,000 Haitians after the devastating earthquake in 2010. Now they are warning the Haitians that they will be deported if they don’t leave by January.

The winter trickle has become a summer flood with upwards of 150 a day, mostly Haitians, crossing illegally into Quebec. That is not all. The temporary protected status for 86,000 Hondurans and 260,000 El Salvadorans also expires early next year.

Trump’s fulminations against illegal Mexican immigrants could multiply those numbers tenfold.

With proper screening, none of these are likely to represent a security risk to Canada. But they are economic migrants hoping for better job prospects than are available in their home countries. They are not refugees fleeing systematic oppression. Nor do they necessarily have the skills needed by our economy.

If applying from outside the country, most would be unlikely to qualify as refugees or for any of our regular immigration programs, and they would be required to wait in line if they did.

Canada is a generous but selective receiver of immigrants, planning to take 300,000 this year. Most Canadians are supportive. But that support will be at risk if the carefully controlled system is breached.

Germany extended a generous welcome to Syrians and others until it was overwhelmed by close to a million arrivals in less than a year. Attitudes quickly hardened.

On the present course, we will be giving priority processing to the illegal border crossers while excluding from consideration millions of Syrians, Sudanese, and others who are at much greater personal risk.

In January, Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

These are nice sentiments, but at the same time the government reduced the quota for refugees in 2017 by almost 50%. That is easy to do when the only way to get here is by plane.

But if there is both a perceived need to escape the United States, and the opportunity to walk across the border into Canada, it becomes impossible to control numbers.

Some people were willing to cross illegally during the depths of a Manitoba winter. It is then no surprise that far more are willing to come in tee-shirt weather. The government should have seen this coming.

At 150 per day we will receive over 50,000 unplanned-for immigrants in a year. It might slow after the current rush, but it might go much higher. Quebec’s Minister of Immigration says they are coping, but the system could soon be overwhelmed.

The federal Liberals need a contingency plan for turning back or sending back economic migrants walking into Canada illegally. We otherwise risk losing the popular support for an immigration program that is important to our future, while further reducing the chances for legitimate refugees to reach our shores.

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