By Don Thompson
I didn’t immigrate to Canada to escape murderous gangs, an oppressive government or religious persecution. I chose to come here…freely. I am not a person of colour, a woman, a member of the LGBTQ community. I had no children with an ache for a better life. I am, in fact, a member of the most privileged group in the world…an educated white man of means…from the United States.
That said, I have a deep and abiding empathy for refugees and immigrants who come to Canada and the United States…two countries I call home…for a better life.
My sensibilities are grounded on a pretty good sense of history – what immigrants contribute to the fabric of my two countries – and a willingness to seek facts rather than accept fiction from those whose attitude toward immigration is dictated by hate and fear.
Canada has an immigration policy…a plan. The United States does not. You might think the elected government officials in the U.S. would fully understand and appreciate the role of immigration. After all, America is largely built on the backs of immigrants…and slaves…well known facts.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump has a perverse sense of history…and not a single person around him will, well, you know…tell him the truth. There’s a plethora of proof of the man’s ignorance. Last March at a Republican Congressional Committee Dinner, Trump said this about Abraham Lincoln: “Great president. Most people don’t even know he was a Republican. Does anyone know? Lot of people don’t know that.” Doofus…almost everyone that paid attention in middle school knows that, Donald.
The differences in attitude and action between the United States and Canada on immigration are striking to say the least. Donald Trump’s Republicans stoke fears with lies…and try to make building a wall seem like policy. Canada’s Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has an actual plan…and it’s working.
A look at the two nation’s philosophical differences today is telling. Canada’s government welcomes immigrants…realizing that future prosperity relies on a steady influx of new Canadians. The U.S. government fears legal and undocumented immigrants…that seems to be the policy.
Facts should prevail in any argument…but Americans are told lies by Trump and his minions. Trump says immigrants are taking over…the truth is immigrants represent 13.5 percent of the American population…basically unchanged over the past 100 years.
American citizens don’t lose jobs to immigrants…immigrants often fill jobs most Americans don’t want. Trump says Americans are at risk of violence from immigrants…they are not. Both legal an undocumented immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes – violent or otherwise – than people born in the United States. I could go on with the Trump Administration lies…but I would have to double my column’s normal length.
Here, however, are some truths. The U.S. – like Canada – needs immigrants because of an ageing population. There is no immigration surge or emergency at the U.S. border with Mexico other than the humanitarian emergency caused by the Trump Administration.
Border crossings – legal and undocumented – are at all-time lows. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. More immigrants – by far – come from Asia than through the Mexican border…with 30 percent of U.S. immigrants coming from China.
Whether Alexander Graham Bell and Mike Lazaridis and Michaëlle Jean in Canada or Albert Einstein and Levi Strauss and Madeleine Albright in the U.S., the list of immigrants who made extraordinary contributions is staggering. Just as important are the millions of immigrants in both countries who might never be famous…moms and dads…hard working people…taxpayers…good citizens.
Last week, amid the news of parents cheating to get their kids in prestigious schools and Donald Trump failing to call out white nationalist terrorists once again, I read about an eight-year-old kid in New York City. He immigrated to America last year from Nigeria…with his mother, father and brother…to escape the persecution of Christians by Boko Haram terrorists.
The family lives in a homeless shelter now…but probably not for much longer. The parents are committed to a better, safer life…and becoming Americans. The father holds two jobs and pays taxes. I’m unsure whether Nigeria is one of Trump’s “s***hole” African countries – he prefers Norway – but this family would make good Americans.
The eight-year-old boy, Tanitoluwa Adewumi – Tani for short – took up chess when he came to America. And last week he won New York State’s Chess Championship for kids his age…he was undefeated.
He has no private chess coach like many who competed…he hasn’t played for three or four years like others…he has no life of privilege like many of his fellow competitors. He simply has a passion and a mind – sharp and mathematical – for his new-found game. Inspiring? Yes, without doubt.
I believe immigrants have a right to rights…the chance to change their lives…be safe, become productive members of society. And we owe it to them to help make their dreams come true. Don’t think for a moment that Canada and America cannot sort through the pretenders…the criminals that try to immigrate.
By far, most immigrants are not criminals. But will every criminal be caught? No, but we don’t catch tens of thousands more criminals born in America and Canada. Remember, too, America’s greatest terrorist threat the last 17 years has been from people born in America…most of them white nationalists.
Today, in Canada, we seem more likely to see the good in immigrants. In America, the Trump Administration seems to see a half-empty glass…or worse. America today doesn’t live up to the high-and-mighty words in the Bill of Rights or those engraved on the Statue of Liberty.
Canada accepts more immigrants and refugees than America per capita…about two and a half times as many.
Even so, things will change in America…it has zig-zagged toward a more perfect union for 243 years. There’s hope…there’s always hope and that hope is as real as the three-foot tall championship chess trophy eight-year-old Tani carted back to his homeless shelter in New York City last week.
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— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.