They come all day, starting before full daylight. They come to the end of the road in taxis, or in beat up old cars driven by friends. They come alone sometimes, but usually in pairs or in families, often families with small children. When their transport has left, they gather their suitcases and cardboard boxes and struggle into the woods. Their goal is a shallow gully not far down the well-trodden path. With many a fearful glance behind them, looking for those who are out to intercept them, they reach the gully.
On the other side stands a uniformed police officer. He greets them politely. He tells them that they are about to cross an international border, and by so doing will have broken the law, and will be taken into custody. That is their plan. Being arrested on the other side is far preferable to the increasing levels of harassment, discrimination, forced deportation and overt bigotry they are experiencing on this side. And so they cross, relieved to be in a kinder country, and willingly submit themselves to its bureaucracy.
Here’s the kicker: these refugees are running away from the United States of America, seeking safety and a better future in Canada.
The scene just described plays out day after day at a sp0t in upstate New York, near Champlain, bordering on Quebec. The same thing is happening in many other places along the boundary all the way to the Pacific Coast, where the province of British Columbia reported a 78% increase in people seeking asylum last year. In 2017, more than 20,000 people crossed the Canadian line, some of them suffering from severe frostbite as they made the trek in mid-winter. They were Haitians, and Salvadorans, and Nigerians, mostly, with a smattering of people from all the other hell-holes of the world.
Buckminster Fuller famously observed that tourism kills what tourism touches. Likewise with migration. The kindest and most welcoming country in the world — you could argue that that is Canada — can stand to love their distressed neighbors only so much, for so long. When migrants begin to compete with natives for scarce resources (or simply seem to) the backlash begins, as it is beginning in Canada.
[For an exposition on this conundrum, please reconsider my June, 2015 piece on the clash between people fleeing Katrina and people unable to help them: “Coming Soon to Us All: The Choice Worse than Sophie’s”] It’s the problem of the small lifeboat next to the large sinking ship: take on more people than the lifeboat can carry and everyone dies.
Canadian immigration officials and politicians have begun talking tough to the fleeing masses. Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen (who entered the country an immigrant from Somalia when he was 16) said last month “We don’t want people to illegally enter our border, and doing so is not a free ticket to Canada. We are saying, ‘You will be apprehended, screened, detained, fingerprinted, and if you can’t establish a genuine claim, you will be denied refugee protection and removed.’ ”
Can it be long before a candidate for Canadian Prime Minister declares, “I’m gonna build a wall, and America is going to pay for it?”
No one can reasonably deny that the migration of desperate people over international boundaries is a large and growing problem for the world. The flood of refugees from North Africa northward threatens to destabilize many of the countries of Europe, even Germany. The problem is so thorny that it cannot be solved by any country alone. It requires the best efforts of everyone, as the United States has historically believed, and participated.
But now we have become just another country that motivates the “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free” (as it says on the Statue of Liberty) to risk their lives, and their childrens’ lives, to escape our tender mercies and fetch up on some other country’s shore. We ought to send some undocumented laborers to take that statue down, and cut it up for scrap. At least somebody would make a few bucks. And isn’t that what we now stand for in the world?