The Freedom Train is Leaving

Refugees from Syria on a freedom train to somewhere. Migrants like this all over the world are leaving countries where there is no hope of living a decent life, and they’ve added a new country to the list of those to be shunned. (Photo by

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?

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11 Responses to The Freedom Train is Leaving

  1. BC_EE says:


    I believe you are reading the Canadian press statement incorrectly. They are not starting a lean towards xenophobia aka the U.S. Perhaps you could be a victim of information bias; or, a national level of “projection”.

    Canada is making these statements to inform potential refugee claimants making their way to Canada that it is not a free ticket. We have laws too, and they will be FAIRLY processed. Heck, we have lots of room!

    But as one immigrant comedian put it, sure let them all in on one condition. First bring them all to Saskatoon in the middle of winter. Although, in reality I am amazed to see the immigrants from equatorial or African nations adapt so quickly to Winnipeg winters. (There is a reason we call it “Winterpeg”).

    What is the difference between the U.S. and Canada. The Analogy hat is coming on, oh, wait, ah there it is. The U.S. insists in a melting pot society and Canada does not. Think materials science. The U.S. melting pot is analogous to a material that tries line up all its molecules in a crystalline structure with the same orientation. Canada is like an amorphous material with the molecules going here and there.

    Although crystalline structures can be strong in one direction, they are very fragile in the other two planes. That is, they can be easily fractured. Amorphous materials tend to be resilient in all directions because there is not a common failure point.

    Back in my parents’ day Italians were reviled immigrants. Can you imagine that Italians? Ridiculous, but that’s the way it was in the early 1950’s. In my time it was East Indians. Now we have a Sikh leader of one of our major political parties. We are constantly in search of a good Indian restaurant. So the cycles continue. Next up, the current crop of immigrants deserving our approbation.

    To sum it up, Canada is only publicly notifying potential refugees of their actual rights and consequences as opposed to internet forum misinformation. They have held local information sessions in key areas of the U.S. to do the same. The positive side is Canada has set up “acceptance centres” to ensure these people do not unnecessarily suffer in the elements. They could enforce the rule of just turning them around as they would have to at an official border crossing point.

    No walls. If we do, it will be to keep out the hoards of Americans fleeing climate change consequences. But we won’t make them pick lettuce.

  2. Greg Knepp says:

    I know that your comment about the Statue of Liberty was tongue-in-cheek. Still, I’m somewhat dismayed about this business of the left-wing Ministry of Culture tearing down statues hither and yon deemed offensive to their finer sensibilities. What they did in Baltimore was terrible. And in Columbus there’s been some scuttlebutt about changing the name of the city so as not to offend the Native Americans. Are we becoming a nation of Red Guards?

    Also, as Corporatism replaces Nationalism as the organizational paradigm of the late industrial era, why, then, should we bother to secure national borders? Corporatism demands cheap labor; therefore, an open-border policy (de facto or otherwise) would seem to service the corporate governance model very nicely, thank you!

  3. For everyone crying about walls, consider the future alternative. Violent opposition to those already here. It would be less cruel to turn them away now while they still have choices.

  4. Dennis Mitchell says:

    Building a 12 billion dollar wall that could be defeated with a $20.00 rope is just stupid. What would work is punishing employers who hire illegals. Republicans would rather waste money on the wall, than risking disapproval from their corporate owners.

    • Rob Rhodes says:

      An open border policy would not serve corporatism. It wants not just workers but disenfranchised, powerless workers to do the jobs that cannot be exported and generally keep wages down. If open borders served corps. we would have them. They love the prison industrial complex thou- criminalize petty stuff, convict the poor and you’re through the loophole in the 13th Amendment. Slave labor right in the U.S.A.

      • Rob Rhodes says:

        Oops, this was supposed to reply to Greg Knepp.

        • Greg Knepp says:

          We’re not that far apart, Rob. The transition from Nationalism to Corporatism is still in progress. Corporate leaders must continue to pay lip service to the dying ‘civic religion’* of Nationalism – at least for the time being. This is why multi-nationalist big wigs sport flag pins on their lapels – one of many types of ritual manifestations of an evolving system. Old ways die hard…but the do die.

          *John Michael Greer

  5. Argentina , my country has been ill governed suffered military dictartorships , and have a weakness for the most stupid populism . But it has two envied conditions, its large and so far away that only our neighbours pour in and a third, that although there is some hunger, nobody can even if he wishes, die from hunger. The time will come when hungry europeans will pour in by the thousands as in the XIX century , driven by overcrowded countries and unpeyable living costs

  6. Karl Kolchak says:

    Two points:

    1). None of these immigrants would have to leave their home countries if the foreign policies of the U.S. (and Canada and Europe) weren’t turning their countries into hellholes either through military intervention, economic exploitation, or both.

    2). The only reason the government of the U.S. (and now Canada) allowed/allows unfettered immigration is to suppress wages and salaries. It certainly isn’t because they are great humanitarians.

    One can favor tighter border controls–along with the ending of foreign military adventures and the economic exploitation they promote–without at all being xenophobic or racist. In fact, it is those neoliberals who PROMOTE unfettered immigration and “free” trade who are doing the most to fan the flames of xenophobia and racism, which are always the end result when a country’s citizens feel their livelihoods are being stripped away from them.

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