Canada’s Prime Minister, local immigration policy experts show us what a commitment to freedom and opportunity is really about
The United States has had, at best, a mixed history when it comes to the issue of human migration. The nation was founded, of course, by migrants seeking freedom and opportunity who, at the same time, had little compunction about seizing the land and ending the freedom of the human beings who were here first or building the country, in great measure, on the backs of millions of African slaves.
In the centuries that have passed since those great original sins, the pattern of hopeful promise combined with horrific exploitation and exclusion has held.
In the 19th Century, America was both the refuge for millions seeking to escape European famines and exploitation and a nation that could pass a law excluding an entire ethnic population. At the start of the 20th, the nation welcomed a new flood of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere and then followed it up with a binge of persecution and paranoia in the aftermath of World War I. Two decades later, Americans provided sanctuary for thousands of refugees seeking to escape fascism and Nazism even as it was imprisoning thousands of its own citizens in concentration camps because of their national heritage.
Since then, sadly, the pattern has held. One day the nation is giving wing to the better angels of its nature by welcoming millions of migrants from Mexico and Central America and electing the son of a Kenyan professor its President and the next day, powerful forces are plotting to send the migrants home, smearing that same President with wild and absurd race and religion-based allegations and contemplating a religion test for new immigrants.
Perhaps not surprisingly, but frustratingly nonetheless, this pattern has been on full display in North Carolina of late. Even as activists and prominent religious leaders in Greensboro and Raleigh have held interfaith events to build bridges and combat discrimination, elected officials and fear mongers have lobbed ridiculous allegations and promoted hatred and paranoia.
From Governor Pat McCrory’s know-nothing statements on Syrian refugees to the latest hateful and Islamophobic diatribe from his close buddy, Franklin Graham, North Carolina’s right wing has been on a roll of late. Check out the nonsensical imaginings coming out of the Pope-Civitas Institute in its end-of-the-year fundraising appeal:
“Dear Fellow Conservative,
Our country is experiencing some of the most serious threats we have ever faced:
…Unchecked illegal immigration and now possibly terrorists coming in legally
…College campuses besieged by angry and hypersensitive Leftists
…Lawless government run amok in Washington
…Foreign policy that appeases our enemies and stiff-arms our friends
All of this is encouraged by the Obama Administration.”
Looking north of the border for a better model
In such a tumultuous time, it would be easy to feel despair for our state, country and planet. With even President Obama somewhat muted and constrained by his snarling, acid-tongued critics, it’s been difficult of late to identify leaders willing to combat the religious fundamentalism and destructive nationalism at work in the world with policies of unabashed love, inclusion and peace.
Enter the new Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. This is from last Friday’s New York Times:
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted a planeload of weary Syrian refugees landing in Toronto early Friday, telling the first to disembark that ‘you’re safe at home now’ as he handed them winter coats.
‘Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada,’ Mr. Trudeau told government employees gathered at the airport.
‘This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult straits,’ the prime minister said.
The Canadian public’s widespread embrace of a plan to accept thousands of Syrians stands in stark contrast to the controversy over the issue in the United States, where many politicians have called for restrictions or outright bans on the refugees.
Opposition parties in Canada, including the recently defeated Conservatives, have quibbled over timing and details, but there is no significant opposition in the country to the overall aim of accepting at least 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.”
You can watch some of the highlights of Mr. Trudeau’s heartwarming and inspiring act and remarks by clicking on the link above to the Times story. Would that Governor McCrory, Mr. Graham and some of their loudmouth friends would do so and hear these words:
“Tonight, they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada, with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with the opportunity to become full Canadians. This is something we’re able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians, but people around the world, share.”
Bringing the message home
And when the Governor, Graham and the others get finished watching and digesting Trudeau’s marvelous demonstration of what leadership is all about, they would also do well to take a few more minutes to watch a video sourced a little closer to home – last week’s N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation in which a pair of experts held forth on immigrants and immigration in North Carolina.
In it, they’ll see economist Patrick McHugh of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center explain why immigrants have been not just important, but absolutely essential to the economy of North Carolina in recent years. As McHugh explains in reviewing some of the data from his report from earlier this year, “Smart Choices in an Era of Migration,” the North Carolina counties with higher immigrant populations have more economic activity, higher average wages and lower unemployment. What’s more, they’ll hear him expand on this remarkable fact that from 2000 to 2013, immigrants accounted for more than 80% of the growth in Main Street businesses in North Carolina.
McCrory and Graham will also hear and see one of North Carolina’s leading advocates for immigrant rights, N.C. Justice Center attorney Raul Pinto, detail the damage that North Carolina’s new pro-exclusion law for immigrants (House Bill 318 – i.e. the ridiculously misnamed “Protect North Carolina Workers Act”) is wreaking by driving immigrants back into the shadows. They’ll also see Pinto explain how other states – even very conservative ones like Utah – are pursuing a vastly different path by leaving immigration law to the federal government and, instead, focusing on the health, safety and education of all people living in their jurisdictions.
And, finally, after they’re done with the videos, perhaps McCrory, Graham and their buddies can take a quick Christmastime refresher course in the meaning of “liberty” – that word that the Right loves to bandy about when it’s obsessing about taxes on rich guys, but tends to get amnesia over when the subject is those who are suffering. They’ll find the reading material on a tablet affixed to a national symbol that happens to be named for the idea. It goes like this:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”