US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Learn about immigration from Canada

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

After the elections, it became quite clear that there is little hope for comprehensive immigration reform in the next congress (see previous post). Still there might be hope for some parts of reform—besides the wall at the border—in the Dream Act and the AgJobs Bill. As a consequence, some immigration advocates are looking for new ideas in unfamiliar places—Canada, for instance.

It’s not that Canadians haven’t had their bouts of nativism or resentments over language. Language (French versus English) almost tore the country apart. Nor have they been without their share of racial exclusion; until after World War II there was a definite preference for Europeans and restrictions on Asian immigrants. Still Canada has generally been more welcoming to immigrants than the United States, the New York Times reports.

Obviously, there are real differences in the current immigration situation for Canada and the United States. For one thing their 2,000 mile border is not with Mexico. Americans aren’t trekking across the snowy wilderness of North Dakota as Mexicans are across the Arizona desert. The scale of unauthorized entry to Canada is minuscule by comparison.

Most migrants come with better education and more skills and the country can turn them into useful employees quickly. Still the number of immigrants are probably higher in proportion to total population than here and shows greater ethnic diversity. And, above all, Canadians very positively welcome them—even the unskilled.

Each province of Canada has a minister for immigrants or its equivalent (except Quebec). There are programs to assimilate the immigrant that are more extensive and better funded than those in the United States. The immigrant is subscribed into the nation’s health plan, has resettlement aid, English and civic classes, help to find employment. This generosity to the immigrant comes not only from Canada’s kindness to strangers, but also from a recognized need for skilled and unskilled labor to develop the country.

That’s precisely why some are looking to Canada for ideas on reforming an immigration system that all recognize as “broken.” Absolutist remedies like “throwing all the illegals out” or even a more modest “slamming the doors shut” to new entries won’t work because we need immigrant labor as much as the Canadians—whether they are engineers, farm workers, or service industry personnel.

Canada has developed a point system that assesses the country’s need for skills and labor on one hand and what the immigrant brings on the other. Some advocates are proposing a similar system for our needs. The AgJobs bill tries to do that here for agriculture.

But I don’t think the mood of the country is as clear-sighted and rational as Canada. Like Europeans, we are more captive to our fear of the threat the immigrant poses than we are open to the mutual benefit we might get in welcoming them.

The American people have always gone through periods of welcoming and rejecting the immigrant, and this seems to be a period of rejection. Let’s hope those who read the demographics of this country—the aging of American workers and population generally—will recognize in the immigrants and their children a great contribution to the future growth. It’s worked for us in the past and seems to be working for the Canadians now. That’s Old Testament wisdom: Welcome the stranger. It’s in your own best interest.