Brian Lee CrowleyCanadians’ openness to immigration is premised on an orderly and fair immigration system designed and run by Canadians in the interests of Canadians. Once people become convinced that system is being bypassed, the public’s support will be at risk, writes Brian Lee Crowley.

By Brian Lee Crowley, July 17, 2018

The Atlantic recently published a dewy-eyed account of Canada’s public support for immigration. This was compared favourably to other countries where “the fires of illiberal populism” burn.

Like most Canadians, I embrace that welcoming status quo and even though my family has been here for five generations, I never forget that this country took us in when we had nothing and gave us everything. I want more people to have those same opportunities.

Canadians’ openness to immigration, however, is no permanent fact or constitutional obligation. It is a vulnerable and changeable state of public opinion. The majority favours immigration, a sizable minority does not; a relatively small shift could undermine the reigning consensus.

That consensus is endangered by illegal border crossings by thousands of refugee claimants. Advocates of liberal immigration are foolish to downplay this danger.

Public support is premised on an orderly and fair immigration system designed and run by Canadians in the interests of Canadians. Once people become convinced that system is being bypassed, and that immigrants are increasingly self-selecting and queue-jumping, the public’s support will be at risk.

Look no farther than the U.S. for evidence. America, too, has always been a country of immigrants, but U.S. authorities increasingly lost control of the borders. The result: Americans found there were roughly 14 million people who were not chosen by U.S. authorities but had simply let themselves in. The public rebelled.

Canadians contemptuous of Americans’ recent hostility to illegal immigration should try this thought experiment: imagine a proportionate number of illegals in Canada, or about 1.4 million people, most of whom would be in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, competing for jobs, housing and social services. Immigration-friendly Canada would not survive.

That’s the danger represented by Roxham Rd. and other places where a steadily growing stream of people is entering Canada in defiance of the rules.

Don’t be distracted by the red herring that this is about “refugees,” not “immigration.” Under the Canadian rules we mostly choose which refugees to admit to Canada as much as we choose other kinds of immigrants. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise in the last election was not to admit the first 25,000 Syrian refugees to show up, but rather to speed up Canada’s process for choosing which refugees to admit.

It’s true, we don’t choose those who show up asking for asylum at the border. On the other hand we are under no international obligation to accept people who do so when they arrive from a country, like the U.S., where their life and liberty are not endangered and their refugee claim would be properly adjudicated. We rightly turn such people back.

Apologists for these illegal entrants to Canada rely on public distaste for President Donald Trump’s administration and its rhetoric around illegal immigration. But the U.S. remains a society governed by the rule of law. Until a Canadian court rules otherwise, it is reasonable and proper for Canada to turn back refugee claimants trying to enter from the U.S.

One government minister estimates as many as 90 per cent of those entering “irregularly” will eventually have their refugee claim rejected. Another source says two-thirds of Nigerian claimants are being rejected. Yet, as of last May, barely 1 per cent of the 26,000 who have entered since 2017 have been removed.

People cross illegally from the U.S. because they thereby evade Canada’s rules about turning back refugee claimants from that country. By accommodating them (with housing, social services and in many cases work permits) Ottawa is rewarding cheating by people who would be turned back at official border crossings. Many will turn out to be economic migrants masquerading as refugees to jump the queue at the expense of both taxpayers and those legitimate refugees and immigrants waiting to enter Canada.

Regardless of the share of these illegal entrants finally accepted as bona fide refugees, the fact is they are purposely doing an end run around the rules, causing us to lose control of the border. That is playing both with fire and with the liberal Canadian consensus on immigration.

Brian Lee Crowley is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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