Immigration debate walled off by racism, unchecked ego and nostalgia

Critics point to Canada when charging that U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for a border wall is based on racism and xenophobia. If he’s really worried about who and what is coming into the country, they ask, why not a big, beautiful wall along the northern border? It’s certainly much easier to cr

Last updated on May 03, 23

Posted on Jan 24, 19

4 min read

Critics point to Canada when charging that U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for a border wall is based on racism and xenophobia. If he’s really worried about who and what is coming into the country, they ask, why not a big, beautiful wall along the northern border?

It’s certainly much easier to cross illegally from Canada than Mexico – at 8,800 kilometres, the border between our two countries is the longest and busiest land boundary on the planet, much of it largely unsecured due to our longstanding friendship and the sheer volume of logistical issues.

Clamping down would be a problem, as some 400,000 people and US$1.6 billion in goods cross each day, supporting millions of jobs on both sides.

The number of people caught trying to sneak into the U.S. from Canada is up dramatically, with a report last summer showing illegal crossings up 142 per cent (445 people versus 184) versus the same time period in 2017.

Notably, and perhaps ironically, about half of those attempting illegal entry into the U.S. from Canada 2016 were from Mexico. Given the more porous border, cheap flights to Toronto and Montreal and the lack of visa requirements for Mexicans visiting Canada, it’s perhaps no surprise that some are trying from this side as Trump focuses on the southern border.

The volumes in the north are much smaller, however. In 2016, the U.S. caught 2,300 illegal migrants who crossed from Canada; in the south, that number was 408,000.

Canada, meanwhile, is dealing with a massive increase in asylum seekers from the U.S. attempting to cross at unauthorized points, a reaction to Trump’s policies. Most are people worried about their status in an America increasingly divided and unstable. They’re flocking to Canada, particularly at points on the border south of Montreal, because they see a chance to latch on to generous welfare payments. Once on Canadian soil and claiming asylum, they have the right to a hearing, a process that can take months and years, all the while costing taxpayers a fortune.

When it comes to drugs, the volumes are also low when comparing Canada to the Mexican border. On that front, a wall is unlikely to make any difference, north or south. Even U.S. officials recognize that drugs tend to come through legal ports of entry, from the trunks of cars through to shipping containers. Trafficking is much more sophisticated than relying on some migrants on foot to cross surreptitiously via  swimming the Rio Grande.

Even in the case of desperate migrants, most simply show up at border crossings seeking asylum – see the much-hyped caravan bogeyman that led up to the U.S. midterm elections last fall – so a wall would make no difference whatsoever.

Few in the government, outside of Trump’s Twitter feed, of course, maintain that an actual physical wall would be either feasible or useful. For the Republican/Trump base who support the idea, a wall is really just a dog-whistle call for cracking down on brown people. For some, it’s outright racism. For others, there’s a fear of the changes brought by immigration, illegal or otherwise.

The Canadian border may be more porous – and Canada may be a conduit for “others” who’ve arrived from various international locations – but the north is still seen as white and Anglo, while points south of the U.S. are neither.

A wall very much demonstrates an “us vs. them” mentality, the most extreme practitioners being the most racist. A costly wall may not make any difference, but it would be a symbolic victory for those who form Trump’s base. And victory is at the heart of Trump’s stance in the prolonged government shutdown; above all else, he fears losing face, which is more important than doing what’s right for the public, employees and economy. His is a win-at-all-costs approach, though what constitutes a “win” is malleable in his version of reality.

A New York Times piece this week paints a picture of Trump as someone who will do anything to declare a win even when one doesn’t exit, a practice that goes back to his earliest days in business.

“As president, Mr. Trump has displayed a similar fixation in his standoff with Congress over leveraging a government shutdown to gain funding for a wall on the Mexican border. As he did during decades in business, Mr. Trump has insulted adversaries, undermined his aides, repeatedly changed course, extolled his primacy as a negotiator and induced chaos,” reads the article.

Having originally backed a deal to avoid a shutdown, Trump did what he often does: backed out and left his fellow Republicans in Congress holding the bag.

“Mr. Trump was expected to sign off on the deal, but then came the suggestion from conservative critics that he had caved in to Democrats – that he was a loser. It was a perception Mr. Trump could not bear, and he quickly reversed course.”

It’s all about perception.

Trump is not alone in that regard, of course. Many politicians are more concerned about image and optics than they are with actual issues and outcomes, let alone right and wrong. But Trump is a special case where even pragmatism is thrown out the window as he panders to the base, the whole base and nothing but the base.

In that, he’s made an already unworkable system worse, serving as a canary in a coal mine for the forms of populism on display elsewhere. The unworkable U.S. political system is the product of another kind of extremism, but mostly about tensions caused by shifting demographics and decaying economic situation. The most divisive sector is rightwing Christian fundamentalists – predominantly undereducated white people who see the country’s decline and think that rolling back the clock will make America great again.

Men were men. Women were women. Both were God-fearing. Minorities, including gays and lesbians, were largely out of sight. A high school education was enough to get a good job that bought you a home where you could raise your kids – after all, that’s where family values start.

A contingent of such people equate the civil rights movement, women’s liberation efforts, gay rights and a more permissive, relaxed society as the reason their country is going downhill. Immigrants are taking away jobs and destroying American culture, people of this mindset argue – Mexicans are an established target in this regard, now joined by Muslims.

There’s no turning back at this point, wall or no wall.

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