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Todd: What Canada can learn from the U.S. migration crisis

Opinion: Whether it’s chaotic borders or a housing crisis, voters are realizing that innocent people can suffer when immigration policy is poorly written or not enforced.

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Innocent people suffer when immigration policy is poorly written or not applied.

An example of this is the southern border of the United States, where in the month of November alone 230,000 undocumented immigrants attempted to cross the arid international border, either surreptitiously or requesting asylum.

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Border chaos in the United States is the main threat to Democratic President Joe Biden winning re-election in November, paving the way for a second term for likely candidate Donald Trump. Polls show that the American public trusts Republicans to address border security by a whopping 30 percentage points.

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The absence of an orderly border is creating tragedy for many of the frantic undocumented immigrants, as well as indirect misery for the millions of people seriously struggling to start a new life in the United States through regular channels.

With migration arguably the biggest domestic problem in the United States, the Senate this week found itself locked in an all-out war over how to reinforce the southern border, where 6.3 million immigrants have been detained in the last three years. As negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate progress, billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine and Israel are also at stake.

Before I address Canada and explain why immigration issues are receiving much more attention here than in the past, I will share a recent experience we had about some of the disadvantages of the United States’ failed border system.

During a trip to Mexico we met a hardworking and conscientious young man who is trying to immigrate through formal channels to the United States, where his new wife was raised and continues to work.

Daniel (not his real name) has solid English, in part because he once studied the language in Vancouver. He is doing everything by the rules while applying for a US visa and eventually citizenship. But it seems like he’s taking forever. And he is costing him many pesos.

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Daniel knows that the U.S. immigration system is clogged with millions of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants taking desperate measures at the southern border, trying to enter from Mexico, South America and, increasingly, Russia, India and China.

And Daniel also knows that the border crisis is creating broader suspicions about the motives of people like him, who are trying to do everything honestly. Daniel is potential collateral damage of a failed immigration system in the US.

In Canada the major immigration problems are different. Because of our relatively secure sea and land borders, we are not overwhelmed by potential refugees, even though increasing numbers arrive each year, now around 140,000.

Unlike the United States, Canada’s worst example of political failure is entirely its own result.

It relates to how a record number of new permanent and non-permanent residents, 1.25 million, were brought to Canada in a recent one-year period. And how the average Canadian is realizing that increased demand is putting intense pressure on home prices and rents.

Newcomers themselves are among those suffering, especially the record number of nearly one million international students admitted in 2023, who arrived in Canada at a per capita rate six times that of the United States.

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Many are squeezing into expensive apartments. This week a story emerged in Brampton about 25 foreign students living in a basement. Many are also paying exorbitant fees to private, often marginal schools, while being exploited by employers seeking not only low-wage employees, but also meek workers. A report this week found that 91 Indian students had died in the past five years in Canada, some by suicide.

And although nine in 10 foreign students arrive with dreams of becoming permanent residents, according to Statistics Canada, experts say most will never win the immigration prize, which ends up being something of a lottery.

Just last month the Liberal government said it would put a cap on study visas.

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Migrants wait to be processed at a US border transit center after crossing from Mexico into Texas on December 20, 2023. Photo by FRANCOIS PICARD /AFP via Getty Images

Immigration policy has enormous political implications. And, for different reasons, Canada’s Liberals and America’s Democrats are losing votes on this issue.

In Canada it appears that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which since 2015 has championed increasing levels of migration as the key to national prosperity, is finally realizing that its methods are hurting it electorally. Trudeau’s Liberals have welcomed record numbers of immigrants and pushed the narrative that Canada’s French and English populations are plagued by intolerance.

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In the span of just eight months last year, the number of Canadians who say there are too many refugees coming to the country nearly doubled, to 46 per cent, according to surveys by Jack Jedwab of the Metropolis Institute. Half of Canadians also now think there are too many immigrants, and that number rises to 61 per cent among those with the lowest incomes.

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Source: Metropolis, Jack Jedwab.

As a result, liberals are struggling to change a decade of messaging.

This week, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said he would curb the country’s reliance on “cheap labor” provided by foreign workers and international students. Last month it introduced a cap on foreign student visas, reducing them by 35 percent for this year.

Miller will soon announce more changes to restrict students’ off-campus work hours and is also reviewing the country’s temporary foreign worker program. Added to this is the fact that the Liberals declared this month that they would extend their loophole-filled ban on foreign home ownership.

It remains to be seen if anything actually comes of the Ottawa announcements. But the harsh reality is that polls are making liberals and Democrats open their eyes to how a more balanced immigration policy and a more orderly system are keys to electoral success.

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What does that mean for the United States? It points to the need for Biden to move toward the middle: beefing up border security and streamlining the official immigration process.

For Canada it means that the minority Liberal government, supported by the NDP, has to learn, as economists have long warned, to stop claiming that having the highest migration rates in the world will be an economic panacea.

Achieving prosperity for all, including newcomers, is much more complex than that.

dtodd@postmedia.com

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