“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”
The historical narrative of North America is built on immigration. Both Canada and United States, and Mexico, for that matter, are largely populated by the sons, daughters, and other descendants of individuals and families who at one point made a major life decision to seek a new and better life far from home.
For many, this continent became their home away from home. The closing words of The New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 and placed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour, became a mantra:
“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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But these lines, which informed public policy for generations, have now officially been tossed aside.
The nefarious actions of the newly-inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump could not be more at odds with what the U.S. has historically purported to be. Trump’s executive order banning all entry to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries is at the very least mean-spirited. It is also confusing and chaotic, deliberately so. The ostensible purpose of ‘Protecting the nation’ is also undermined by the very order contained in the text.
Over the past week, sober-minded politicians (including Democrats and Republicans south of the border, as well as politicians of all stripes here in Canada) have pointed out various cases in which the new policy makes no sense from a national security point of view, and is cruel in its creation and implementation.
The contrast with Canada could not be more stark. While the reactionary bigots that have taken office in Washington were ruining lives and careers at the stroke of a pen, Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, was barely getting used to his new top-level cabinet role in Ottawa.
Mr Hussen, who has been impressive in the early days of his new job, is a Somali refugee who obtained Canadian citizenship just 15 years ago. He is a dual citizen. Over the course of his academic, professional and public careers, he has shown himself to be a builder of bridges between communities. For example, under his leadership, the Canadian Somali Congress (CSC) partnered with the Canadian International Peace Project and Canadian Jewish Congress to establish the Canadian Somali-Jewish Mentorship Project.
And yet, this is the sort of individual now banned from entering the U.S. Somalis, together with Iranians, Iraqis, Libyans, Sudanese, Syrians and Yemenis, are now banned from entering the U.S., even if they have been granted a visa to enter that country (and yes, this means they have already been vetted). This affects students, workers, visitors, and others.
Throughout my life, I have met countless Americans who are open-minded and fair. I believe that such people make up the majority in the U.S. You only have to look at the reaction of some seasoned Republicans, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to see that Trump’s order does not have majority public support. Together with broad-level public outcry, I am hopeful that Trump’s policy will not be around for long.
Meanwhile, the government of Canada has set out measures to allow foreign nationals in Canada affected by the U.S. ban to apply for or extend their current temporary status, and work temporarily if they have no other means of support. Fees for these applications have been waived. In order to apply, individuals are required to meet Canada’s admissibility criteria and provide an explanation of how they are affected. The policy advises designated officers to “consider granting an exemption from the requirements of the [Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)] to foreign nationals from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq who are in Canada on or after January 27, 2017 and have been negatively impacted by the U.S. executive order.” The temporary public policy is currently in place until April 30, 2017.
Clearly, there continues to be a country on this continent that does live by the sentiment of The New Colossus. That country is Canada, and with a new immigration minister who has a positive personal narrative and altruistic nature, let us hope that those yearning to breathe free can find a home among us.