Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted.
Our work contracts out and we have to move on.
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
— Deportees, Woody Guthrie.
When Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to this song he was commenting on the plight of the migrant workers hired to pick fruit and vegetables along the American/Mexican border. The workers were not limited to only one geographical destination. They would be hired to work as far north as the Holland Marsh growing fields just outside of Toronto, Canada.
The practice of hiring “temporary labourers” on low paying contracts continued on into the 1960s until the United Farm Workers managed to organize the pickers and pressure the growers into providing living wages. Although this has alleviated the problems faced by the migrant workers, it has done nothing to relieve the illegal immigrant problem faced across North America.
While both Canada and the United States have laws that clearly define who is allowed to work in each country, it seems more and more people are looking for ways to circumvent the legislation in both countries. Whether it’s individuals or corporations, or the immigrants themselves lying about their status, they are all complicit in the commission of this crime.
For the employer there is the obvious advantage of not having to pay any benefits, or even comply with any local labour laws when it comes to hiring an illegal. The employee gets a much-needed job to keep themselves alive. The practice of hiring illegal workers has led to a thriving black market economy based on the smuggling of people across borders.
They get shipped to Canada as either stowaways in container bins or in the cargo hold, then are smuggled off the ships. From there they either disappear into the cities to work as slave labour for a number of years, or continue on down to the States via one of the various smuggling routes across the border.
Although this practice is bad enough on its own to be condemned, it has the unfortunate effect of tarring legitimate immigrants with the brush of illegality. For reasons that escape me, there has always been a degree of resentment in North America against immigrants. These cases of illegal immigration are fuel for people who position themselves against immigration.
Their arguments are aimed to appeal to our selfish and emotional aspects: they steal jobs from us, they are a drain on the public purse, and, the newest one, they may be terrorists. It leaves me wondering if any of these people have ever picked up a history book in their lives. Where would Canada and the United States be if it weren’t for immigration?
Four hundred years ago, in 1605, who actually lived here? Not us. It doesn’t matter if you can trace your family back to Champlain or the Mayflower; you are the descendant of immigrants. Talk about leeches on society – if it hadn’t been for the Indians, neither the early French settlers, or those folks who landed at Plymouth Rock, would have survived their first winters here.
Every person living in North America, even some Native Nations, is an immigrant from another country. Compared to civilizations around the world in fact, we are all recent arrivals. All of our families, no matter the ethnic background, face a period of adjustment lasting up to a generation in length if not sometimes longer.
Each new wave has received government support and sustenance of some sort or another. Whether homesteaders being give free acres of land and a couple head of cattle, or a refugee from some war torn country receiving the benefits of our social system, it all amounts to equivalent support. Times change and so do the means of supporting immigrants.
Canada and the United States have long declared themselves beacons of hope and freedom for the oppressed of the world.
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-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
These words engraved upon the base of the Statue of Liberty express the sentiments that our forebears presented as our face to the world – a haven and a refuge for those looking to begin a new life.
Wave upon wave of hopeful faces filled Ellis Island and the port of Halifax waiting to begin their new lives. Now Ellis Island stands empty and Halifax is unloading only goods. Today’s refugees land in our airports to be processed in antiseptic waiting rooms by uniformed guards who check that their paper work is all in order.
Automatically treated with suspision now instead of welcome, the difficult task of acclimatizing for a newcomer has been compounded by our attitudes. What has caused us to be so selfish that we don’t want to share those gifts that have been given our families? When and why did we start closing the door?
The first indications that circumstances were changing came as early as the 1930s when Jews fleeing Adolf Hittler’s Germany were being refused entry by the governments of both Canada and the United States. While no proof exists to support the theory, unfortunately nothing else makes sense, rampent anti-semitism among the elite of both countries has long been blamed for this travesty of justice.
Sadly this was only the onset of North American xeonophobia. Each new wave of immigration (going back to the 19th century head tax on Chinese immigrants) has been greeted with hostility, either through government edict or from people’s bigotry against something different.
One of the nastier examples of this in recent memory was in the 1970s in Toronto Ontario. Idi Amin Dada, dictator of Uganda, had decided to purge his country of all non-Africans. The result was that all people of Asian and Indian descent were forced to flee for their lives.
A sizeable chunk of these people ended up in Toronto. The majority of these people had been professionals back in their native Uganda, doctors, lawyers, etc., but here were forced to take menial jobs just to make ends meet. Typically the cry went up from the bigots that they were taking jobs away from Canadians.
The logic behind that arguement has always defeated me. If these jobs are available for someone to do, that means that no one else wants them. How many white anglo-saxons do you find in kitchens washing dishes and scrubbing the grease pits in a major metropolitan centre? Usually it’s some guy with a degree in nuculer physics whose has too much pride to go on welfare.
In Canada what strikes me as funny about the people who do most of the complaining is the fact that most of them haven’t held a job in ages. But these same people would never dream of doing anything like washing dishes, even though they aren’t qualified for much more. It’s a typical case of finding a scapegoat instead of accepting responsibility for your own situation.
When one travels across Canada out to the western provinces, it’s interesting to notice the makeup of various farming communities. There are whole towns that are of Ukrainion or other eastern European descent. Family groups and villages from the old country would come over here and be transported directly to the place we needed people to live the most.
It didn’t hurt that these people were from a similar climate as the praries, but it still serves as an example of how immigration has assisted in the development of our country. Without them Canada would never have achieved its goal of streching from sea to sea. There is no reason why this sort of directed immigration policy can’t be established again.
In Canada we are land rich and people poor. Currently we are in desperate need of population growth outside of the southern Ontaro and western Quebec corridor along the St. Lawrence river. Why not set up simillar programs as we had then to encourage populating our sparse landscape?
If we stopped treating immigration as a problem and a threat, and examined our own not-too-distant histories to see how it has benefited us in the past, I’m certain we could find a way to open our doors again. Once we did that it would certainly cut back on the illegal immigrant problem.
If we are serious about dealing with illegal immigration, than we need to make it as unprofitable as possible for companies who participate in the employment of those not eligable to work in our respective countries. Any corporation with any connection to the use of illegals, no matter how removed they claim to be, should be fined heavily and their excutives responsible for personal decisicons jailed.
Take, for example, the case of Walmart, who were accused of hiring illegals as cleaning staff. They defended themselves by claiming it was the contractor they used who was responsible. But since Walmart awarded the contract, probably based on the cheapest bid, it is still they who are responsible for who is working in their stores. They should be held accountable for their failure to do due diligence in the awarding of the contract.
Governments must lead the way in creating the means of ensuring the demise of traffic in humans. Offer amnesty to any illegal who is willing to give evidence against smugglers of human cargo. Local police forces need to strengthen their ties with immigrant communities so that they are treated as allies in the fight against this new form of slavery, not the enemy.
In the past few years, we in North America have learned just how precarious a place the world can be. One would have hoped that it would have increased our compassion for those fleeing strife-torn lands and desperate situations. Instead, we have given into our fears, whose flames have been fanned by the media and our politicians, and selfishly deny the succour given our families not so long ago.
What would have happened if the first nations’ people had let the settlers starve four hundred years ago? Would more settlements have been attempted, or would the whole thing been abandonded?
Obviously, we can only guess at the answers, but I would think if there had not been such a friendly welcome, neither country would have developed at the same rate of speed or in the same manner.
By allowing fear to dictate our lives and change the values that created these two great countries, we have lost the war on terror before it even got started. We only play into the hands of terrorists when we react in a bigoted and close minded manner. We’re better than that. Let’s prove it by opening our borders and our hearts to those who wish to escape terror and start their lives anew.
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: “The light from their endeavours will illuminate our place in the world.”