Life

A View On Borders, And The Migrants Between Them

AdrienPaci

‘Vite In Transito’, by Adrien Paci.

This isn’t satire.

One of the topics this site most frequently satirizes is the movement of people across international borders. Specifically, I do this from an angle that pokes at the anger and fear with which some citizens of Western nations greet or discuss those who would join their countries to try to build a better life; or by deriding the brand of political leader – increasingly common in the world today – who tries to inflame their voters’ distrust of others to fuel their own political ambitions.

Occasionally these posts strike a nerve with people who like these leaders, or dislike the idea of humanitarianism (especially when it’s hard), or both. Offended, these readers will sometimes challenge me on my views. While I frequently have to decline these invitations to debate, beginning as they often do with suggestions that I eat a large penis because I dared to suggest that people are of equal worth no matter where they are from, I thought I’d take a moment to state my general position on the subject here. This way in future I can just provide a link to this post, allowing me more time to shop online for the bags of dicks that I’ve been told I have to try.  

As a white kid from a middle-class, Canadian family, when I set out at 20 to see the world I was welcomed in every place I travelled to, frequently without needing a visa, and in many cases being allowed to work after a basic application process. Some places, like the Cayman Islands, St. Maarten, and Palma De Mallorca, Spain, I stayed in long enough to become an “expat”. That word has always rung strangely for me. Were I of a different colour, and from a different place, I would be called a migrant. If I were even allowed in at all.

As I still spend six months of the year working outside of Canada, by definition, I remain a migrant worker. But you wouldn’t assign that label to me because my hands lack callouses, and I sail through borders like a wealthy person enters Harrod’s. Like I belong. 

Over the years I’ve encountered my share of potentially serious issues at the boundaries of other countries, overstaying a visa in Vietnam, not having a pre-arranged one for Nepal, and arriving by boat into St. Lucia one evening too late to clear in, and then flying out the next morning for a family emergency before the custom’s house opened, just to name a few. But I’ve encountered no holding cells. I was pulled off no planes. These problems were all quickly resolved. That they wouldn’t have been had my passport said Syria, or Venezuela, or Sudan on the cover, has always seemed unjust. Because the particular parcel of land I landed in at birth has been able to maintain favourable relations with the other parcels of land – partly through foreign aid funded by an economy that is built primarily on selling that land’s resources, partly on being far enough from most conflicts to avoid taking offensively serious sides, and partly from having participated willingly when sides did have to be taken – I have been welcomed, and given a pass where others haven’t. And I’ve personally done as little to deserve that as the average Sudanese has contributed to their civil war. How have we, as a civilization, stood on the moon, but a given citizen’s ability to traverse from one place on this planet to another is still largely governed by sandbox politics beyond their control? 

mohammad oil paint on wood panel 2016

Mohammad, a refugee from Darfur, by Hannah Rose Thomas.

My position on the importance of migration is also informed by having grown up surrounded by signs of improvement. I was raised in an incredible place in Canada: Scarborough, Ontario. Best known for its massive parking lots, poor transit coverage, and undying strip malls, what makes Scarborough – and many Canadian suburbs – exceptional, is that it is populated by people from all over the world. Amongst my childhood friends things were as they are for all kids, with the occasional difference that made us all aware something special was happening there in our modest neighbourhoods. We rode bikes. We argued about who was which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. We skipped school to eat fries in suburban shopping plazas. And every year at school, when it would snow for the first time, I’d volunteer to be one of the students who got to take the newcomers, who had never seen the stuff before, outside to stand in the yard. There they’d raise their faces to the sky, mouths open as the flakes landed and melted on their more equatorially-accustomed tongues. A sharing thing, in the freshly paved and sodded vastness of a broad new nation.

What might surprise some, especially those who have lately harnessed the divisive language of difference to argue that this large, underpopulated country should only accept certain types of people, are that the newcomers I grew up with are today more Canadian – in the sense that this word is used in these discussions – than me. By a landslide. I’m a terrible skater, the worst skier who ever pointed waxed slats down a hill, and couldn’t name five Toronto Maple Leafs to save my life. Many of the kids I grew up with could do all three of these things with ease, and you know what else? They didn’t skip out on this country for a dozen years like I did, larking about on sailboats and surfboards while trying on other people’s accents. They stayed right here and finished their diplomas and degrees, got jobs, started companies, contributed to the economy, and sang the national anthem with gusto. They were super-double-plus Canadian. For those of you who are keeping score at home.

Additionally, my wife is an immigrant. But again, you’d be unlikely to call her that if you were describing her. She is white, and speaks with an English accent. You know, the one from our money. We met on a boat, and before we got married the conversation was never about which country would have either or both of us when we settled down. It was always about which country we would like to live in. That is an increasingly rare privilege in this world. One I believe everyone should get to enjoy. Some might respond to this by saying that letting anyone who wants to migrate do so, is asking too much. To that I say: Fine. But we should at least allow everyone who needs to.

refugeecrisis2018

Image by Else Dizioni, http://www.elsedizioni.com

This is my perspective on the migrant situation. I realize it’s a personal take, and that no matter how well I describe it, I am unlikely to affect other’s opinions with my experience. Which is why I would add that whether you are using your head, your heart, or both on this issue, welcoming newcomers to Canada – of all cultures and backgrounds, particularly those from the most desperate areas of the globe – is clearly the right thing to do.

From a simply analytical perspective the majority of Western nations currently have close-to, or less-than replacement birthrates. In a country like Canada, not bringing in new citizens from elsewhere is guaranteed to impact growth. That’s why even our Conservative governments allowed over 1/4 million people a year to immigrate here during their recent terms in power. And for those who rail about refugees and new arrivals simply looking to take from the system and replace Canadians in their jobs, this is factually untrue. Apart from generally not competing for the same positions as native workers in their new countries, immigrants are statistically more likely to engage in entrepreneurial job creation, and open up new markets for local businesses by working with their places of origin, as outlined in an article written by the Brookings Institute in June of this year, entitled, “Why accepting refugees is a win-win formula”.

Regarding the oft-stated concerns about global security, education and improved quality of life is the only permanently effective combatant of terrorism yet invented. The Troubles in Ireland ended when the jobs and prospects of Irish Catholics began to improve, and the presence of British troops were lessened. To put it brutally, and in the language of this decade: people with promising roads ahead of them generally aren’t that interested in blowing themselves up. There isn’t more violence in the Middle East and Africa because of their religions, or cultures. There’s more violence in those places because they are poor. And apart from being a morally-bereft position, relying on oceans and seas to keep them there no longer works. 

This is a good point to mention two things I have learned in my years of roaming around, one obvious, the other maybe a little less so. Everyone on earth is essentially the same in terms of basic motivations, hopes, and dreams. And only the most privileged of people leave home for fun. 

Helping migrants and refugees won’t open the flood gates, emptying Nigeria into England, or Yemen into Canada, or Honduras into the United States. The attachment we in the West feel for our homes is felt equally by everyone else on earth. Easing the current migration crisis and reducing the existing pressures that are driving people into leaking boats and tear-gassed caravans, is obviously a complex process. But two things that are clearly needed are: Astute, large-scale, proactive, and expeditious immigration policies to allow those from the developing world a clear avenue of access to the developed world. And properly enforced fair-business practices amongst our multinational companies to help ensure the economies of these countries become fully realized – and not just places where wealthy corporations from Western nations squeeze out profit for themselves and their shareholders, while leaving the local populace in poverty. 

Nationalism won’t do either of these things. Increasing border controls while not addressing the forces that drive people to them is as foolish as putting drywall over a leak in your ceiling without going upstairs to check on your neighbours. 

I would take the time here to offer a few pre-emptive rebuttals to the main arguments/responses I tend to get on these views, such as this being a form of virtue signalling (are we really at a stage where a substantial amount of people think accusing someone of asking for a fairer, more equitable society is an insult?) or the odd demand that – because of my stance on immigration – I must now be ready to invite strangers into my own home. A conflation that is similar to asking someone who is interested in having a barbecue if they plan on marrying all the guests – there are levels of intimacy involved that simply don’t compare. But perhaps that is all best left to open debate. 

So there you have it. My position, in general, for those who are interested. I’m happy to talk about how we can manage the details of this situation. But discussing if we even should, is as ridiculous to me as debating if we should rid the earth of trees to prevent forest fires, or whether the future really matters since we’ve only ever lived in the present. 

Writing can obviously be an exceptional vehicle for change, and I think satire – which is this site’s bread, butter, and plate – offers an especially powerful tool. That’s why I started this page, and while there is also plenty of unchallenging entertainment published here, I’m afraid that if that’s all you’re looking for, this small outlet will consistently disappoint you. There is, after all, so much in the world today that needs improving. The only way I can see that happening is if those of us who are fluent in the current language of power start speaking up. This is what I have to say. 

26 replies »

  1. Paul, you nailed it. Thank you from another middle class white guy baby boomer who wants his children to have a good life too, by embracing culture and diversity. Canada is the great hope- and articles like yours remind us of why that is, and should be. Keep reminding us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t agree with all of this words. Draw cartoons.
    Some of it makes sense. Saying “people are of equal worth” is placing a bottom valuation on people. You are not lifting anyone up by dragging us all down into wort. WE did not all ferment up to the moon as a civilization in a bubble. Cheers. Equality is not substitute for equinimity, Mr. BagoDick.
    Beer?
    Satire is your form. Leave the earnest preaching to the pros? I don’t know.
    ….. (need a joke that Paul Krassner would approve of…chuckle at..here goes)
    You places Trump in a bad suit… Talking about bags of dicks…are you a female porn star?

    Want to go drinking and tell each other skin yarns someday if Paul pays?

    Like

  3. Beautiful text, it made me ponder the hardness of my heart! And reminded me of all my undeserved privileges and that God would want me to share what he gave me with others in need!
    Thank you!

    Like

  4. Hey Paul, I stumbled on this blog quite by accident and feel privileged that I did! Thanks for all the humor and kind and thoughtful sharing! Now I”m off to share this with my Facebook family and friends. Please keep it going!

    Like

  5. Dear Satirist,

    1) Although (being rather conservative) I find most of your satires uncomfortable, I commend you for brilliant writing. I will continue to read them and maybe, like water on a stone, they’ll eventually drive me, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

    2) On the immigration issue, your basic point that immigration is a Good Thing is unquestionable. Unrestrained immigration, in my view, historically very materially contributed to the huge wealth explosions that characterized portions of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

    But our world is materially different now — particularly because of the material support given to residents by government. This was entirely lacking in the past resulting in huge suffering on the part of the immigrants until they found their economic base — and suffering on the part of prior residents who found their employment undercut by the immigrants and the absence of minimum wage laws.

    Today, then, it is particularly appropriate to select immigrants on the basis of how quickly they can become self supporting. My subjective view is that Canada does a reasonably good job in that regard.

    But it is perfectly reasonable to limit immigration to what can be absorbed/beneficial (realizing that reasonable people will differ on where that point is).

    But two other very distinct categories are relevant and often confused with the discussion of what I think of as appropriate levels of acceptable rule-abiding immigrants: refugees and “queue jumpers”.

    Yes, we have a moral duty to refugees (properly defined, excluding those merely looking for a better economic/social life) — not necessarily unlimited in numbers but certainly at numbers higher than we have been in the habit of admitting.

    No, we don’t have a moral duty to queue jumpers — although from a very practical perspective, a person who has the gumption to go through what queue jumpers go through to get here is probably a person who will become economically valuable very quickly.

    But being Canadian to the core (although born in England), I believe that complying with the rules until they are changed has a value in and of itself and must be honoured in the observance and not in the breach. Were it realistic, possible in practice or even legal constitutionally, I could contemplate a system permitting entry to all queue jumpers but denying them ANY governmental or social support until they had proved their value by becoming self-supporting and not needing it! Of course such a system meets none of those three tests.

    Queue jumping is a particular example of rule ignoring which does more damage than merely defeating the practical purpose of the rules. Most seriously: Queue jumpers (and by extension all immigrants) become an easy “gimme” target for bigots, idiots and others supposed “conservatives” who attack them or what they represent for all the wrong reasons.

    The Western World is facing a real crisis in terms of adherence to the rule of law — exhibited by all manner of examples including but not limited to politicians in power, politicians not in power and the people. I regret that lax enforcement (or repeated asylum grants in respect of) immigration laws will contribute to a worsening of political discourse which is much more serious than the relatively minor economic burden the queue jumpers might represent. Discussions about changing the laws are, of course, to be encouraged. Denying or ignoring the laws feeds the ill-will of the deplorables.

    Anyway, bottom line: You are a great satirist. I don’t have to agree with you to enjoy your work, though if I could see one or two satirizing the left occasionally ….

    Regards,

    Simon Adler ________________________________

    Like

  6. Thank you for this article, for voicing your thoughts about our wonderful country we seem to look at as not being perfect and therefore judging it often too harshly.

    I am a migrant also, I am a very proud Canadian and I feel some contamination in our Canadian values need to be looked st in a Canadian way: not with contempt but with the understanding that thoughts and behaviorist have come up because we haven’t taken care of things.

    Thank you for pointing out how good we have it and that we need to look at things differently to be able to change them

    Ursula Jochimsen-Vogdt Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  7. Thank you, sir. As a Canadian living in the south of Georgia (USA), I rely on regular doses of your particular brand of sanity to keep me from either speaking my mind when at the corner bar (suicidal) or throwing myself into the salt marsh with a Very Heavy Stone attached to my right leg. (Also potentially suicidal.) So…you are maintaining the mental health of this particular “immigrant.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well said. Impeccable values. But. Coming from a country England that is much more crowded than Canada, in an economy that has been tremendously helped by immigration, I sometimes get the feeling that our country is, in some sense, ‘full’. There are too many people, too many cars on the roads, too many lorries, too much pollution… And our economic growth is slowly destroying the planet’s ability to sustain us. And immigration at too fast a rate undermines the local culture, which was somewhat a factor in Brexit.

    So while in theory it would be nice if anyone could come and live here to enjoy our still vibrant culture and quality of life, practically it is not possible. Some control feels necessary, yet I don’t want to encourage the racist element that wants to exclude whole categories of people.

    In short, I love your position but it will take a while to get there…

    Like

  9. Dear Mr. Duncan,

    Your pro migration arguments are in favour of individualism and opportunism. Let me explain.
    Immigration countries like Canada welcome skilled migrants because they bring assets with them that the new host society can utilize. Highly skilled immigrants from poorer parts of the world tend to be welcomed by most rich countries. In the debate about migration in the West, foreign surgeons and software engineers are not maligned in the way that farm workers and waiters frequently are.
    On the face of it, this sounds like a win-win trend, as host countries benefit from the migrants’ skills, who in turn benefit from the more stable economic environment they enter. Development economists, however, fret that it is bad for the migrants’ home countries. They argue that “brain drain” from poor countries is robbing those countries of the people they need to escape poverty. Brain drain tends to pull the best and the brightest from their home countries, the very people most equipped to help improve living conditions at home.
    Ensuring that skilled workers have opportunities to flourish at home is ultimately a challenge for source countries, because the loss of brain power to Canada and other developed countries creates an unfortunate cycle for poorer countries: educated individuals migrate, leaving their home countries’ tax base and infrastructure in poor shape. The weakened infrastructure in turn means that more people will leave, driving the cycle onward. In order to solve this problem, the governments of developing nations should strive to create incentives for their educated workers to stay home and use their abilities to create a better and more sustainable society..

    Kind regards,
    Dr. Ulrich vom Hagen

    Like

    • I think we agree in part. The best case scenario is obviously reducing the disparities in wealth and opportunities between nations. But putting the onus to do that on developing nations that have had their internal issues caused in part, or entirely, by the original effects of colonialization – whose work is carried on in the modern age by multinational corporations using their resources and cheap labour to export profits to the West – is unfair at best.

      Evening out the imbalances will take a global effort, whose motivations should be driven be simple economics if they aren’t by morals, and will include assisting non merit-based migration, thus allowing entire cross-sections of currently suppressed societies access to: education, opportunity, and most of all hope. Telling a given generation they are trapped only leads to increased pressures, conflict, and ever more extreme attempts to migrate, as we see now, and examples of which history is full of. There were large scale departures from Scotland, Ireland, and Italy in the 20th century, to name a few recent examples. These countries recovered, even as millions of their citizens made new lives elsewhere. The same will happen again here. The question is: will we in the West help, or stand in the way of, the fluid dynamics of humanity?

      Like

  10. What a rare pleasure to find a site like this which not only publishes intelligent, insightful commentary , but also attracts like-minded responses from people willing to honestly examine the issue. I’m so exhausted with the insult hurling trolls that seem to dominate so much discussion these days. Love the brilliant satire, too, of course!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s