News this morning that all six of America’s Nobel Prize 2016 winners were immigrants, made me smile. Primarily because it confirmed what I already know to be true; that immigrants almost always contribute more to the host country than they receive in exchange.
The news came as a welcome break and contrast to all the anti-immigrant rhetoric being spewed right now by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and a number of other politicians. After all, blaming immigrants (even if all of us, with the exception of the Natives, are immigrants) is a favourite and time-honoured pastime going back generations.
Here in Canada, lest we be too quick to congratulate ourselves on our open-minded and welcoming embrace of all things foreign, we’re not that much better.
Recent statements made by the Conservative MP for Simcoe-Grey Kellie Leitch, about how Canada should be “screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values,” were quickly followed by the disappointing findings of a CBC-Angus Reid Institute poll that revealed 68 percent of Canadian respondents believe minorities should be doing more to “fit in” with mainstream society.
As the daughter of parents who were born elsewhere and came here in search of a better life the survey results left me both angry and frustrated.
Since the beginning of time immigrants (and most definitely refugees) have always endured the hostility and suspicion of “old stock” citizens (basically those who got here on an earlier boat) who are convinced that the latter are now coming to steal their jobs, steal their women, steal their religion, steal their way of life, irreversibly alter, shape, and contort everything to their liking, and remove everything that they don’t.
How many simplistic “Syrians are just like us” stories were we treated to by media this past year in order to assuage the fears of certain Canadians who thought every refugee was a potential ISIS terrorist-in-waiting, who blissfully ignored the facts pointing to the majority of these refugees being women and children, and who had no inkling of how cosmopolitan and educated Syria used to be before the civil war?
There remains this deeply embedded mistrust and – often, unspoken — notion that immigration invites trouble, invites riff raff, invites crime, invites people looking to take advantage of the system (it’s immensely ironic to me that Trump, the man who has given a public voice and a face to this prejudice, is the one who has most played the system and who has contributed very little if nothing at all; both as a taxpayer and as a human being) and we must be extremely wary of and cautious of who we let in and who we anoint with our acceptance.
Here’s a little something to contemplate while we’re mulling over the pros and cons of allowing people into our country.
Immigration is not a benevolent and magnanimous service, it’s not charity bestowed upon inferior foreigners with questionable motivations. Immigration is a “quid pro quo” transaction that benefits the receiving country as much as it does the person being welcomed into a new society.
Lost in all this anti-immigrant rhetoric are the facts. And the facts don’t support this mistrust.
Immigration counteracts Canada’s low birth rate, provides the country with young people who work, buy homes, pay taxes, and support — in ways visible and not always so visible — economic growth, social programs, and welfare.
The fact, of course, that the Angus Reid poll was conducted in the wake of terrorist attacks in Europe, as well as a few national debates on the proposed ban on niqabs in public service and the Syrian refugee crisis is not lost on me.
These incidents have resulted in a disturbing shift towards distrust of all things foreign, particularly visible minorities and Muslim immigrants. The extremely few public cases (like Zunera Ishaq) of immigrants proudly (and justifiably) proclaiming their right to live their lives as they see fit, have given the impression to some that new immigrants are no longer willing to gratefully kowtow to the ones who arrived here before they did.
Because that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? This notion that immigrants and refugees should be so immensely grateful and so appreciative, that they should just pipe down, remove anything foreign-looking and different about them that makes us uncomfortable, and just assimilate already!
But while changes, adjustments, and attempts to “fit in” are inevitable and more than ok with most immigrants, I would hate to see the day when immigrants stop valuing and celebrating who they also are. With the exception of religion-related extremism that affects others, which has no place in a secular society, one need not squelch or renounce what is different to prove loyalty to the same.
Recent findings from the Conference Board of Canada show that “at least 35 percent of Canada Research Chairs are foreign-born, even though immigrants are just one-fifth of the Canadian population,” and that “immigrants to Canada win proportionally more prestigious literary and performing arts awards (immigrants comprise 23 percent of Giller Prize finalists and 29 percent of winners; 23 percent of Governor Generals Performing Arts Award recipients are immigrants.)”
Immigrants bring with them not only the drive to succeed and create a better life for themselves and their families, but also a wealth and diversity of information, skills, and life experiences that are a tremendous source of innovation and creativity for the country that welcomes them.
Bombarded as we are on a daily basis by ugly and xenophobic anti-immigrant sentiment (the kind that’s almost always associated with political opportunism), it would serve us well to remember that.