Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Diane Finley and Lou Dobbs are idiots

I've noted before here that my father and one of my uncles came to Canada as political refugees. Another uncle came here as a legal immigrant under the regular, non-family class rules -- in other words, he had a marketable skill that was needed.

It's why I feel so sensitive when the issue of immigration comes up -- not just here in Canada but also in the United States. So today's post contains some thoughts about the debates in both countries, and where I think things should be headed.

There is no question illegal immigration has to be dealt with, although so many approaches are like using excessive force to subdue a suspect. I have supported integrating immigration and national security units of the government as have most democratic countries but it should always be with the aspect of giving the benefit of the doubt to the prospective immigrant and not treating him or her as the criminal.

That being said, the current proposals by Diane Finley to rejig the system are so totally out of whack that it defies comprehension. It is true that there are presently 900,000 people who have filed applications under the regular class -- and the proposal is that the Minister should have greater say in which applications get priority to fill in job shortages.

There is a two-fold problem on initial inspection of this concept. First, there is no transparency in how the decision is made as to who to fast-track. Second, it creates the potential of sending someone who's made it to the front of the line right to the back. People who've filed an application in good faith.

Beyond that, this is being done without any regard whatsoever to the interests of the provinces who share jurisdiction with Ottawa on immigration; more importantly it raises the question of what happens to the provincial immigration nominee lists. (The provinces, under current immigration agreements with the federal government, are permitted to nominate people who they think match the individual provinces' respective needs -- some may need people in the energy sector, others in health, and so forth). Incredibly, Harper's government is so determined to see this through they've paid absolutely no regard to the two provinces who make the most use of the nomination process, Québec and Alberta. (Where he needs to build, and preserving his base.) The two provinces Harper is most counting on for the next election whenever that is.

Why attach this to the budget bill? Immigration is such a complicated issue it requires specific consideration. The Liberals would be quite correct to bring down the government on an issue which it has based so much of its reputation -- as the party of a compassionate immigration process.

When some other developed countries are able to process their applications in as little as four months and it can take years here in Canada, it's no wonder people are looking elsewhere -- costing us a lost opportunity.

We need a policy that makes sense. The most important reform, though, would be that credentialing should be a matter of course. We don't need physicians and engineers driving taxi cabs. We need them in operating rooms and drawing boards -- now. Licensing should be granted on a probationary basis, provided that proficiency in English or French is demonstrated and the immigrant takes his or her tests in a reasonable period of time. At maximum, this should be six or twelve months. This should be done transparently, as well should the points system and the prioritization of job classes.

As far as the American situation goes, it seems both pathetic and laughable at the same time by Canadian standards. The xenophobia expressed by many -- including Lou Dobbs -- is tragic. One can appreciate the concerns of some communities to prevent illegal immigrants from getting drivers' licences, going to school, getting medical treatment etc. when the system is strained enough for people legally in the country. But doing so is no better than police racial profiling and their propensity to pursue those who DWB -- drive while black.

Not all people who cross the border are drug or alcohol runners. They are seeking a better life that they can't have in their home countries. One should understand their desperation. But as with Canada, there is a legal process that should be followed; unfortunately,.that too is backlogged for various reasons. Sadly, any attempts to streamline the process for both legal and illegal people, even modest measures which would add a bit of humanitarianism, is automatically condemned as "amnesty."

What would I do? First, clear up the legal backlog. Second, go after employers who exploit illegal immigrants with very tough sanctions -- up to and including pulling one's vendor permit. Third, give a means to help those who are in the country illegally but have acted in good faith and have not broken any other laws a way to earn citizenship; and yes, that includes giving them a driver's license if they can prove they are roadworthy, as well as paying back taxes. Fourth, children of illegal immigrants born in America should have access to the same educational opportunities as anyone else. (This one is a cornerstone of the Clinton and Obama campaigns.)

Fifth, enforce the borders -- but do so with respect to local interests and the environment. The proposed "wall" is actually illegal because it cuts across state property (including U Texas Brownsville), environmentally sensitive wet and drylands (requiring approval from the EPA and land management agencies) and no fewer than three Indian reservations (breaching native sovereignty). Groups like the Minutemen (read: vigilantes) should be neutralized but one would think people at or near the border would have the best solutions to deal with the issue -- it shouldn't be micromanaged from Washington.

As far as the Canada - US border goes? We have often said that it's the longest undefended border in the world although the correct term should be longest demilitarized. Canada does need to do more to stop illegal drug production but neither should be bullied by an often hypersensitive desire to protect the border. A European open border solution is way off, but we should look in common to have a smart border; open to legal trade and tourism, closed to terrorists and other criminal elements. A move towards random inspections, rather than by-the-book for everyone, would be a start in the right direction. Border agents on both sides often have enough experience to know who's trouble and who isn't -- and we should give them the credit they deserve, more often than they get it now.

UPDATE (5:24 pm EDT, 2124 GMT): Slight edits.

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