Asylum seekers stories are being sensationalized

The government appointed a new minister last week to deal with asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States. Many are saying this won’t solve any problems and that we need to change our policy on the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.  Others see the creation of a minister as an attempt to mute criticism from the right which considers asylum seekers as illegal border crossers coming here to take our jobs.  What is clear is that the politics of immigration and, by extension, those who seek asylum has become a defining issue of this era. Mostly it is being used as a wedge which is unfortunate for the majority of people who tend to hold moderate opinions on most issues and for the refugees themselves.

Despite that, many politicians use it to whip up fear about jobs, lost identity, and even the notion that a country as wealthy as Canada will go broke if we help people fleeing oppressive and violent regimes.  These same political actors often have little to say about the bigger causes of job insecurity, a diminishing revenue stream due to decades of corporate tax cuts, or why people find they have stagnated economically. Instead, they toss around the notion that asylum seekers are not legitimately entering Canada and are here to take jobs.  There is no acknowledgement that we have a well-established process to determine whether someone fleeing to our country deserves to be granted asylum.

What has complicated matters is the political climate in the United States and the notion that people are only coming here as economic migrants.  In many instances the migrants originate from Central America where American foreign policy has supported the oppressive and violent regimes people are fleeing.

In Canada, anyone entering as an asylum seeker or refugee goes through a legitimate process to determine if they will be accepted.  Furthermore, long term studies have shown that most refugees have a positive impact on our economy and tend to settle into being productive members of communities and job creators. 

But there is often little room for facts in these emotional arguments and we have seen time and again that the politics of America will always have an influence on our own debates.  In many ways the current government was not prepared for the extreme politics of Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to adjust.  New Democrats are encouraging the government to finally face the fact that under the current administration, the US will never be safe for asylum seekers. 

They say the government has been slow to criticize US policies on immigration including the US travel ban targeting Muslims and the policy forcibly separating children asylum seekers from their parents. New Democrats have also consistently called for adequate funding for immigration services and to suspend the Safe Third Country agreement which forces asylum seekers to make dangerous border crossings. The process these individuals will have to go through once in Canada will remain the same.  Without an adjustment from the government we will continue to be caught off-guard and allow for a dangerous debate that is taking away from other important issues that affect the lives of many more Canadians.