I, Immigrant

This week we have witnessed one of the most odious chapters in recent American history.  The separation of children, some as young as nine months old, from their parents is such a stain on civility that every GOP candidate who, by their silence condoned this horrific action, deserves to lose in this November’s mid-terms.

It comes on the heels of a similar scandal in the United Kingdom: the forced deportation of immigrants to the UK, whose parents came here to work from Commonwealth countries in the fifties and sixties: the Windrush Generation, so named after the first ship to bring the much needed workers across the ocean.  Many of these original immigrants, British subjects given permanent leave to remain in the UK, brought children with them.  It is these children, most now retired, who, after a lifetime of living in the UK, are being faced with a deliberate policy of official hostility.  If they were unable to provide the necessary official documentation to cover all of the years since their landing they could be considered illegal and deported.  A policy of throw them out, then ask questions. 

Many of the Windrush victims suffered this fate because they needed medical help (as seniors are want to do), or because their landlords or employers, through legislation, had been turned into unofficial wings of the British Immigration service by increasing pernicious legislation.  

At the same time the records of landing, an invaluable historical archive, was deliberately destroyed.  So when records were requested, the UK Home Office stated (correctly, though disingenuously) that no such records existed.

There are still at least sixty-three known seniors, deported without cause to countries they left as children decades previously, who are unaccounted for.

This is my fear for the two and a half thousand children separated from their parents by the monstrous policy in the US.  The fear that a large number of these kids will become systemic orphans.  I have worked in a government bureaucracy, it isn’t always the most efficient, especially when placed under inordinate pressure, and most especially when the people who have been separated have been dehumanized with the language of “infestation".  Having gone through two or three plane rides, unable to speak English (or even speak at all), there is a strong likelihood that some of these children may never see their mom or dad again.  I think of them.  I think of the parents.  I think of my own children and what they mean to me, and I weep.

These policies did not arrive out of thin air.  The denigration of immigrants has proceeded in the west for many years and has resulted in a salami slice tactic of action to curtail this “calamity”.  Political parties of both the left and right have used the issue to bolster support amongst elements of the population and/or to prove themselves tough.  Mass deportations took place under Obama as well as Trump.  In the UK you have the mind-boggling situation of the British Labour Party arguing for free movement favouring goods and capital assets rather than labour. The UK is a service based economy, it is the free movement of labour that facilitates those services.

We’ve seen it before, this scapegoating, fear-mongering, dehumanization.  We know how this ends.  The holocaust did not develop overnight.  Auschwitz wasn’t built in a day.  The word “Pogrom”, the most famous example of which was the infamous Kristallnacht that occurred all over Nazi Germany on the night of November 9th and 10th, 1938, was a Russian word, coined at the end of the 19th Century.  A portmanteau of sorts it means to destroy, to wreak havoc, to destroy violently.  A policy with a history that stretches back to the middle-ages.  The “thing” being destroyed was, of course, Jewish populations, schools, synagogues, businesses, people.

The anti-Semitic laws of Hitler’s regime started in 1933 with the forced retirement of all non-Aryans from the German Civil service and legal practice.  This was three years before the opening of the first Concentration Camp at Dachau on the outskirts of Munich and eight years before the completion of Auschwitz II – Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi extermination camps.  

We tend to forget that the anti-Semitism that came to such an horrific end point that a new word – genocide – was created, held sway through much of Western Europe and North America.  Jewish refugees from the Nazi’s were refused entry in the UK and the US based on an ingrained prejudice.  The foundations for the horror of the Shoah had been laid well across all of Europe and beyond.  It is a convenient and modern contrivance to believe otherwise.

I must declare a personal interest in this argument.  I am an immigrant.  I came to Canada in my early thirties seeking a new challenge and following my heart.  The relationship that bought me to Toronto unfortunately didn’t last, but I stayed.  I met my wife here.  She was an immigrant from the USA.  We now have two beautiful Canadian/American/British girls, who, if you ask them, are Canadian first and foremost.  When they sing O, Canada, they even include the bits in French.

Like many immigrants my career took a hit when I settled here.  Despite over ten years working in the UK, USA and all over Europe, I lacked the required “Canadian Experience”, the passive-aggressive racism that most immigrants face when they come.  I got an analyst position rather than the management level I had left in the UK.  Still, I managed to make it work.  I am lucky, despite that (slight) initial set back, Canada has a very positive and welcoming relationship with its substantial immigrant community. 

As a country Canada recognizes the benefits immigration brings to our society and the economy.  Something that will become increasingly apparent in the UK or US as the health service is deprived of workers, or academia finds visiting professors and overseas students stay away, or when fruit rots in the ground for lack of seasonal workers.

So, let us celebrate immigration.  Whether economic, family, asylum based or as a refugee.  Any human being willing to rip themselves away from their only known home, willing to move, often thousands of miles, willing to travel through dangerous terrain, subject to potential violence, discrimination and even death; then, after such a journey, settle down and raise a family, start a business or do the jobs other folks don’t want to do and pay taxes.  These people should be welcomed with open arms as “go-getters” in the same way those with wealth are.  These are the poor, huddled masses who built so many of our countries.  The foundation our way of life is built on throughout the west. 

Rather than saying there is an immigration emergency, and using slightly less offensive language than the far-right, we should be taking the argument forward and winning it.  Proclaiming that, like taxes, immigration is not an evil but a societal good. It is proof of our worth as a society that so many want to risk everything to come to our countries, then stay and contribute so richly.

It is a positive feature.  It is proof of our humanity, our ingenuity and our civilization.

You can donate to RAICES Texas, who provide legal aid and other support to refugees and immigrants at the Southern US border here: