A Tale of Two Immigration Policies

The United States and Canada have a long and intricate history that is often overlooked or ignored. Perhaps it is because the United States and Canada have, for the most part, remained on amiable and communicative terms, with little conflict involved? Or because the two countries share a consensus in many foreign and domestic affairs, that actively acknowledging their individual histories seems almost trivial? While it is true that both countries generally lay on the same playing-field, their individual political landscapes can not be devalued. This paper will look at an issue that is flooding both nations: immigration. Both the United States and Canada have drafted many pieces of legislation that deals with immigration – This paper will examine a few of these legislative measures ratified beginning in the 19th century. I will also be highlighting the several millions of immigrants in both countries who cross borders illegally and how sanctuary cities scattered across North America accommodate for them.

While neither the United States or Canada are the largest in terms of landmass nor population, The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs states that, the two countries “share the longest international border on the planet” (“U.S. Relations with Canada” 2018, para. 1) Monikers for this border include “the 49the parallel” and “the world’s longest undefended border.” (“U.S. Relations with Canada” 2018) The rapport between the United States and Canada is so immensely intrinsic that over nearly $2.0 billion “a day in goods and services” is traded between them, and as many as “400,000 people” voyage over their shared border every day. (“U.S. Relations with Canada” 2018, para. 1) Of the many similarities between the two countries, one prominent resemblance is the makeup of their populations; an increasing percentage of it being immigrants.

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Beginning in 1870, Canada’s population was just over 3 million. (Dirks 2006) A population surge to 35 million people by a little over a century later was and is still mainly indebted to an immigration influx in Canada. (Dirks 2006) Writer Gerald Dirks highlights that in the last ten years, four million individuals of Canada’s entire population have been immigrants. (Dirks 2006) This number is only expected to continue to balloon in the coming years.

Currently, Canadian system and policy for dealing with incoming immigrants is crafted and controlled by The Department of Citizenship and Immigration. (Dirks 2006) However, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, this responsibility has historically shifted between different federal agencies including, The Ministry of Mines and Resources and The Department of Manpower and Immigration. (2006)

In 1869, Canada promoted immigration for the sake of an expanding territory and population and advocated for the protection of these individuals through their Immigration Act. (Dyk n.d.) While this act was not wholly productive, it did start a chain of immigration policies in the country. Canada’s main ‘Immigration Policy’ was drafted in 1976 after a brief two-year period in which an immigration committee was assigned with the task of traveling the country and consulting the population on immigration structure. (“Immigration Act, 1976” 2018) Under the Immigration Policy of 1976, the rhetoric around immigration is worth noting. An immigrant was denoted as “a person who seeks landing, or “lawful permission” to come into Canada to establish permanent residence. (Atkey 1990, 5) Immigrants were/are classified into groups as follow: “independents,” “family class,” and “refugees.” (“Immigration Act, 1976” 2018, para. 4) Independent immigrants were supposedly migrating for working purposes, but not all were granted such permission. The “family class” considered kin of Canadian residents to be sponsored. The refugee category was a new addition to Canada’s Immigration Policy in order to comply with the United Nations. (“Immigration Act, 1976” 2018) The United Nations defines a refugee as individuals who “have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.” (UNHCR n.d.) According to the Canadian Museum of Immigration, the Immigration Policy of 1976 required the minister of immigration to cooperate with each of Canada’s ten provinces in order to improve management surrounding immigration. (“Immigration Act, 1976” 2018) The document also required the minister of immigration to update parliament on how many immigrants were entering the country during a designated period, and how many of said immigrants were granted with “special permission” to enter. (“Immigration Act, 1976” 2018, para. 6) Immigrants attempting to enter Canada were placed in a hypothetical hierarchy, with the family class and refugees being placed at the top of prioritization. (Atkey 1990) Toward the bottom of the hierarchy were independents. (Atkey 1990) Canada’s initial concern with this legislation was to promote Canada’s economy and develop its demographic. (Atkey 1990) Those who entered Canada on the basis of this legislation were legible for citizenship or “permeant resident status.” (Atkey 1990, 4) Individuals who were granted with citizenship were further allowed to sponsor their kin. (Atkey 1990) Canada’s 1976 Immigration Policy was not accepting of all immigrants, however. Restrictions were placed on criminals, those in poor health, and those who posed a threat to national security. (“Immigration Act, 1976” 2018)

After the event of 9/11, Canada began implementing stricter and more narrow immigration rhetoric, for safety purposes. (Dirks 2006) Canada’s 1976 immigration policy was slowly re-drafted into the “Immigration and Refugee Protection Act” in 2002, which enabled the government to be even more wary of immigrants who seemed like potential threats. (Dirks 2006)

Today, Canada’s immigration policy is essentially structured in the same way its 1976 policy is, with labels on “family,” “refugees,” and those seeking “economic” opportunity. (Smick 2006, para. 4-6) In recent years, Canada has been accepting more individuals seeking employment with little admittance to refugees. (Smick 2006) This has been done to “fuel growth in Canada.” (Smick 2006, para. 8)

Currently, Canada is experiencing an influx of refugees seeking asylum there. For those that are unable to obtain asylum, options include either waiting for a change, returning home, or crossing over the border illegally. The latter are categorized as “non-status immigrants,” of which there is a large population living in Canada. (“Sanctuary Cities” 2015, para. 3) According to the Canadian Labour Congress, there are believed to be anywhere between 200,000 to 500,000 non-status migrants residing in Canada. (2015) Non-Status immigrants are not protected by Canadian law. They have limited access to basic rights such as “legal support, public education, social housing, health care, [and] social services.” (Nyers 2005, 1) Non-Status immigrants face a greater risk of job discrimination, social discrimination, and “live in constant fear of detention, deportation, and surveillance by the authorities.” (Nyers 2005, 1) They are also often victims of social segregation and “anti-immigrant” rhetoric. (Nyers 2005) As opposed to other countries, parts of Canada still looks more favorably upon non-status immigrants, believing them to be an important part of Canada’s economy. (Nyers 2005)

Though they are known globally, several Canadian cities offer themselves up as “sanctuary cities.” In short, a “sanctuary city” offers a sort of protection and support to non-status migrants that the national government refuses to give them. Here, non-status migrants are relatively safer from aforementioned discriminations. (“Immigration 101” 2017) Toronto is one such city.

The Toronto City Council publicly pledged their support to non-status migrants in 2013 manifested through their “Access Without Fear” policy. (Hudson et al. 2017, 5) Essentially, this policy calls for the education and training of agencies and businesses to allows non-status migrants’ easier access to basic services “without fear” of being discriminated against or deported. (Hudson et al. 2017, 5) Part of the “Access Without Fear” policy entails non-status migrants being protected by police agencies in Toronto. (Hudson et al. 2017, 8) As of 2006, there were an approximate 40,000 non-status migrants residing in Toronto. (Hudson et al. 2017, 5) Approximately 30% of Canada’s immigrant population lives in Toronto. (Hudson et al. 2017, 3)

At the tail end of the 19th century, the United States’ population was approximately 62 million, much larger than that of Canada’s at the time. An estimated 2.2 million individuals of this larger population were immigrants or “foreign-born.” By the 1930’s, the immigrant population rose to a resounding 14 million. (Gibson and Lennon 1999) Today, the United States has a population of approximately 329 million (Census 2018), with an estimated 44 million being immigrants. (Camarota and Zeigler 2017)

From the late 1800’s up until the mid-1900’s, immigration legislation from the United States mostly focused on restricting immigration as much as possible. While the U.S.’ Immigration Act of 1875 was not the first immigration legislation from the country, it was the first law that “excluded groups from the United States.” (“Immigration” n.d., para. 1) This piece of legislation excluded Asians and women (regardless of ethnicity) from migrating to the United States. These exclusions were not amended until the early 1900’s. (“Immigration” n.d.) From here on, in acts such as the “1891 Immigration Act,” the “Immigration Act of 1903,” the “1917 Immigration Act,” and the “1924 Labor Appropriation Act” all essentially added to the list of people and groups who were to be barred from immigrating to the United States. (Cohn 2015) After about 1924, the United States begins repealing some of these exclusions, slowly. (Cohn 2015) In 1965, the United States ratified the “Immigration and Nationality Act” which acted in reverse to its preceding codes, and similar to its Canadian counter, grouped immigrants into categories; a hierarchy in which family and kinship were prioritized. (“Office of the Historian” n.d.) The act also covertly encouraged European emigration more than any other descent. (“Office of the Historian” n.d.) The legislation that followed slowly teased out groups again, including specific ethnicities and immigrants. (“Office of the Historian” n.d.) When millions of immigrants began entering the United State illegally with no sign of change, the country implemented The Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. (Cohn 2015) Though it still limited the number of immigrants who could cross the border, it allowed the “3.2 million undocumented immigrants” who had previously entered, to stay and earn residence status. (Cohn 2015) For the first time, undocumented immigrants were granted with more governmental protection. In 1990, the country amended the Immigration and Reform Act under the moniker of “The Immigration Act,” which further allowed more individuals to cross the border in the hopes of encouraging “higher skilled immigrants” for economic gain. (Chishti and Yale-Loehr 2016, 1)

Currently, immigration to the United States is tremendously restricted under the President Trump Administration. Since 2017, the current administration has, “Banned nationals of eight countries from entering the United States,” “Reduced refugee admissions to the lowest level” since 1980, made an increased number of arrests of non-status immigrants, and “cancelled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a program that allows for “690,000 unauthorized migrants” to work in the United States without deportation. (Pierce and Selee 2017, para. 3)

Parallel to Canada’s situation though, the United States also faces an influx of illegal immigration crossings. Many come from other countries to escape violence or poverty, or for better social and economic opportunity. Today over 43 million immigrants reside in the states out of a total population of 323 million. (Felter and Renwick 2018) According to the Council of Foreign Relations, despite the crackdown on undocumented immigrations, there are at least an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants within U.S. borders, currently. (Felter and Renwick 2018)

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, over 20 states and 40 counties within those states are labeled as “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants. (Griffith and Vaughan 2017)

2 million of the United States undocumented population resides in sanctuary cities scattered across the state of California. They account for over “6% of the state’s population.” (Hayes and Hill 2017) California, especially in recent years, has pledged their full support and protection to migrants and undocumented migrants, with the exception of those entangled in crime. In July 2018, the Trump administration attempted to rid states of sanctuary cities entirely, specifically the state of California. However, this attempt was rejected and the “California Value Act” was upheld, which promises migrants safety from deportation by police. (ACLU 2018, para. 1) Similarly, California also has a “Trust Law” which makes clear, the states limited cooperation with government officials in the realm of immigration. (Ulloa 2017)

Immigration is a pressing issue facing the global political landscape. More and more individuals are leaving their countries for economic, political, and social reasons. Both Canada and the United States have seen an increasing number of immigrants crossing their borders legally, and illegally. While seemingly relatively new, both countries have been shaping legislating regarding immigrants much earlier than the 19th century and continue to shape and mold said legislation in the face of new immigration climate. For those that don’t fit under the provisions of ‘accepted’ immigrants, sanctuary cities continue to pop up across counties within North America, and continue to face push back from federal governments.

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A Tale of Two Immigration Policies. (2022, Jan 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-tale-of-two-immigration-policies/