Jenny Kwan: Immigration is an exercise in nation-building and an investment in future generations

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      It didn't take long for the rhetoric of Trump’s white nationalism to creep across the border into Canada.

      With each passing day we are learning yet another shocking and sickening piece of Trump’s immigration policy that not only denigrates and devalues the worth of a migrant, it actually puts their lives at risk.

      I, as a Canadian, take solace for the fact that I live in Canada and not the United States but I am also acutely aware of the fact that those anti-immigrant and anti-refugee is permeating into Canada. 

      As an ethnic minority public figure, I have had my share of racist hate mail. But in 2017, for the first time in my entire political life, I had someone say to my face “Go back to your country”, that he only wanted white people here in Canada. 

      This was done at the rally to celebrate the International Day to Eliminate Racism, no less.

      We as a nation have learned some hard lessons about racism injustices with our own laws. We need look no further to the evidence of that than the impact of colonialism for the Indigenous peoples. And sadly, our history is replete with examples of discrimination based on race. 

      Many discriminatory practices were codified in law and the sheer volume and the extent of these laws are breathtaking.

      As we strive to reconcile this history and at a time when we are working hard to fight against the spread of hate and the politics of division, how dismaying it is to now have our own version of Trump on Canadian soil.

      The platform on immigration released by Maxine Bernier echoes those sentiments of white nationalism.

      The claim that immigrants are a burden and a drain to Canadian society is patently false. His cherry-picking of dubious numbers and questionable back-of-the-napkin math has been quickly refuted in many news articles, but we must recognize that it’s not his numbers that matter—it is his message. 

      He has completely failed to realize that unless you are Indigenous, we are all immigrants in this country. He has also completely failed to recognize that without immigrants, the Canada we all know and love would not be what it is today.

      Despite overtly racist immigration policies, being treated as second-class persons, facing daily discrimination, and undertaking the most dangerous work in deplorable living and working conditions, Chinese railway workers played an instrumental role in the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway that unified Canada from coast to coast. 

      He is blind to the fact that immigrants are largely behind Canada’s status as one of the best-educated countries in the world. In fact, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has ranked Canada as the second highest educated nation in the world.  What’s more, a higher percentage of immigrant children (54.2 percent) have at least a bachelor’s degree compared to nonimmigrants.

      Immigrants, like every other Canadian, pay their fair share of taxes form employment taxes to consumer taxes to property taxes. While it is true that when a newcomer arrives in Canada, there is a settlement period (approximately five years); there is a wage gap; and there is an adjustment period as they find their footing here. But it is also true that newcomers to this country close that gap (within 10 years) and then some, thriving and contributing to Canadian society.

      And to be clear, if the wage gap or the settlement period is an actual public policy concern, the solution isn’t to stop accepting immigrants. What we need are tools to reduce that wage gap.

      How do we do that? How about better access to credential recognition? How about allowing newcomers to more easily have their skills upgraded or recognized so they can contribute to their fullest? We can end the stereotype of the foreign-born doctor or engineer driving a cab if we want to.

      I, for one, am proud of that fact that immigration is an exercise in nation-building. It is an investment in people and in future generations. We are the faces of the world and Canada’s Multiculturalism Act is something to celebrate.

      To cherry-pick figures to make a blanket suggestion that newcomers are a burden is to vilify and imply that immigrants are inherently unable or unwilling to become part of our country. There is a word for that kind of stereotyping and generalizing: Racism!

      Like many Canadians, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the outrageous claims made by Bernier in an attempt to justify his xenophobic immigration policies for political gain.

      Shameful doesn't even begin to describe this brand of politics of division and fear.

      Jenny Kwan is the NDP MP for Vancouver East and her party's critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, as well as the critic for multiculturalism.