Pulling up the Castle’s Drawbridge


Immigration is a very emotional subject. Like war, it brings out the best and worst of people. Most people love their country. Many of them love their country passionately. Many people love their country as it is. They don’t want it changed. They don’t want people to come in and change it. I understand that.

However, we also have to remember the difference between immigrants and refugees. Immigrants are looking for a better life. No one blames them for that. We all do that in different ways. But refugees are different. As Betts and Collier have argued, “At its core, refuge entails the principle that when people face serious harm at home, they should be allowed to flee and receive access to a save haven, at least until they can go home or be permanently reintegrated elsewhere.”[1] International law recognizes this important distinction. We should too.

Very few people believe in open borders. I have never met anyone who advocated that anyone who wants to come to Canada should be allowed to do that. Almost everyone agrees that we need to control our borders.

The people who bug me the most are those who are immigrants or children of immigrants and then want to pull up the castle drawbridge and keep others out as soon as they get here . That seems particularly mean-spirited. Our current Member of Parliament—Ted Falk—seems to be one of these. He is constantly accusing the current Liberal government of allowing porous borders that allow illegal immigrants to pour in. He forgets this distinction between immigrants and refugees.

Some Mennonites fit into this category.  They seem to forget that they are descendants of recent immigrants. They also forget that many Canadians did not welcome their ancestors here with open arms. After World War II many Canadians thought they were dangerous Communists or Nazi supporters. Many of the original Mennonite immigrants were seen as dirty unwelcome people. Many Canadians thought Canada could do better.

Isn’t it unseemly for us to deny the right of emigration to others? That doesn’t mean we have to open up our borders so any one can get in. It does mean we should have some fellow feeling for the latest people suffering as a result of displacement in other parts of the world.

Donald Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mike Kelly was considered to be one of the saner heads in his administration. That is not a huge complement. Kelly  was interviewed on TV about immigration. He sounded reasonable. He looked tough but kindly.

Kelly said the United States is an open country that welcomes newcomers but some are a better fit than others.  Most of those who don’t fit in, he said, are rural with a low level of education. Many of these don’t speak the language. They won’t work as well as others. Of course Kelly forgot to mention that his own grand parents were both immigrants. One was Irish the other Italian. His Italian grand father never spoke English. He had a low class job. Yet his grandson became the Chief of Staff of the President of the United States! The family did fit in. Rather well in fact.

Too often the descendants of immigrants believe the funnel into the country should be closed after they get in. Too many of them think we have too many immigrants. Now that they are in at least. Before they got in not so much. We want immigrants with skills, but we don’t want them with too many skills either. After all, we don’t want them taking “our” jobs.

I recognize that immigration policy is tricky. Illegal immigrants in a country like the US are a problem because so many have come in to that country over the decades. I recognize too that it is not fair for people to come in illegally and jump the queue past those waiting patiently to get in, often for years. Yet current policies, particularly in the US are harsh and cause incredible harm and hurt that I believe most Americans would not countenance if they saw it. If they really saw it. I think too many Americans have an irrational fear of immigrants. Fear, like resentment, is such a powerful force that it makes people make irrational decisions. There must be a better way.


[1]Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, Refuge, (2017) p. 4



One thought on “Pulling up the Castle’s Drawbridge

  1. Dr. Suess wrote beautiful allegories in the form of children’s books. But even he was influenced by popular beliefs and his times. In his case, WWII and Pearl Harbour created in him a xenophobic fear of Japanese people and people of Japanese descent.

    Over time he recognized his own biases and took steps to redress: “Horton Hears a Who” is one.

    It’s possible then to re-examine what we are taught by those we respect without hating or abandoning them.

    We can also overcome what we might feel is right–our fearful base instincts and the overstated sense of safety we get from our tribal inclinations. These feelings are especially hard to change when leaders and political opportunists with a big voice reinforce and cheer on our feelings of cowardice and protectionism.

    For religious folk, being able to change learned and reinforced behaviour requires some loosening of dogmatic beliefs. If some commands are unassailable, then we won’t be able to change, even if we secretly want to.

    It’s then when I hope our better angels get us through the dogma. It takes guts to teach the teachers.

Leave a Reply