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The lines are blurred in the immigration system

There’s a deep divide developing along these lines, and one that may prove difficult for the governments in Ottawa or Washington to deal with. After all, as we’ve seen recently in Assam, immigration-related policies cause serious schisms, and make for political capital that feeds in to vote banks.

columns Updated: Aug 03, 2018 19:35 IST
Asylum seekers walk along Roxham Road near Champlain, New York, making their way towards the Canada/US border. Many new immigrants are also activists for a freer and more mobile paradigm, pointing to the fact that blurred lines persist within immigrant communities, mirroring the borders they are for or against. (AFP)

This week, as is quickly becoming a regular feature in North America, a group of protestors gathered outside a City Hall to chant slogans against the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. This, however, wasn’t in the United States, but in the township of Markham, abutting Canada’s largest city, Toronto. The refrain was one that has been chorused in many cities in recent times. “Say No to Illegal Border Crossers” read one banner. However, before you think of White nativists, this was headlined in Ming Pao Daily News Toronto. And that was exactly the demographic of the protestors, as Chinese-origin crowds held signs like “Save Markham”.

Their objection was to a proposal to house some of those described with politically correct flourish as “irregular immigrants”, who have been pouring in to Canada, across its porous border with America, in the backwash of measures instituted by the Donald Trump administration. A tweet by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January 2017, hashtagged #WelcomeToCanada, counterpointing Trump’s restrictive policies, may have partly caused the influx.

But the Markham protest underscores a curious aspect of the anti-immigrant sentiment that has gripped much of North America. Newer immigrants cohorts are just as unwelcoming to those they consider interlopers. There are plenty of reasons for that stance, including the usual biases of race and religion. But there’s the underlying grouse against a system that appears to offer a free pass to those simply stepping over a border, as against those who have paid their dues and earned the points required for residency. This phenomenon could also have led to a higher percentage of Indian Americans, and even Hispanics, turning out for Trump in the 2016 Presidential election than they did for Mitt Romney, Barack Obama’s Republican challenger, in 2012.

That grudge is evident in the US. The immigration system, definitely broken, isn’t getting fixed as it’s held hostage by those lobbying for the undocumented to be regularised. In fact, some Indian-origin Americans have even been at the forefront of the attempt to alter the work visa regime, which they complain is being gamed by some Indian companies.

There’s a deep divide developing along these lines, and one that may prove difficult for the governments in Ottawa or Washington to deal with. After all, as we’ve seen recently in Assam, immigration-related policies cause serious schisms, and make for political capital that feeds in to vote banks.

But the Markham episode points to yet another facet of this dividing line. The anti-immigrant protestors were mostly older, and they were countered by a smaller group, including younger Chinese Canadians, evidencing the fact that those from the second and 1.5 (not born in but raised in the country) generations are often more liberal in this matter. Many new immigrants are also activists for a freer and more mobile paradigm, pointing to the fact that blurred lines persist within immigrant communities, mirroring the borders they are for or against.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 03, 2018 19:30 IST