Monday, May 7, 2012

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor Emigrants

This week the Toronto Globe and Mail is running a series of articles on immigration. The premise of the articles is simple. The Globe argues that, for economic reasons, Canada needs more immigrants. You see, lots of boomers are retiring, and so the number of working Canadians for each Canadian who is retired has been declining, from 6.6 workers per retiree in 1971 to 4.2 today to a projected mere 2.3 workers per retiree in 2036. The stress on Canada’s pension provisions will be enormous. What is more, and what I didn’t find mentioned in the article, is that with so many Boomers now retiring, it will also be the case that medical costs for retirees are also likely to keep increasing over time. Who will pay the taxes to keep our medical system top quality and universal?

Well, says The Globe, immigrants are the solution. Bring in 400,000 of them each year, and the too-many-retirees crunch will be solved. What is more, says The Globe, we need to bring in skilled immigrants like computer scientists, engineers and chemists, and we’ll be in even better shape. Such immigrants are projected to have a disproportionately positive effect on jobs and economic growth.

So what do I think about this perspective? Well, I have some concerns. My family is working with Columbia University and the University of Zimbabwe to establish a medical clinic in Zimbabwe that will help keep trained physicians in that country. You see, Zimbabwe needs doctors even more than we do. While we complain about the difficulty of getting a family doctor, many towns and villages in Zimbabwe have no doctors at all. Why would Canada go after Zimbabwe’s medical professionals, or engineers, or chemists when that is the situation?

I used to teach in Manila, the Philippines. The number one contribution to that country’s Gross National Product is the remittances sent back to The Philippines by its overseas workers: nurses, caregivers, teachers, and so on—many of them highly skilled. Meanwhile, back in the Philippines, these oversea worker families are split apart, kids are being raised by one parent or by grandparents, and the sense is growing among those left behind that there is no future for them in The Philippines. How could there be, when all their best skilled workers are moving to Australia, or the U.S., or here?

So an immigration system on the prowl for other country’s skilled workers is basically viewing other countries as prey. It is another case of assuming that our national interests trump anyone else’s interests, including the needs, hopes and dreams of those who don’t have the skills or resources to immigrate to Canada or who choose to remain in their home countries. This policy is economically devastating for the countries of origin and those left behind. It is almost as if the official policy of the Canadian government with respect to such people is, “we need your best and brightest; the rest can rot.” Scripture, on the other hand, always starts by putting the interests of the poor and oppressed first. We, like God, are called to "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy” (Psalm 82:3,4). 

For Christians the poor, the marginalized, the alien, and the sojourner ought to be at the center of our moral concerns and universe: the villager in KweKwe, Zimbabwe, who needs a doctor; the refugee who has lived for years in a camp in Lebanon or on the Rwandan/Congolese border; the gay man in Uganda who will go to prison if he comes out of the closet. Our national immigration policy ought to reflect something of the compassion and vision of that wonderful poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I life my lamp beside the golden door.”

Unfortunately, this poem lost its allure for Americans long ago. Hopefully we can do better, here in Canada. And sure, I understand that if skilled people really want to emigrate here, we need to respect their right to apply along with everyone else’s. But making those skilled people stand in line with the tired, poor and huddled masses who are waiting to enter Canada would be a good thing. After all, most of our ancestors came to this land not on account of their skills, but simply as economic migrants, seeking peace, liberty, and the opportunity to raise a family. They worked and paid their taxes, and all Canadians benefited. Most of their children who wanted an education got one, and learned skills their immigrant parents were often amazed at and Canada also benefited from. Canada was built on the backs of these huddled masses. Let’s keep the door open wide for them now.


  1. Thanks, John. This going to Rose--World Renew's Refugee Coordinator, who is fighting (along w/ many other organizations) the gov't's current policy. The more we rob from other nations, the more confused becomes any moral compass to keep us personally and nationally from following a direction and policy of justice and equity.

  2. Thanks Jim. On this issue, where are the Biblical literalists when you want them? Interesting how we pick and choose those moments (ie, don't look to the sermon on the mount for a lot of literal interpretation, either).


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