On Immigration; Part I – Patterns of American versus Canadian Immigration

In the recent EU election, anti-immigration was a central vote catcher for the energized Right. This blog, however, was set in motion before then by an inquiry from one of my readers who asked what I thought of Davis Frum’s recent articles in The Atlantic (April 2019 issue):
“If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will:
We need to make hard decision now about what will truly benefit current and future Americans.”
I begin by stating that immigration as an issue is close to the heart of Canadians as well as Americans and closer to the heart of policy issues in most countries around the world. For example. Malaysia is inundated with Bangladeshis, particularly to fill the labour shortage in the booming construction industry, but also in the manufacturing and the service sector. But not only Bangladeshis – immigrants from Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, India, Pakistan. Malaysia is challenged both by legal and illegal immigration. Further, like the U.S., Malaysia does not have a coherent immigration policy.
Many of the reasons for this failure are the same:The clash between economic self-interest versus social and cultural conflicts;The conflict between foreign policy and security issues which are only very tangential in the Frum analysis;The clash between the human rights of migrants and the exploitation of migrants not only by unscrupulous middle men on the economic side, but unscrupulous politicians like Donald Trump;The history of conflicts within the country and between the home country and neighboursFirst, it may perhaps be helpful if we have some background on David Frum. David is the oldest child of a very famous Canadian Journalist, Barbara Frum: she worked for the CBC before her untimely death, Barbara could best be described as liberal-left. His father, Murray Frum, who died in 2013 and had a profound influence on David, was a dentist who became both a successful property developer in Toronto and a collector of African masks that he donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario. David’s sister, Linda Frum, is a Canadian Conservative Senator.
David was a brilliant student. At his Bar Mitzvah, he virtually ran the whole service. Before he went off to college in the United States, he was singularly responsible for organizing the most private sponsorships of Indochinese refugees in 1979 by his synagogue than were sponsored by any other religious institution. He then went off to Yale and then earned a JD from the Harvard Law School. He was a leading neo-con, joined the Bush administration as a speechwriter and became famous for the phrase, “Axis of Evil” that George W. Bush used in his 2002 State of the Union address. He was a strong supporter of the Iraq War, which he would later regret, though in 2004, with Richard Perle, he co-authored An End of Evil which put forth the neo-conservative agenda and defended the Iraq War. He was a founder of a blog that evolved into The Daily Beast and in 2014 became a senior editor at The Atlantic. Like most Canadians who immigrate to the U.S., he took a long time after he became a permanent resident to become naturalized – 2007.
He has authored many books since his first in 1994 (Dead Right), a conservative critique of the Right. They include: What’s Right (1996); How We Got Here (2000), The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush (2003); Comeback Conservatism That Can Win Again (2008); Why Romney Lost (2012); and Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (2018) which I reviewed in detail in this blog. Frum has earned his conservative spurs and is a thinking man’s right-winger. He is a Republican but also a Republican apostate. Therefore, one can expect a detached but critical analysis of immigration from a conservative perspective.
I will take up the issues in the order in which David Frum raises them. The first is the relative number of immigrants who came to America between 1915 and 1975 in contrast to the numbers before and after that period. “In the 60 years from 1915 until 1975, nearly a human lifetime, the United States admitted fewer immigrants than arrived, legally and illegally, in the single decade of the 1990s.” In Canada, record numbers of immigrants were admitted in the early 1900s when Canada was promoting agricultural settlement in Western Canada so that in 1913, more than 400,000 immigrants arrived in Canada, more than arrived a century later when Canada was four times the size and better able economically to absorb immigrants. However, in a pattern very similar to the U.S., 5.1 million immigrants arrived between 1980 and 2019, 1.3 million in the 1980’s (133,000 per year), and about 2.2 million in the 1990’s, an average of 220,000 per year. In 1992, numbers once again began to rival the intakes before 1913. That average has continued to grow.
Even at those lower average levels before 1981, there were peaks that rivalled the intake in the 1990’s. They corresponded to Canada’s intake of large groups of refugees:                                         Canada                  U.S.         1956-7: Hungary                     37,500                  38,0001968-9: Czechoslovakia          11,000     1961-70:  3,2731972-73: Ugandan Asians          6,000                           0*1973: Chileans                            7,000                          0**1979-80: Indochinese.              60,000                 265,000***2015-17: Syrian                        40,000    2011-17: 18,000 *A number of Ugandan Asians went to the U.S. as immigrants. For example, Daulat Sthanki settled in Louisiana and went on to start a multi-million-dollar business.
**President Nixon supported the Pinochet coup that resulted in the murder of President Allende and the flight of Chilean refugees.
***Canada resettled only 5,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, but when Canada viewed the refugee outflow to be a product of Vietnamese government policy in 1978, Canada moved beyond tokenism to take in a total of 202,000 Indochinese between 1975 and 1997. In the same period, the U.S. took in almost 1,300,000. Americans took in overall 6.5 refugees for every 1 Canada took as in 1979 when America admitted 205,000.
****With respect to the Syrian refugees, America admitted those it considered most vulnerable while “upholding the safety and security of the American people.” 68% of refugees from Syria were Christian and many others were Yazidis. In Canada, security concerns of Canadians, though slightly enhanced, were not a major factor in those selected for intake into Canada. Security for the refugees was; as a result, Yazidis took up a larger portion of the intake than their percentage of the Syrian population warranted; in 2018. The U.S. admitted only 18 Syrian refugees.
Overall, American fluctuations have been more extreme than Canadian ones, except at times when Canada took in a disproportionate number of refugees from refugee-producing countries. A second major difference can be noted in this pattern. In periods of large turmoil within the U.S., the immigration intake has increased. Though we do not have statistics from the American Civil War, we do have figures from the Vietnam War. In that period, the U.S. provided the second largest source of immigrants for Canada after the United Kingdom and accounted for 20% of our intake. 400,000 Americans came to Canada between 1968 and 1978. In 1971-2, when Canada initiated an “underground railway” to assist both draft dodgers and deserters (Barbara Frum played a role), 50,000 Americans moved to Canada in each of those years.
What also shifts over time in both the U.S. and Canada is the number of foreign-born as a percentage of the native-born population. In 1871, the foreign-born constituted 16.1% of the population of Canada. When the Great Depression emerged in Canada, the percentage of foreign-born had risen to 22.2% and then began to drop precipitously, but began to rise again after 1948. Since 2011, when the percentage of foreign born reached 20.6%, since then it has reached its highest percentage in Canadian history equivalent to the period between the early 1900’s and the beginning of the Great Depression. In contrast, in the U.S. on 1 Jul 2018, between 2013-2017, foreign-born persons constituted only 13.4% of the American population, a percent equivalent to Canada’s 13% at the lowest point in Canadian history at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Frum wrote: “By 2027, the foreign-born proportion of the U.S. population is projected to equal its previous all-time peak, in 1890: 14.8 percent. Under present policy, that percentage will keep rising to new records thereafter.” But by the same date, that is expected to be half of the Canadian numbers. The Pew Research Centre, usually an impeccable source on data, in a survey on opposition to immigration (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/12/10/many-worldwide-oppose-more-migration-both-into-and-out-of-their-countries/) misleadingly stated that, “The U.S., with 44.5 million immigrants in 2017, has the largest foreign-born population in the world.” That is true, but it has about half the number of Canada when calculating foreign-born as a percentage of the native population instead of using absolute figures. Surprisingly, Sweden has a higher percentage of foreign-born that America and Germany, the UK and Spain approximately the same percentage. The numbers are even higher in Australia.

As if in support of David Frum’s thesis, in the very recent election in Australia, the center-rightLiberal-National coalition government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison retained control in spite of poll predictions to the contrary. Morrison, like Trump, claimed he would protect jobs in the coal industry and ran a tough line against immigration as he confined asylum seekers to pacific island camps in contrast to the call for less-stringent migrant policies by Labor leader, Bill Shorten.
Over the period of 120 years, there has also been a shift in source countries for Canada, first from Great Britain and some from the U.S. to those from Eastern Europe in the first great wave just before and after the beginning of the twentieth century, then Western and Southern European settlers in the period between the two world wars up until 1978 when the discriminatory features of Canadian immigration were removed from Canadian legislation.
How does this pattern compare to the American one? American fluctuations have been more extreme. For example, large numbers of Cuban refugees went to the U.S. and, though some Cubans immigrated to Canada, there was no equivalent movement compared to the U.S. This has also been the case with Venezuelan immigrants and refugees. Further, Mexico and Central America have been very important sources for migrants to the U.S. Last year, in spite of all the restrictions imposed by Donald Trump, the number of Mexicans and Latin Americans entering the U.S. legally was 20 times the number in 1979. On the other hand, as America under Trump tried to stem the flow of Central Americans and Mexicans into the U.S. (the latter had already been in steep decline), the U.S, was sending Americans in the opposite direction. The U.S.-born population officially living in Mexico has reached 800,000 (children of Mexican-Americans and retirees – 100,000 of San Miguel’s residents are Americans) while the unofficial figure is estimated to be almost twice that number. More Americans now move to Mexico than the other way around.
Mexicans and Central Americans supplied a high percentage of low-skilled labour for agriculture and the service industry. Increasing numbers were illegal since America’s guest worker program ended fifty years earlier. At the other end of the spectrum, Canada has limited family migration to favour selecting immigrants based on their skill levels, a policy that Donald Trump tried to imitate in his 2019 proposed immigration changes sent to Congress.
What becomes clear in comparing patterns of immigration to the U.S. versus Canada is that, while the overall pattern is similar, the two countries patterns vary according to:Proximity of source countriesPrevailing policies (capital investment, family reunification and preferential intake of skilled and highly-educated migrant programs)Nativist resistance to immigrantsU.S. internal conflicts;U.S. foreign overseas policiesHowever, the greatest variable is that Immigration is a far more tumultuous issue in the U.S. even though, contrary to popular imagery, it plays a much smaller role than in Canada. The question is, why?
To Be Continued
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