The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

Good piece by Aaron Wherry:

The Liberals want the Conservatives to watch their words. The Conservatives want a plan. They’re both right.

The debate over what to do about the asylum seekers crossing our southern border — revived this week after the Quebec government worried aloud about its ability to deal with a possible surge of arrivals this summer — is serious, tawdry and dangerous.

On Wednesday, for instance, Conservatives celebrated when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged in the Commons that crossing the border between official points of entry could be called “illegal.”

(The government typically refers to “irregular” border crossings. The Conservatives insist on calling them “illegal.”)

NDP MP Jenny Kwan later stood on a point of order to argue that, according to a strict reading of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the people crossing the border at places like Roxham Road in Quebec aren’t committing a crime.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accused the NDP of quibbling over “semantics,” but the adjective “illegal” is obviously meaningful to the Official Opposition. And when applied to human beings with families and children who might have excellent reasons for fleeing their home country, “illegal” is at least a fraught term.

Playing politics

The Conservatives, who describe the ongoing border crossings as a “crisis,” would like the government to table a plan for resolving the situation. They went as far as tabling a motion in the House this week calling on the Liberals to do so.

But — in the classic style of opposition motions — the request for a plan was buried in text that would have had the government acknowledge its “failure to address the crisis” and “admit the Prime Minister’s irresponsibility of tweeting #WelcometoCanada to those seeking to enter Canada through illegal means.”

 

And so Liberal MPs declined to support the motion in a vote on Tuesday, and so Conservative MP Ted Falk stood in the House on Wednesday and lamented the prime minister’s refusal “to even commit to a plan.”

The Conservatives also charge that the irregular arrivals are “queue jumpers,” a description the government rejects.

The Liberals argue the Conservative and NDP proposals — respectively, to declare the entire border to be an official port of entry, or to unilaterally suspend Canada’s border agreement with the United States — are both irredeemably flawed. And the situation is certainly complicated, legally and practically.

But writing down and publishing a detailed plan could still be useful.

In the meantime, each side is warning the other about where all this might be headed.

‘The flames of fear and division’

“I recommend that my colleague choose his words carefully, because false information and incendiary rhetoric only fan the flames of fear and division,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Tuesday, scolding Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus.

“I’m worried that the dialogue in Canada is going to switch from ‘how we do immigration’ to ‘if we do immigration,’ ” Rempel told CBC radio’s As It Happens that same day.

On Wednesday, Trudeau said it was “completely irresponsible of the Conservatives to arouse fears and concerns about our immigration system and refugees.”

But Rempel contends that it’s the Liberals who could be inciting division.

“As someone who supports compassionate, planned, orderly migration, and sees it as a key to sustaining the Canadian economy over time when done properly, legally, and safely, I worry that by abdicating the responsibility to do this, it is actually the Liberal Party that is creating divisiveness in the country,” she told the House this week.

More than 6,000 people have crossed the Quebec border seeking asylum so far in 2018 and officials expect the surge to continue with the onset of warmer weather 7:34

Trudeau’s tweet and Trump’s edicts

Canada takes pride these days in not being the sort of place where such divisiveness dominates. But you don’t need to look far here to see how large-scale, unplanned immigration can trigger something ugly and destructive.

In the United States, migration has helped to inspire a nativist litany of grievances that is warping American politics. In Europe, it has helped to birth a new era of nationalism. All sides should be aware of the forces at play here.

However much the prime minister’s tweet on January 28, 2017 acted as a beacon to those seeking refuge, policy decisions in the United States are no doubt giving people good reasons to flee.

But that American approach isn’t likely to change soon. On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that 9,000 Nepalese immigrants will have to leave by June 2019. And even if Trudeau had never hashtagged a message of welcome to the world, the federal government would still bear the responsibility for managing the border.

Liberals can point to the emissaries they have dispatched to dissuade would-be travellers, but such efforts will be discounted if the rate of crossings doesn’t decline. The Trudeau government can point to the funding and resources it has committed to dealing with the new arrivals, but ultimately the Trudeau Liberals may find they have little room now to quibble with the premier of Quebec, or to suggest that it’s the province that should be doing more to accommodate asylum seekers.

If social services in Quebec are noticeably stretched, if immigration procedures bog down, if community tensions rise, Ottawa will be blamed.

Of course, all of this — the number of people crossing the border, the processing and integration of those people while they’re here, the language being used to talk about them — are ripe for political exploitation.

Responsible critics have a duty to avoid overstating the danger here. Responsible governments have a responsibility to limit the grounds for concern.

Source: The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

Refugees in Sicily: “Seven Minutes” Integration through fashion – Film teaser by our son

Our filmmaker son, Alex, shot this teaser for a short doc he is shooting in Sicily about a refugee from the Ivory Coast, Abdoulaye, and how his love for fashion helps him integrate into the local community.
Hope you enjoy it and find it as interesting as we did:
https://vimeo.com/262167627 Password: Partinico

Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal

Not surprising. I can only imagine the internal conversations.

Of course, compared to Trump tweets, contradictions and reversals … (not intended as a benchmark):

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used Twitter to welcome refugees to Canada last winter, it prompted a spike in inquiries from would-be refugees to Canadian embassies abroad, and resulted in confusion within the federal government, newly released emails reveal.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau said on Twitter Jan. 28, 2017, the day after Trump put out an executive order banning refugees and visitors from Muslim-majority countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

It was widely seen as a comment on Trump’s policy. To date the message has been retweeted over 400,000 times and liked more than 750,000 times. International commentators wondered whether Canada was announcing it would take in all those banned from entering the U.S. Some Canadian officials wondered about that too, according to records the National Post obtained through an access-to-information request.

Noting that Trudeau’s message had been picked up by the New York Times, an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada official anticipated in an email to colleagues, the same evening as the tweet, that “there will be more pressure” to respond the following day.

Two days later, officials stickhandling media requests were worrying about overloading spokespeople. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to figure out how not to max you out,” one said in an email.

In addition to requests from media there were queries from Canada’s own officials posted abroad. Concerns from the embassy in Mexico appear in an email chain with the subject line “Guidance required on how to respond to increasing number of refugee enquiries in the region following change in US administration and Prime Minister’s tweet.”

The first secretary and “risk assessment officer” at the embassy, whose name is redacted, sent an initial message on Feb. 1, 2017, four days after the tweet.

“I am seeking official guidance/response from Ottawa on how to address refugee enquiries following all the publicity around the US ban on some nationalities, and our Prime Minister’s tweet on welcoming refugees,” the email began.

“We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from the public about requesting refugee status in Canada, and a number clearly having links with our Prime Minister’s tweet this weekend. A significant number of the enquiries received since the weekend have been from nationals of the ‘US banned countries’, but we are also receiving them from all nationalities, both through emails and directly at our reception.”

The first secretary went on to say that some of the requests had come from Cuban nationals, and that the mission in Costa Rica had been in touch to express concerns about inquiries being received there, too.

“In the current situation, other missions in our area of responsibilities are probably seeing the same thing happening and I think we need to liaise with them and provide formal guidance on how to address these enquiries given the Prime Minister’s tweet,” the official wrote. “A number of clients are asking if it is true that Canada will accept the refugees the US are rejecting, and what is the process to do so. … I would imagine that missions all around the world are seeing these enquiries increasing since the weekend.”

Much of the ensuing conversation — shared with nine Global Affairs Canada email accounts, another six from IRCC and a few that are blanked out — is redacted.

But it shows immigration officials responding with lengthy messages containing response lines developed to clarify Canada’s intentions after the tweet.

An IRCC official told diplomats on Feb. 2 that the lines, approved by the Privy Council Office, were also being shared with officials at the Canada Border Services Agency. The suggested response started with: “We are working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, U.S. officials and our missions abroad to clarify the current situation and determine what our next steps might be.”

Trudeau ultimately stood by the message in his tweet but began adding, during public appearances, that “there are steps to go through” to be considered a refugee. Canada did not change the number of refugees it would accept through resettlement programs. But Conservative politicians would go on to blame the tweet for encouraging an uptick in irregular crossings by asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border, particularly in Manitoba and Quebec.

Trump’s travel ban was met with widespread protest and challenged in court. After parts of the executive order were struck down, Trump twice reissued altered versions, both of which include the same list of countries minus Iraq. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the latest iteration, issued in September, by June.

Source: Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal

Australia: Being cruel to refugees doesn’t strengthen multiculturalism

I find Minns somewhat over the top. There is a correlation between confidence in immigration and border management, to deny this is counter to the Canadian experience.

This does not justify some of the anti-immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric (and some of the Australian government’s initiatives) but denying any link and not taking border management seriously is another matter:

There are now dozens of statements from United Nation bodies, condemning Australia’s refugee policies as harsh, inhumane and detrimental to the health and safety of the refugees.

In the face of this criticism, over the last two years, the Australian government has developed a new rationale for this extremely harsh treatment. They now claim that the measures used against boat arrivals – mandatory detention, permanent exclusion and being sent (now for five years for some) to Nauru and Manus Island – are, paradoxically, the very things that reinforce public support for immigration and multiculturalism.

The Prime Minister’s website quotes him as saying that: “Strong borders allow the government to maintain public trust in community safety, respect for diversity and support for our immigration and humanitarian programs.”

His blog reiterates the message: “Strong borders are the foundation of our high-immigration multicultural success”. Peter Dutton made the same point in a speech in London last year.

In fact, government figures have shown few reservations about wading into Pauline Hanson’s territory when they have felt it is in their political interest to do so. In November 2016, Dutton claimed that Malcolm Fraser made a mistake in allowing Lebanese Muslims into the country – not fundamentally different to Hanson’s call in the election that year for a total ban on Muslim immigration. In the same year he said that “illiterate and innumerate” refugees would take Australian jobs or “languish” on the dole and Medicare. Hanson’s 1996 maiden speech said that “immigration must be halted in the short term so that our dole queues are not added to by, in many cases, unskilled migrants not fluent in the English language.”

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge suggested earlier this month that mulitculturalism is at risk unless tougher English-language tests are introduced for potential migrants. He argued that those from a non-English-speaking background are often concentrated “in particular suburbs… with a considerable absence of English being spoken or understood.” Again, Hanson, speaking then of Asian migrants, said that “they have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.”

Last April Dutton introduced a bill to require permanent residents to wait four years, instead of one, to apply for citizenship. He plans to reintroduce it this year. It is another signal to the electorate that we should be suspicious and fearful of new arrivals. It is a move in the direction of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, who are opposed to multiculturalism and want to extend the waiting time for permanent residents before applying for citizenship to ten years.

Both Turnbull and Dutton raced to condemn Sudanese youth gangs in Melbourne in January. Although the Federal government has no jurisdiction over the matter and despite the fact that crime in Victoria was down nearly 5 per cent in the year to last September, Dutton claimed that people were afraid to go out to restaurants. Again, fear is stoked, insecurity deepened and small, easily identifiable, non-Anglo groups blamed. In this soil, it is inevitable that broader hostility to immigration will grow – something that Tony Abbott, ever the opportunist, has noticed and taken advantage of with his call for deep cuts to immigration.

The claim that our government is staunchly defending a tolerant multiculturalism by taking necessarily harsh action against asylum seekers is difficult to sustain.

The international record on such action and its effect on the broader society is also informative. When the years spent in squalid refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere finally became too much and exploded into large refugee flows into Europe in 2015 and 2016 some governments took brutal and exclusionary actions. Hungary sent troops to force refugees back from its border. Today its Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejects taking any refugees in coordination with other EU countries, calling them “Muslim invaders.”

The Polish Law and Justice Party fought and convincingly won the 2015 election on the basis that it would not accept even one Muslim refugee. In so doing it has legitimised racism and Islamophobia. As many as 60,000 took part in a march in Warsaw last November organised by a movement called “White Poland”. With banners such as “White Europe” and “Clean Blood” they outnumbered the official Independence Day celebrations.

In Austria, Sebastian Kurz became Chancellor late last year after campaigning on a hard anti-immigrant policy, including seizing money from asylum seekers to pay for the costs of their temporary accommodation. Now, he has joined in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Its leader, and now Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has continued the attack, calling for asylum seekers to be shut up in conditions which some have described as chillingly reminiscent of concentration camps. The party’s General Secretary Herbert Kickl has spoken of plans to create “camps” for refugees “to keep them concentrated in one place”.

The evidence from Europe is consistent with our experience in Australia. Right-wing populism, anti-immigrant sentiment, suspicion of and hostility to people simply because they are Muslim, cannot be effectively challenged by cruelty towards refugees. On the contrary, such refugee policies legitimise the fears on which that brand of politics thrives. These policies not only harm the refugees, they also harm the society in which we live.

There are alternatives to the current Australian refugee policy which do not amount to open borders. We know this is the case, because, in this country, we implemented many of these alternatives for decades very successfully. Thousands of Canberrans plan to march on this Palm Sunday to call for our leaders to do so again.

via Being cruel to refugees doesn’t strengthen multiculturalism

Canada vastly unprepared to process migrants and refugees

Latest numbers and update on impact of the change to first-come-first serve:

A small change marks a troubling time in our immigration system.

Overwhelmed by an endlessly ballooning backlog, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) recently ditched the 60-day timeline to process asylum claims. People wanting to claim asylum will now be processed on a “first-in, first-out” basis.

The 60-day rule was put into place by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It required officials at IRB to process asylum claimants in order of their designated country of origin. Moreover, decision makers within the board had to process claims within two months. A generous analysis would say those changes were meant to improve procedural efficiency. I am not a generous person.

At the same time that Canada was promising ease of access to foreign millionaires, it created massive procedural obstacles for refugees.

In 2015, a federal court concluded that the major elements, specifically the lack of access for those deemed to be from “safe countries” ( i.e. a safe Designated Country of Origin) was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, that program has remained largely in place.

The effect has been catastrophic.

In 2012, when the Designated Country of Origin program was instituted, less than 10,000 claims were rolling in. Starting in 2014, those numbers have grown substantially. So, too, has the backlog.

By the end of the last year, the backlog was as high as 43,000 cases. The organization had anticipated a backlog of 30,000. The average wait time is now 20 months for new claims. Thousands of much older cases have languished.

Some have waited for an answer for more than six years. The new first-in, first-out system has thrown an already-lengthy process into disarray. Thousands of scheduled hearings have been cancelled, reports the Star’s Nicholas Keung.

IRB spokesperson Anna Pape said, “(The board) must postpone recent referrals at this time due to the operational limitations.”

The change at IRB is necessary but, make no mistake, it’s a move made out of desperation. With inadequate resources, the board has performed a herculean feat.

They’ve put in place a two-year task force to sort through legacy cases. Early last year, they dabbled with the first-in, first-out system under its former leader Mario Dion.

Dion had been unequivocal, saying to CBC News in July, “I am afraid the way things are at this point we will need additional resources … because there is a limit to how much you can stretch one person’s time.” He saw no hope in meeting the demands on the system, saying it was “essentially impossible to close the gap using existing resources.”

Money was a major hindrance, said Dion to the Canadian Press: “Efficiency has increased significantly, but there is no way we can deal with 30,000 cases when we’re funded for about 17,000.”

The most recent federal budget does lay out some money for the board but it lags behind what is needed. There is an additional $12 million in legal aid support for asylum claimants. Lawyers for refugees often tell me that a major obstacle is the lack of representation available to claimants.

Significantly, the budget allocates $173.2 million dollars for security operations at the border and for processing at IRB. Of that, $74 million dollars will be spent over the next two years on irregular migration.

There are bright spots within the asylum system. Funding for Yazidi women and girls fleeing ISIS’s terror remains in place. Canada recently stepped up to accept 1,845 refugees of 30,000 African asylum claimants that Israel is planning to mass deport. Canada’s move isn’t game-changing, but for those few, it is life saving.

Nonetheless, without an international action plan, the global migrant crisis will continue unabated. Simmering global hostility to migrants — refugees and non-refugees alike — looks likely to end up at Canada’s ports, airports and borders. For example, rumors and the eventual fact of the Trump administration’s rescinding of Temporary Protected Status is responsible for the Haitian migrants who have walked across the border.

The ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is aware of the need to pour attention and resources into the board. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has received an interim report on the IRB and a full report is expected later this year.

More migrants will come here and we need to be ready.

via Canada vastly unprepared to process migrants and refugees | Toronto Star

An obscure State Department policy change is likely to send immigrants to their death – ThinkProgress

Valid points – the report was viewed as one of the benchmark reports in this regard:

The State Department has “been ordered to pare back passages in a soon-to-be-released annual report on global human rights that traditionally discuss women’s reproductive rights and discrimination,” Politico reported earlier this week. This change is likely to have a devastating impact on many foreign nationals seeking asylum in the United States after facing persecution, or even the threat of death, in their home nation.

A trio of federal immigration laws and human rights treaties permit individuals, who otherwise would be subject to deportation, to remain in the United States — if they are likely to face certain kinds of persecution in their home country. An immigrant seeking asylum, for example, may remain in the United States if they can establish that they have a “well-founded fear of future persecution” in their country of origin. Similarly, under Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the United States agrees not to “expel, return, or extradite” a foreign national if it is “more likely than not that they would be tortured if removed to a specific country.”

Immigrants seeking asylum or similar protections often rely heavily on the State Department’s annual human rights reports to establish that their fear of persecution or torture in their home nation is well-founded. For example: The 2016 State Department report on the northwestern African nation of Mauritania warns that members of the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, an anti-slavery organization that advocates for the rights of Mauritania’s Haratine ethnic group, were arrested and tortured there. This report could provide members of this organization (or even members of Mauritania’s Haratine minority more generally) who arrive in the United States with the evidence they need to be able to stay.

The next round of human rights reports, however, reportedly will strip down passages “that describe societal views on family planning, including how much access women have to contraceptives and abortion,” as well as a “broader section that chronicles racial, ethnic and sexual discrimination,” as Politico reports. These changes are “believed to have been ordered by a top aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.”

It is unclear just how drastically these reports will be pared down, but the State Department should understand the stakes if it chooses to water down its human rights reports.

A major reason why asylum seekers must rely on State Department reports is that the U.S. government is one of only a handful of entities capable of compiling such information in such a comprehensive way. If the State Department will no longer provide complete information on subjects such as ethnic discrimination, female genital mutilation, anti-LGBTQ persecution, or similar topics, then it is unlikely that many immigrants will be able to find this information from alternative sources.

Though some of the slack may be picked up by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, there will no longer be a single, comprehensive source where immigration attorneys can go to demonstrate the kinds of persecution that occur in many foreign nations. Many immigrants may be unable to find any reliable source demonstrating that the persecution they face in their home nation is real. Worse, some immigration judges may even conclude that conditions have improved in nations with widespread abuses because the State Department reports no longer mention such abuse.

And when that happens, it is almost certain that innocent people will be sent back to oppressive regimes to be imprisoned, tortured, or killed.

via An obscure State Department policy change is likely to send immigrants to their death – ThinkProgress

Israel agrees to halt deportations of Canada-bound asylum-seekers

Good:

Ottawa has reached a last-minute deal with Israel to suspend the deportation of asylum-seekers who currently are waiting for resettlement to Canada.

Israel is set to begin deporting some 37,000 asylum-seekers, the majority of them Sudanese and Eritreans, in April after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government issued them expulsion notices.

The asylum-seekers, most of them deemed by Israel to be economic migrants rather than refugees in need of protection, can either leave voluntarily for a “safe” African country and receive $3,500 and a plane ticket, or face imprisonment.

The Canadian government is under the gun to resettle 1,845 of the African refugees whose sponsorship applications are currently in process, some for years.

“Canada does not support policies of mass deportations of asylum-seekers. The rights of asylum-seekers and refugees are laid out in the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, of which Israel is a signatory,” said Adam Austen, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“As the country that resettles the highest number of African asylum-seekers from Israel, we are in direct contact with the Government of Israel to convey Canada’s concerns about the situation.”

A spokesperson for Immigration Canada confirmed it has reached an agreement with Israeli authorities to allow the Canada-bound asylum-seekers to remain in the country and not be jailed until their sponsorships are finalized.

“We ask that sponsors advise the department should any of their applicants be issued deportation or detention notices,” said Faith St. John. “Our office in Tel Aviv has dedicated resources to deal with the applications.”

Italy Tavor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa, said the country recognizes the significance of the current “migration situation” and has allocated dozens of new staff positions to streamline and expedite the asylum determination process.

“Israel does not hesitate to grant refugee status when required, and follows a procedure consistent with the criteria and standards of international law, laid down by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” said Tavor in an email to the Star.

“With that said, the data about the migrants who have entered Israel illegally indicates that 70 to 80 per cent of the migrants are of working age (19-40 years old) and that there are about five times more men than women. These numbers are consistent with a population that is composed mostly of economic migrants.”

Jenny Miedema of the Dufferin County’s Compass Community Church, which is sponsoring 14 African refugees through Tel Aviv, said sending asylum-seekers to third countries — namely Rwanda and Uganda, according to Israeli media reports — remains an issue of concern.

“They will be dropped off at a brand new country, with a brand new language, with no legal status,” said Miedema. “These countries are no safe haven. By sending them there, it becomes somebody else’s problem.”

Joanne Beach, director of justice and compassion for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, which has a sponsorship agreement with Ottawa, said Canada must do its utmost to expedite the resettlement of refugees.

“The alliance is still concerned for the welfare of those at risk of deportation in Israel who do not have applications currently in process. We are appealing to churches to consider entering into a sponsorship agreement or partnering with a Canadian Jewish organization to help those at imminent risk of deportation from Israel,” said Beach.

“We pray that sufficient resources are put in place (by Ottawa) to reduce backlogs and processing times.”

via Israel agrees to halt deportations of Canada-bound asylum-seekers | Toronto Star

A Lesson on Immigration From Pablo Neruda – The New York Times

Interesting vignette from history, reflecting ongoing ideological debates:

Chile, like numerous other countries, has been debating whether to welcome migrants — mostly from Haiti, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela — or to keep them out. Although only half a million immigrants live in this nation of 17.7 million, right-wing politicians have stoked anti-immigrant sentiment, opposed the increased rates of immigration in the past decade and directed bile especially against Haitian immigrants.

Immigration was a major issue in elections here in November and December. The winner was Sebastián Piñera, a 68-year-old center-right billionaire who was president from 2010 to 2014 and will take over in March. Mr. Piñera blamed immigrants for delinquency, drug trafficking and organized crime. He benefited from the support of José Antonio Kast, a far-right politician who has been campaigning to build physical barriers along the borders with Peru and Bolivia to stop immigrants.

Chileans aren’t alone in witnessing growing xenophobia and nativism, but we would do well to remember our own history, which offers a model for how to act when we are confronted with strangers seeking sanctuary.

On Aug. 4, 1939, the Winnipeg set sail for Chile from the French port of Pauillac with more than 2,000 refugees who had fled their Spanish homeland.

A few months earlier, Gen. Francisco Franco — aided by Mussolini and Hitler — had defeated the forces of the democratically elected government of Spain. The fascists unleashed a wave of violence and murder.

Among the hundreds of thousands of desperate supporters of the Spanish Republic who had crossed the Pyrenees to escape that onslaught were the men, women and children who would board the Winnipeg and arrive a month later at the Chilean port of Valparaíso.

The person responsible for their miraculous escape was Pablo Neruda, who, at the age of 34, was already considered Chile’s greatest poet. His prestige in 1939 was indeed significant enough for him to be able to persuade Chile’s president, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, that it was imperative for their small country to offer asylum to some of the mistreated Spanish patriots rotting in French internment camps.

Not only would this set a humanitarian example, Neruda said, but it would also provide Chile with much needed foreign expertise and talent for its own development. The president agreed to authorize some visas, but the poet himself would have to find the funds for the costly fares of those émigrés as well as for food and lodging during their first six months in the country. And Neruda, once he was in France coordinating the operation, needed to vet the émigrés to ensure they possessed the best technical skills and unimpeachable moral character.

It took considerable courage for President Aguirre Cerda to welcome the Spanish refugees to Chile. The country was poor, still reeling from the long-term effects of the Depression, with a high rate of unemployment — and had just suffered a devastating earthquake in Chillán that had killed 28,000 people and left many more injured and homeless.

An unrelenting nativist campaign by right-wing parties and their media, sensing a chance to attack the president’s Popular Front government, painted the prospective asylum seekers as “undesirables”: rapists, criminals, anti-Christian agitators whose presence, according to one chauvinistic editorial in Chile’s leading conservative paper, would be “incompatible with social tranquillity and the best manners.”

Neruda realized that it would be cheaper to charter a ship and fill it up with the refugees than to send them, one family at a time, to Chile. The Winnipeg was available but since it was a cargo boat it had to be refurbished to accommodate some 2,000 passengers with berths, canteens for meals, an infirmary, a nursery for the very young and, of course, latrines.

While volunteers from the French Communist Party worked around the clock to ready the vessel, Neruda was gathering donations from all over Latin America — and from friends like Pablo Picasso — to finance the increasingly exorbitant enterprise. Time was short: Europe was bracing for war, and bureaucrats in Santiago and Paris were sabotaging the effort. With only half the cash in hand one month before the ship was set to sail, a group of American Quakers unexpectedly offered to supply the rest of the required funds.

Through it all, Neruda was fueled by his love for Spain and his compassion for the victims of fascism, including one of his best friends, the poet Federico García Lorca, who had been murdered by a fascist death squad in 1936.

As Chile’s consul during the early years of the Spanish Republic, Neruda had witnessed the bombardment of Madrid. The destruction of that city he loved and the assault upon culture and freedom were to mark him for the rest of his life and drastically change his literary priorities.

After the fall of the Republic, he declared, “I swear to defend until my death what has been murdered in Spain: the right to happiness.” No wonder he proclaimed the Winnipeg to have been his “most beautiful poem” as it steamed away — without him or his wife, as they did not want to occupy space that was better occupied by those whose lives were in danger.

And when that magnificent, gigantic, floating “poem” of his, after a hazardous voyage, finally reached Valparaíso, its passengers — despite the protests of right-wing nationalists and Nazi sympathizers — were given a welcome befitting heroes.

Awaiting the penniless survivors of Franco’s legions was President Aguirre Cerda’s personal representative — his health minister, a young doctor named Salvador Allende. Cheering crowds amassed on the dock, singing Spanish songs of resistance, gathered to greet the refugees, some of whom already had jobs lined up.

The refugees who came ashore on the Winnipeg would go on to help fashion a more prosperous, open and inventive Chile. They included the historian Leopoldo Castedo, the book designer Mauricio Amster, the playwright and essayist José Ricardo Morales and the painters Roser Bru and José Balmes.

Almost 80 years later, those undesirables pose disturbing questions for us, both in Chile and elsewhere. Where are the presidents who welcome destitute refugees with open arms despite the most virulent slander against them? Where are the Nerudas of yesteryear, ready to launch ships like poems to defend the right to happiness?

via A Lesson on Immigration From Pablo Neruda – The New York Times

TPS solution for Haitians not a priority in immigration debate | Miami Herald

Implications for ongoing flows across the Canada US border:

The U.S. Senate isn’t seriously considering a path to permanent residency or citizenship for more than 300,000 Temporary Protected Status recipients as part of an immigration deal to keep 689,000 Dreamers from being deported.

Two senators involved in ongoing immigration talks, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, said there aren’t active serious discussions about the fate of TPS holders from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.

“The bipartisan group is trying to get some consensus of what can pass that will protect the DACA Dreamers,” Nelson said. “What I expect is within two weeks we are going to get a DACA solution. I would hope it includes TPS, but if it messes up getting votes in order to pass the Dreamers, I think that would not be considered then and would be held for more comprehensive immigration.”

Flake said a proposal did exist at one point to take some visas from the diversity lottery and apply them to TPS recipients. But the idea, part of an immigration proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was rejected by President Donald Trump.

TPS has been discussed at recent Senate immigration meetings, according to Flake, but the topic isn’t under serious consideration as Senate Democrats and Republicans try to negotiate an immigration proposal that will receive 60 votes in the upper chamber, along with the approval of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and Trump.

“It’s been discussed but nothing firm,” Flake said, adding there’s “no serious discussion” about TPS.

The Senate stance on TPS comes after Trump reportedly blasted TPS recipients in a White House meeting, saying, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out,” and “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” — in reference to immigrants living and working legally in the United States under TPS and to making changes to the diversity lottery system.

Several senators, including Florida Republican Marco Rubio, have said in recent weeks that any immigration bill should focus on finding a solution for DACA recipients in exchange for stronger border security measures, though Trump has said he wants to end the diversity lottery and cut legal immigration as part of any deal to give DACA recipients and DACA-eligible unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship. Trump’s proposal is a non-starter for most Democrats.

“Legal status for those currently in DACA & stronger Border Security has overwhelming support & is ideal starting point for Senate debate,” Rubio tweeted on Tuesday.

South Florida is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haitians, along with a sizable number of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans.

Nelson said “you have to create a different kind of category” for current TPS recipients, because a mass exodus of 60,000 Haitians from the U.S. would have ripple effects on the economies of both South Florida and Haiti. Multiple bills that would provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship for some or all TPS recipients have been proposed in the House of Representatives, but a vote on any TPS bill isn’t imminent.

“In solving immigration problems you really have to also solve what are you doing with TPS because … there’s going to be cases where, for example Haiti, you can’t return 60,000 people all at once to Haiti,” Nelson said. “The economy of Haiti could not swallow that, but that’s more for immigration reform.”

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has signed on to multiple bills that would give TPS recipients a path to permanent citizenship and complained that most members of Congress were unaware of the issue. On Wednesday she said there would be more of an appetite to find a solution for TPS recipients if DACA recipients and DACA-eligible immigrants had already been protected from deportation by Congress.

“There just isn’t room in people’s hearts right now,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month he would agree to debate and vote on an immigration bill in the Senate, though he didn’t agree on a specific proposal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a lengthy speech on Wednesday opposing a massive budget deal that would keep the government open because “the package does nothing to advance bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers.”

The Department of Homeland Security canceled TPS for Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua in recent months and extended Honduras’ TPS designation until July in order to formulate a final decision. Nearly 60,000 Haitians, 200,000 Salvadorans, 2,500 Nicaraguans and potentially 57,000 Hondurans could be forced to leave the country in 2019 unless Congress passes legislation.

“I think that we really have to knuckle down and bring our nation into a 21st century immigration system. It’s ridiculous the way we are operating right now,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who has also proposed multiple bills to prevent TPS recipients from being deported.

“The lack of compassion, the demonization of immigrants, it’s not healthy for our country.”

via TPS solution for Haitians not a priority in immigration debate | Miami Herald

Gender persecution the top reason women seek asylum in Canada

More from the CBC analysis of IRB data (see Acceptance rate for asylum seekers in Canada at a 27-year high – Canada – CBC News):

A CBC News investigation reveals more than 15 per cent of female asylum seekers who arrived in this country in the past five years said they did so to escape persecution for being a woman. It’s the most common reason women seek refuge in Canada, ahead of religious, ethnic or political persecution.

Gender persecution includes practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation, as well as domestic abuse at the hands of a partner or family member, which accounted for half of the claims in the data obtained by CBC.

The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) decided on nearly 3,000 domestic violence claims between 2013 and 2017, accepting 58 per cent of them.

Claims based on domestic violence are, like all refugee claims, assessed based on two elements: the risk an individual faces and to what degree they can be protected in their home country, said Catherine Dauvergne, dean of the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard Law School and an expert in refugee and migration law.

“In cases of domestic violence, or really any persecutory harm which happens in the private sphere, the analysis almost always ends up focusing on what kind of state protection is available,” she said.

“The high number of claims that you’re seeing in this dataset is really reflective of the lack of organized, regular, reliable, dependable protection for women in all sorts of places around the world.”Nigeria was the source of the highest number of gender-based claims from women, as well as domestic violence claims, specifically.

In many parts of Nigeria, people believe women should be subservient to men, said Comfort Ero, a Nigerian-Canadian author and women’s rights advocate.

A woman who goes to the police to report domestic abuse would typically be sent home, Ero said, and even chastised by police for betraying her husband.

via Gender persecution the top reason women seek asylum in Canada – Canada – CBC News