FM: If it weren't for all those immigrants our social security system wouldn't have a deficit. Foreigners are taking advange of us and we need to do something about it.
Me: You think so? All immigrants?
FM: Most of them.
Me: OK, can we quantify that? Do you have a percentage or a number of those who are cheating the system?
FM: I'm trying to drive here.
Immigration is a topic where feelings definitely trump facts. I was reminded of this when I read on Andrew's blog, Multicultural Meanderings, that some Canadians were getting a bit under the collar over "birth tourism". This is where foreign women come to Canada for the sole purpose of having their children born on Canadian soil and thus becoming Canadian citizens at birth (jus soli).
My first thought when I read that was: Wait a minute, I've seen this before... Oh yeah, people in the US worry about this, too. Well, if two countries in North America are concerned about this, it must be a big problem, right?
To my surprise and delight the Canadian government took the stories very seriously and went looking for evidence. (My goodness, what a sensible thing to do.) And what did they find?
The proposal, marked “secret” and with inputs from various federal departments, found fewer than 500 cases of children being born to foreign nationals in Canada each year, amounting to just 0.14 per cent of the 360,000 total births per year in the country.Forgive me, but with numbers like that the brouhaha over "birth tourism" which is being used to attack jus soli citizenship law in Canada looks more like a solution in search of a problem and not the other way around.
Given that the same kind of arguments and anecdotal evidence appear in both Canada and the US - two counties of immigration with relatively generous jus soli laws (citizenship conferred at birth based on place of birth) - then clearly there is something about it that makes people uneasy and want to either restrict it or to move to a birthright citizenship system based on blood (jus sanguinas).
Those emotions make it very hard for the Canadian government to come up with a politically acceptable response. When human beings feel very strongly about something, law and policy-makers can be as rational and evidence-based as they please, but they can't make their constituents like (or accept) what they have to say. The facts as they stand today will not prevent this myth from coming back in a future news cycle.
Birthright citizenship (both jus soli and jus sanguinas) makes me uneasy but for reasons completely unrelated to "birth tourism" and you can read what I've said about it here and here.
And finally for your viewing pleasure is a wonderful Jon Stewart piece about a recent immigration crisis in the US: tens of thousands of children entering the US illegally causing a humanitarian and security crisis. What I love about Jon Stewart is how he uses humor to make his point. Every episode is a guided discovery where he invites his viewers to come along with him for a ride which almost always ends with "Aren't we being a bit silly about this, folks?"
And that's a damn good tactic. Answering an argument from the gut with facts is, alas, not very effective in changing people's minds about anything. Worse, it can stop the conversation completely; ("Just shut up and let me drive.") Just something to think about on a Monday morning...