After reminding the world that Canada is “a country of laws,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the nation will no longer be ignoring refugees who enter the country illegally. Faced with a rash of border crossings from the U.S. and growing criticism of his quixotic approach to border control, Trudeau’s decision marks a major turning-point from his campaign.
Evidently, Trudeau is recognizing what any head of state who campaigns for radically loose immigration policies must at some point: Opening borders poses serious problems, both practical and political. Angela Merkel is facing pressure to accept an upper limit of refugees in Germany, and many see Britain’s exit from the European Union as a rebellion against the EU’s more liberal refugee policy.
Canada’s refugee problem has grown exponentially in the past few months. In all of 2015, only 2,900 crossed over the U.S. border into Quebec illegally. Since July 1 of this year, that number has reached 6,800. Over half of those account for the first two weeks of August alone. A large number of these have fled the U.S. in fear of Donald Trump’s aggressive stance on illegal immigration and his proposal to make legal immigration a more exclusive process. Trudeau has not been vague on social media in his criticism of Trump’s border control policies, tweeting in January that Canada welcomes all, because “diversity is our strength.”
Enforcement is enforcement, however, and no progressive message of inclusion could save Trudeau from having to uphold his country’s laws. He informed the refugees on Sunday that they would be expected to go through the country’s “rigorous” screening process, reminding them that illegal crossing doesn’t allow them to circumvent existing laws.
This shouldn’t surprise. Canada’s process is one of the most rigorous in the world. Refugees aside, those who wish to immigrate to Canada must contend with a merit-based system similar to the one Trump proposed earlier this month. Skilled labor, points for French- and English-language proficiency, and high levels of education are all pre-requisites. As Trudeau is discovering, tone does not an immigration policy make.