The United States already has an impassible border wall keeping out terrorists and illegal migrants. It’s called “Canada.” If you stand on America’s northern frontier, there doesn’t seem to be much there. Of course, for most of its 5,525 miles, the line between the United States and Canada is practically invisible; you can cross into one or the other, simply by taking a step.
Nonetheless, the number of people who have successfully sneaked south across that seemingly undefended frontier has been incredibly small, especially when compared to America’s southern border. The frontier with Mexico bristles with fences, border patrols, volunteer militias, drones, and hidden cameras. Nonetheless, in a typical year, 200 times more illegal immigrants will cross that border, than the Canadian one.
Why? Because if you want to enter the United States via Canada, you have to first enter Canada. That means you either buy an airplane ticket, or trek across the North Pole. If you choose the former, Canadian border guards and intelligence agencies will know everything about you before you even get to the airport, and they decide whether you get a boarding pass or not. If you choose the latter, you’ll need a dozen sled dogs, a month’s worth of seal-blubber rations, and a support team equipped with Arctic-capable helicopters — all of which are harder to come by than you might imagine. All of this combines to effectively turn the Canada-US border into an impassable wall.
Or so we thought. In the last month, there has been an unprecedented surge in illegal migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers flooding across the American border — into Canada.
Among them are Somalis and Syrians, who have fled their homeland looking for safety, and families from Latin America, too. All are seeking a more prosperous future.
At first, Canadians were bemused at the sight of people walking across snowy fields, luggage and babies in hand. But this quickly turned to concern on both the right and the left. Many politicians from Canada’s Conservative Party want the government do more to prevent criminals and terrorists from sneaking in. Left-wing politicians in the ruling Liberal Party worried the sudden influx could spark a nationalist backlash.
Not coincidentally, these illegal migrants began to arrive not long after Donald Trump was inaugurated as President. His tough talk about deporting undocumented immigrants, the muddled executive order to ban travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and the surge in immigration raids have convinced many now is the time to flee for Canada.
Many arrive in Canada hoping that they will get a more just hearing from government, and that the odds of them being deported to their homelands are much lower. They are probably right. Canada traditionally takes in far more immigrants and refugees per capita than the United States. For example, Canada has accepted three times more Syrian refugees despite having a general population that is one-tenth America’s.
But many also come for compelling economic reasons. The poverty rate in Canada is a third that of the United States. College education rates are higher, and costs much lower. Home ownership rates are higher. Health care is cheaper. Life expectancy is longer. And upward mobility is much better. You are far more likely to move from the lowest income quintile to the highest in Canada than you are in the United States.
In short, the American dream has moved north.
This is all bad news for the United States. From the Mayflower to today, the source of America’s greatness has been its immigrants. For generations, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” have arrived with ideas and energy. First generation migrants are among America’s most successful, well-educated, entrepreneurial, and creative (and law abiding). Albert Einstein, Ayn Rand, Andrew Carnegie, Joseph Pulitzer, all of these are the types of people who made America great, and all were born elsewhere. But now, the next generation of great citizens, when they land on American shores, will keep walking until they reach Canada.
Scott Gilmore is a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs, the founder of the nonprofit Building Market, and a former Canadian diplomat.