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As America Closes Its Doors, Canada Opens Its Arms

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media at the end of a two-day cabinet retreat in Calgary, Alberta, Canada Jan. 24, 2017. (Photo: Chris Bolin/Reuters)

Last year, during the week of the U.S. presidential election, in an opinion piece published here at Huffington Post, I criticized Canada's immigration system. I denounced the lack of resources being dedicated to reducing the backlog of spousal immigrant applications and the egregious wait times that foreign spouses of Canadian citizens had to suffer.

At the time then, the backlog kept spouses apart for more than 24 months and created enormous pressure on the emotional health and stability of families. As a foreign immigrant married to a Canadian citizen, I felt that waiting two years to process a spousal visa was way too long and completely outrageous.

In my opinion piece, I declared that Canada's immigration backlog was as harmful and "ridiculous as building a wall between two countries". At the time, like many people and almost all the pollsters in the world, I underestimated Trump's chance of winning the election. And I didn't believe that even if he won that he would actually have the tenacity to go through with trying to build such a monstrous wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

But I was incredibly wrong. And now look how the times have changed in just three short months.

With only a week in office, Trump has signed his name to two separate executive orders that will severely affect the lives of immigrants and refugees.

In Canada, after I and many other applicants spoke out about the backlog in Canada's immigration system, the federal government promised to devote more resources and to improve the process for spouses. They vowed to cut the wait time and backlog for spousal immigration applications by more than half, from a tortuous 24 months down to a more manageable 12 months. They also promised to expand the annual quota for spousal immigrants in 2017 and they issued a new simplified application kit.

Canada's immigration minister at the time, John McCallum, said that "We have listened to Canadians.....Bringing families together makes for a stronger Canada. Canadians who marry someone from abroad shouldn't have to wait for years to have them immigrate or be left with uncertainty in terms of their ability to stay."

Meanwhile, in stark contrast to what has been taking place in Canada, the Trump administration has moved quickly since taking office to enact xenophobic, racist and anti-immigrant policies. With only a week in office, Trump has signed his name to two separate executive orders that will severely affect the lives of immigrants and refugees.

The first order he signed calls for a wall to be built on the U.S. border with Mexico. In the second executive order also issued this week, Trump indefinitely suspended admissions for Syrian refugees and halted the issuing of visas to the nationals of six other mainly Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, for three months.

The consequences of Trump's executive orders are beyond symbolic. His wall, and the idea to pay for it with a 20 per cent import tax on Mexican goods, will have a real economic cost associated with it. And it will be a cost born by the American consumer, as well as Mexican businesses. And rather than keeping immigration at bay, the damage to the Mexican economy could lead to an increase in the number of migrants looking to leave an impoverished situation.

Additionally, his executive order halting refugees, particularly from Muslim-majority countries, violate fundamental human rights and completely go against the sense of moral human decency. Refugees are the most vulnerable class of people who have gone through great lengths to flee from persecution, discrimination, armed conflicts and war.

What happened to the America that welcomed the "tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?

Contrary to what Trump thinks, his executive orders barring refugees and erecting a wall between our southern neighbour do not protect American interests. In fact, these will be costly in terms of economic and security terms. His policies will likely foment even greater hatred of the United States abroad.

As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the United States has a responsibility to help refugees. But it is a responsibility that it no longer takes seriously. With nationalist fervor, Trump yells that he wants to place "America First" and make "America Great Again." But he forgets the values that this great nation was built upon. What happened to the America that welcomed the "tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?

While the United States is quickly shutting itself down and becoming more insular, Canada remains open to immigrants. Over the past year, Canada has been extremely welcoming of Syrian refugees. And following Trump's recent move, Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued a statement on Twitter restating his country's commitment to welcoming refugees.

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Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, holds a news conference to update Canadians on the possible impacts of recent immigration-related decisions made by President Donald Trump, in Ottawa on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)

So I urge the Canadian government and the recently appointed Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, who is himself a former refugee, to continue to open its doors to more asylum-seekers following the deplorable actions by U.S. President Trump to restrict them. Because the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies will now make Canada an even more attractive destination for migrants and refugees.

Canada is a beacon of stability and a defender of human rights. It's a place where immigrants are valued and refugees are provided sanctuary. The United States could learn a lesson or two from its neighbour to the north, rather than focusing on the bogeyman on its southern border.

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