The Plague-Ground — “Give me your tired and your poor…”

Bob Ramsay
5 min readJan 25, 2021


In just a few hours last week, Joe Biden began dismantling what Donald Trump took four years to build up. This made Sleepy Joe one of the fastest 78-year olds in America.

His 30 executive orders included rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, keeping the US in the World Health Organization, halting construction on the wall with Mexico, and one of special interest to Canada.

Not the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. But the order that reverses Trump’s restrictions on US entry for passport holders from seven Muslim-majority countries.

It’s not that Keystone isn’t a big deal and a bad one for Alberta. It’s that immigration is something Canada is the best in the world at (I kid you not) and America is an abject failure. So they have much to learn from us. And now that America is rebuilding its respect in the world, we need to reach out to our best friends and show them how to do it.

Ask an American what immigrants mean to the country and they’ll either say they’re rapists and terrorists, or that they’re immigrants themselves. Ask a Canadian, and they’ll likely say: “More immigrants mean more restaurants.”

The reality is somewhere between these poles. But in the months to come, people flooding across borders will become ever-bigger news.

I say this because last year more people, 26 million of them, became refugees than in any other year in history.

Last year, America admitted fewer refugees, 15,000 of them, than any time since the Refugee Act was passed in 1980.

Yet last year also, Canada, with a population one-tenth that of America, admitted twice as many refugees as America, 30,000, which also happened to be more than any other country on earth.

America’s borders closed last year because of the pandemic, and because of Donald Trump’s distaste for refugees.

In fact, back in 2019 one of his top immigration officials, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, tried to change the words on the Statue of Liberty to read: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.” Later that day, the Times reported that he said the poem referred to “people coming from Europe.”

Two of America’s abiding myths flounder in the face of these facts.

The first myth is that America is a nation of immigrants. True, 50.6 million of America’s 330 million people landed there rather than being born there. But by 2018 the rate of immigration had slowed to much less than a decade earlier — to about 200,000 that year, a 70% drop from the year before. Trump once more.

But while the pandemic slowed immigration to a trickle last year, Canada in 2018 welcomed more than 303,000 immigrants. Again, a nation with a tenth of America’s population not only welcomes more refugees, but more immigrants.

This is why 35% of New York’s residents may have been born outside America, but 50% of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada. In fact, by 2016 so many people from a ‘visible minority’ were living in Toronto that they became the visible majority of 51.6% of the population. This could be the first time in history that a white population has peacefully given up their majority status. What’s even more remarkable is that most people in Toronto, white or otherwise, are unaware of this.

The second myth is that America welcomes the world’s dispossessed. This hasn’t been true for at least 40 years. Since 1980, America has admitted 3 million refugees. Yet over the same period, Canada has admitted more than a million refugees.

Last year, Canada offered 30,082 refugees the chance to build a new life for themselves and their families. Last year, Donald Trump set the cap for refugees coming into America this year at 15,000. No surprise that this is the lowest number of accepted refugees since 1977.

But aside from racist politics, here’s the big difference between Canada and the US when it comes to admitting refugees.

In the US, there is only one way to get into the country as a refugee: by first applying to the United Nations Refugee Agency ( UNHCR) which determines if they are fleeing persecution in their homeland. With that approval in hand, the refugee can apply for refugee status with the US Department of Homeland Security’s Refugee Admission Program.

But Canada also has a private refugee sponsorship program which the US doesn’t have.

This means groups of Canadians can decide to sponsor a refugee who’s otherwise been approved for entry into Canada. These groups can range from religious and humanitarian organizations, to small groups of neighbours. This is what America is missing: the small groups of neighbours.

In fact, Ottawa has a category called Groups of 5 (G5): “Five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents, who are at least 18 years of age, live in the expected community of settlement and have collectively arranged for the sponsorship of a refugee living abroad. These individuals act as guarantors that the necessary support will be provided for the full duration of the sponsorship.”

This program has proven so popular that it now accounts for 58% of Canada’s refugees.

I remember when so many Syrian refugees applied for refugee status in 2015. I also remember many friends who raised their hands and said: “We’d be happy to sponsor someone.”

We all have friends in America who would do the same thing, especially now that raising your hand isn’t viewed as either an act of patriotism or insurrection.

So I only hope Joe Biden’s policymakers will look north when they’re drafting the new rules for what happens in that new nation of immigrants south of the 49 thparallel.

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Bob Ramsay

Bob Ramsay is a Toronto writer, communications consultant and speaker series host: The Plague-Ground is his daily blog.