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IMMIGRATION AND POPULISM IN CANADA, AUSTRALIA, AND THE UNITED STATES
Working Paper

In the second decade of the 21st century, the world experienced the rise of a global populist movement built around ethnic nationalism and hostility to foreigners and immigration. This movement has been led by the United States after the election of Donald J. Trump as President in 2016, and today includes leaders in Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Brazil, and a host of parties throughout Europe that challenge the liberal international order. Canada, Australia, and the United States are three former British colonies that were settled by successive waves of immigrants from abroad. By 2017, the percentage of people born outside the country was nearly 22% in Canada, 29% in Australia, and 14% in the United States. Despite having higher levels of immigration, it is remarkable that neither Canada nor Australia has generated a strong populist movement, or a leader as has the United States. Both countries have achieved political consensus around policies that welcome substantial numbers of immigrants, while controlling their character though a point system and providing substantial support for their settlement and integration. The United States, by contrast, has tried repeatedly since the 1980s to establish a clear policy on immigration and has failed to do so. The US has neither been able to legalize the situation of the 11-12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country nor to effectively enforce its existing immigration laws. The country is highly polarized between pro- and anti-immigration camps, a polarization that has only deepened over time. The three countries had very similar immigration policies up until the 1960s. All three sought to encourage immigration, but were highly selective in where those immigrants could come from: Canada’s Immigration Act of 1910, the “White Australia” policy, and America’s Reed-Johnson Act establishing national origin quotas strongly favored immigrants from northern Europe. All three countries gradually relaxed these controls in the 20th century, accepting first Southern and Eastern Europeans in the first half of the century, and then opening up their societies to immigration from other parts of the world in the 1960s.

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