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A family crosses into Canada at Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing point from New York State to Quebec for asylum seekers, in Champlain, New York, on March 25.CARLOS OSORIO

If you’ve been dreaming of a guilt-free, morally pure, no-hard-choices solution to the problem of irregular border crossers into Canada, illegal border crossings in the United States, overwhelmed refugee determination systems in both countries and people smuggling in all directions, I offer you this simple answer: open borders.

Under open borders, anyone who wanted to move to Canada could. Simple as that. If 10 million immigrants wanted to come to Canada this year, then 10 million would.

There’d be no more refugee claimants sent back to the United States under the Safe Third Country Agreement. Anyone would be free to enter Canada, work as soon as they arrived, remain as long as they liked and become a citizen. There would be no need for an Immigration and Refugee Board to determine who is or isn’t a genuine legal refugee; there’d be no need for refugee claims at all. We would also get rid of Canada’s immigration points system, which gives priority to people with advanced educations and in-demand skills. We’d admit everyone, and give priority to no one.

There would be no annual immigration targets, such as this year’s target of 465,000 immigrants, including 266,000 economic immigrants, 78,000 spouses and children, 28,500 parents and grandparents and more than 92,000 refugees and compassionate cases. Under open borders, Canada would not select immigrants, and “no one is illegal” would not be a slogan. It would be the law.

While you ponder that, I should make it clear that I don’t think an open border is right for Canada. But unless you do, there’s no way to design an immigration system that doesn’t involve choices – sometimes hard and unpleasant ones – about who gets in and who doesn’t. There’s no avoiding it.

Many Canadians are uncomfortable with the closing of the Roxham Road-sized loophole in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. I believe the government made the right move, but the discomfort of the critics is not without reason – real people are affected, and not in pleasant ways.

However, unless you go all the way to open borders, every approach to immigration and refugee policy involves at least some people who want to come to Canada being denied entry. It’s inevitable.

The Roxham Road loophole was not a principled response to any of that. A Canadian family hoping to bring in their grandparents still had to apply from overseas and wait in a queue. Ditto regular immigrants from overseas. Same story for refugee claimants from Syria or Afghanistan in a refugee camp.

But if you were from a country where U.S. visa rules are loose enough, and you had enough cash for a plane ticket, you could fly to the United States and then slide into Canada’s refugee-determination system at Roxham Road. Or if you were able to get to Mexico, make it across the U.S. border and then head north, you could similarly jump the queue and make your claim directly on Canadian soil.

But every successful refugee claim at Roxham Road was quietly but effectively reducing the number of spots available to people in refugee camps an ocean away.

What’s more, unless our policy is that everyone who claims asylum gets asylum, we need some sort of legal process to figure out who is a refugee and who isn’t. Canada has such a system and, after detailed investigations that tend to last for years, it finds that many refugee claimants are not refugees, and orders them deported. That’s what happened to one of the families that recently died trying to illegally cross from Canada into the United States though Akwesasne Mohawk territory.

And then there’s the underpinning of our entire immigration strategy. The Trudeau government aims to raise immigration to 500,000 permanent residents a year by 2025 – roughly double the level under the Harper and Chrétien governments. That move was justified in 2016 by the government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth as a plan for, well, economic growth. A higher population, said the council, would expand the economy, but only if new immigrants are more productive than average Canadians will each slice of pie grow faster than the number of forks. If immigrants are less productive than Canadians, the number of forks will grow faster than the pie.

“An increase in overall economic output (GDP) is a positive thing for Canada,” wrote the council, “but only if the expansion translates to a rise in living standards for the average Canadian (GDP per capita). This goal can be achieved by focusing the recommended increase in immigration flows among educated and highly skilled workers, and those with specialized skill sets lacking in Canada.”

In other words, Canada’s immigration policy is not just about having more Canadians, but more educated, skilled and productive Canadians. To do that, newcomer immigrants have to be mostly young, educated and skilled. One big knock against the Liberal government is that while many new immigrants meet the criteria, too many do not. Immigration can raise everyone’s living standards, but only if we’re selective about who we let in, and who we do not.

To govern is to choose. There’s no getting around it. Nowhere is that more true than at the border.

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