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Globe editorial: For Donald Trump, immigration is all about race

Long before Donald Trump referred to African nations as "shithole countries" last week, he was well known to use bigoted language about immigrants who come from places he'd prefer they didn't.

During his election campaign, he made sweeping generalizations about Mexicans being rapists and bringers of crime, and tarred all Muslims as potential Islamic terrorists.

As President, he reportedly said Haitian immigrants "all have AIDS" and that those from Nigeria would "never go back to their huts" (the White House denies he used those words). He also retweeted the posts of a racist anti-Muslim group in Britain, referred to white nationalists as "fine people," and had to be pressured into condeming the murderous violence those fine people committed in Charlottesville, VA.

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As a New York landlord in the 1970s, he refused to rent to black people and had to be forced into it by the Justice Department. Perhaps most famously, before entering politics he repeatedly accused former president Barack Obama of being born in Kenya, a racist trope that was utterly false.

Mr. Trump clearly views non-white people through a bigotted lens. His statement last week that he would prefer it if the U.S. brought in more immigrants from places like Norway, combined with the "shithole" comment, are just two more nails in the coffin of his irrelevant claim that he is the "least racist person that you'll ever meet."

His recent comments raise another issue, though: Does Mr. Trump even know how immigration works?

He has repeatedly said he wants America's immigration system to put less emphasis on family reunification and low-skilled temporary workers, and to end the lottery system that provides about 50,000 visas per year for people in countries that are underrepresented in the U.S. immigrant population. Instead, he wants to focus on "merit."

"I, as President, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries," he tweeted on Monday.

Mr. Trump has said that he thinks Canada's points-based merit system is a good model. He appears to believe that, by adopting it, America will bring in immigrants more soothing to his prejudices, since only better educated and more skilled ones will make the cut – Norwegians, obviously.

But Canada is proof that there are plenty of people who qualify for permanent residence under a merit system who aren't from small Nordic nations, and who aren't white.

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Canada has had a points system since the 1960s, when it was put in place specifically to replace a racist system that for more than a century had severely restricted the immigration of Asians, Jews and people from African and Caribbean countries.

Canada has since become one of the most diverse countries in the world. In 2016, more than one in five people (21.9 per cent) was foreign-born – a percentage that Statistics Canada projects will rise to as high as 30 per cent by 2036.

Of course, one in five Canadians was foreign-born in the 1920s, too, but more than half of them came from Great Britain, while 20 per cent came from the U.S. and almost all the rest were born in Europe and Scandinavia.

In 2016, the top five countries of birth of immigrants to Canada were the Philippines, India, China, Iran and Pakistan, according to StatsCan. They made up almost half of all the immigrants that year. Barely one third of immigrants to Canada come from the Norways of the world anymore.

At the same time, 60 per cent of the immigrants who came here in 2016 fell in the economic category, which meant they were selected based on their ability to contribute to Canada's economy, either by filling a labour-market need, creating a new business or creating their own employment.

So if Mr. Trump somehow believes a points system like Canada's will filter out the people he doesn't like based on their race, he's just wrong.

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It is also stupid to imagine that the non-tired and unhuddled masses in Norway – one of the highest-ranked countries in the world in terms of economic prosperity and quality of life – or people from any other predominantly white, non-"shithole" nation would move to America in numbers high enough to meet its needs.

Mr. Trump has nothing more than his racist views to guide him as he tries to reform U.S. immigration. With that as his starting point, he can only do harm.

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