Two places called Eagle Pass—U.S. could learn from Canadian history

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Appeared in the Financial Post, February 16, 2024
Two places called Eagle Pass—U.S. could learn from Canadian history

There are two places in North America named Eagle Pass—one in British Columbia and one in Texas. Both are small and non-descript, yet both witnessed, in their times, historic events where the life of a country stood in the balance. B.C.’s Eagle Pass had its moment in 1885. Texas’ is playing out now.

Just beyond Eagle Pass B.C. is the place where, in November 1885, Donald Smith of the Canadian Pacific Railroad drove in the last spike, marking completion of a national railway. This “ribbon of steel” connected the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific and gave rise to the string of cities that helped define Canada’s west—Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina, Calgary, Revelstoke and Vancouver.

Building the CPR was an audacious undertaking for a young country. Teams of labourers had to cut and blast passages through the unforgiving mountains of B.C. and the granite shield of northern Ontario, build trestle bridges across soaring gorges and raging rivers, and battle floods, snowstorms and all the inclement weather Canada can muster. They set out with no guarantee a route was even possible; the crew going west across the Prairies was nearly at the Rockies before Major Rogers finally found a pass through the Selkirk range that today bears his name.

The financial obstacles were just as daunting. After years of false starts, when work finally got underway the investment syndicate and the government of Sir John A. Macdonald both nearly collapsed under the weight of construction costs. In its final stage, bankruptcy seemed inevitable, its backers resigned to losing everything, which for some CPR officials even included deeds to their homes.

The 1885 ceremony in the shadow of Eagle Pass was not just about finishing a railway, it was a celebration of shared values, sacrifices and vision. A country needs more than bodies, it needs believers. It needs people willing to risk their capital on new ventures, not merely consume the capital built in the past by others. And it needs leaders who, above all, love the people they govern and want them to prosper.

Which puts into full relief the nightmare underway at the other Eagle Pass, a little town along the Texas-Mexico border, which has been one of the most crowded crossing points where an estimated six million migrants have illegally entered the United States since Joe Biden took office and dismantled the Trump-era border security measures. Not only has the Biden administration refused to secure the southern border, it’s gone to court to force Texas and Arizona to dismantle the physical barriers they tried to erect.

Cities as far away as New York and Chicago are buckling under the strain of housing even small shares of the migrant flows. In December 2023 alone the number of illegal immigrants topped 300,000. The Biden administration chose that moment to order Texas Border Patrol agents to cut down a razor wire fence in Eagle Pass thus opening yet another entry point. In response, Governor Greg Abbott dispatched the Texas National Guard to block federal personnel from entering the site. The Biden administration filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court, which ruled in the administration’s favour.

Abbott, undeterred, declared an invasion was underway and invoked Constitutional authority to assume state control over the Mexican border. His declaration, he says, “supersedes any federal statutes to the contrary.” In open defiance of the Biden administration, he’s refused to remove the razor wire and instead is adding to it, effectively daring Biden to deploy armed forces against him. Twenty-five Republican governors have announced their support of Texas’ stance.

Biden has said he could shut down the border but is first demanding more money for the Ukraine and Middle East wars and other administration priorities. Thus he all but admits that the open border was a deliberate choice and is exploiting the nationwide mayhem and anger it has caused to blackmail Congress on other issues.

Biden’s actions thus embody the very opposite of the nation-building, unifying spirit on display at Eagle Pass, B.C. in 1885. The president has pitted states against states, neighbours against neighbours, and Washington against its own citizens. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, a majority of Americans (including 39 per cent of Democrats) believe Biden is risking a civil war. Why is he doing this?

The cynical answer is the Democrats want to pack southern states with grateful foreigners who will eventually acquire voting rights and give them a permanent Congressional majority. This charge was once confined to the fringe. But in the absence of any other rationale, it’s now becoming widespread. If it isn’t the reason, then the Biden administration should explain itself, even if it means admitting to monumental incompetence. And above all, the administration should act quickly to secure the border.

Building the CPR was controversial and difficult, but everyone in Eagle Pass, B.C. that day understood the goals: to build and unify a great nation. The Biden administration’s actions at Eagle Pass, TX are dividing and demoralizing the U.S. and squandering its economic and social capital. I hope that the spirit present in 1885 in the first Eagle Pass somehow descends upon the second and restores hope to a nation in crisis.

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