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HomeCanadaRepublicans warn: Canadian migration is an issue.

Republicans warn: Canadian migration is an issue.

Canadians might not have noticed trend. But some Americans say it’s time to pay attention to irregular entry

Lawmakers speak at podium outside U.S. Capitol.
Republican lawmakers, including Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, centre, held a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to warn about a migration surge from Canada. (Alexander Panetta/CBC)

A group of Republican lawmakers say it’s time to protect the border. No, not that border. The other one, north of the United States. The one many Americans forget. 

Their focus: the frontier with Canada. 

That northern border usually is an afterthought in American politics, comfortably ensconced on the back burner of the country’s searing debates about the Mexican border. 

More than two dozen Republicans have a mission to change that, and they held a news conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday. 

They announced the creation of a new northern border security caucus, aimed at flagging concerns about the perennially disregarded frontier with Canada.

Its creation comes as part of a reality check about American political attitudes. 

Canadians are well aware of the surge in northbound migration, with people crossing into Canada from Roxham Road in Quebec, spurring Ottawa to plead for a new migration pact with the U.S.

What’s gotten less attention is the exponential surge in migration going the other way.

U.S. border security sees sharp hike in migrants from Canada

Number of encounters with U.S. officers at the U.S.-Canada border, by citizenship

Note: Data based on fiscal years, which run from October – September.


Chart: Graeme Bruce  Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection  CBC News

These American politicians want more people to realize there’s a historic increase from Canada involving foreign migrants entering the U.S., and even Canadians with criminal records trying to sneak in undetected.

One speaker after another acknowledged that the scale of this challenge is minuscule compared to the border with Mexico, but said it’s time to pay attention. 

The group’s wish list is still ill-defined, but what they clearly want is more monitoring technology, and more agents, which means more jobs in their border districts. 

Migrants seen carrying suitcases in the snow.
Migration into Canada via Quebec’s Roxham Road, seen here, is a major political issue in Canada. Politicians in Ottawa and Quebec are keen to renegotiate the Safe Third Country pact with Washington, so that the U.S. takes back migrants who enter Canada at irregular entry points like such as this one. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

‘We are being assaulted’

“We are being assaulted because we don’t have a border,” said Ryan Zinke, a congressman from Montana who served briefly in Trump’s cabinet. 

“This is a national security problem and the northern tier has their own set of challenges.” 

Tuesday’s events shed light on challenges on all sides: for this particular group of politicians, for the U.S. and for Canada. 

The limited interest in Canadian migration was evident inside and outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.

Not a single American reporter showed up to ask any questions at the outdoor press conference.

The only questions were from Canadian journalists, and they were about things like about how the countries could co-operate on migration.

That’s not what some of the politicians came to talk about.

After a few such queries, the most senior politician there, the No. 3 House Republican, Elise Stefanik, interjected to urge a focus on what truly matters here: There’s a border crisis, and it’s President Joe Biden’s fault. 

It was a similar theme inside the Capitol on Tuesday at the first hearing of the new Republican majority in the House homeland security committee. 

The hearing was about the consequences on states across the country of lax borders, with migrants and drugs spilling into every state.

At this border hearing, Canada wasn’t even an afterthought. 

This was made clear when a witness from Michigan shared a heart-wrenching story about her two sons being killed by fentanyl-laced pills.

The committee chairman, Mark Green, pointed out: “You’re in Michigan. … Quite a ways from the border.” 

In fact, the witness, Rebecca Kiessling, a conservative activist, lives in Rochester Hills, Mich., a 40-minute drive from Canada in moderate Detroit traffic.

That’s because in U.S. political parlance, “the” border is almost always the one approximately 24 hours of drive time south of Kiessling’s home, to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

This group of northern conservatives wants to change that. Fox News and other U.S. outlets  have, in fact, written about the massive migration surge from Canada.

The increase is real.

The recent trend

Statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show exponential growth in migration from Canada, with more than 55,000 encounters in the first four months of this fiscal year — almost eight times the 2021 rate.

These encounters can include anything from an arrest to an asylum claim, and they’ve disproportionately involved citizens of India, Mexico and Canada.

At the recent pace, there would be almost 170,000 such encounters at the northern border this year, which, for context, is barely five per cent of the comparable number for the southern border with Mexico, which is trending toward three million encounters.

Yet these lawmakers want Americans to realize drugs like fentanyl and cocaine are also coming through Canada, albeit in smaller amounts.

A sheet of paper being held in the air, showing numbers.
The Republicans handed journalists a chart showing how few border agents are posted on the border with Canada compared to Mexico. (Alexander Panetta/CBC)

“These numbers are outrageous. And they can not go unanswered,” said Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican from Michigan. 

“We’re here today to say, ‘We do have a problem. Let’s work together to fix it.'”

What they want is better technology for communications and detection, of the sort more frequently deployed on the southern border.

They also want more border agents. 

One Republican from Texas told a story about meeting border agents in his district who’d been redeployed — five times — from their normal posting in the north.

The lawmakers distributed stats: barely 10 per cent of U.S. border patrol agents are stationed along the Canadian frontier.

New York Republican Nick Langworthy said his part of the country has been left understaffed because border agencies are underfunded and struggling.

“Border patrol resources [are] trying to put a tourniquet on a gushing crisis at the southern border,” he said.

Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota said he’s sure Canadians are frustrated too. He said the Biden administration is allowing unlawful movement, while blocking lawful movement and trade with a continuing vaccine mandate for travel and his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

There was no Canada-bashing at the event. 

Representative Elise Stefanik speaks at a desk in Congress.
Elise Stefanik is the most senior member of the group. She’s the No. 3 House Republican, and also represents a border district in upstate New York. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Several speakers did mention, as a factor driving the phenomenon, Canada’s more permissive policies, such as visa-free travel for Mexicans and less stringent student-visa rules.

They suggested that people who can’t get into the U.S. lawfully have an incentive to travel to Canada and try entering illegally.

One border-union official at the event referred to the tragic case involving a family of four from India last year: The father got a Canadian student visa, and the whole family subsequently froze to death while trying to walk into the U.S. from Manitoba.

What does this mean for Canada?

There’s no guarantee this political effort winds up affecting Canada.

But it’s a sign of the political pressure Biden faces at home on immigration —  as Canada asks him to accept more migrants.

The governments of Canada and Quebec are pushing for the expansion of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

But the U.S. ambassador to Ottawa, in a recent interview with CBC News, refused to even acknowledge the countries are discussing this.

One Washington-based immigration expert, Theresa Cardinal Brown, told CBC News the U.S. has no political appetite to take on this issue right now.

In that same interview, however, Cardinal Brown also said that, perhaps, the spike in migration from Canada creates an incentive for the U.S. to talk.

“That may be a basis for a conversation,” said Brown, an immigration analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think-tank.

The U.S. hasn’t paid much attention to the northern border since the post-9/11 era, when concerns about terrorist movement dominated the Canada-U.S. conversation and led to security measures that slowed travel. 

Canadian officials and diplomats mostly like it this way. 

But there could be advantages, too, in the renewed attention, as leverage. When Biden heads to Ottawa, his Canadian counterparts making the pitch for a new migration pact might now point to these numbers and argue that a new pact would help both countries control irregular entry, and tell the president: Let’s make a deal.

Source: CBC

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