At congressional hearing on border, Marjorie Taylor Greene complains about visa-free Mexican travel to Canada
This item is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.
Here's an attention-grabbing charge: the idea that Canada might be assisting an invasion of the United States by the other country on the continent.
Even more surprising? The comment came from a member of the United States Congress during a congressional hearing in Washington.
Less surprising? That member was Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversy-courting Republican best known as a gleeful flinger of partisan bombs.
It came during a hearing organized by Republicans titled: "Biden's Growing Border Crisis: Death, Drugs, and Disorder on the Northern Border."
She used her spot in the committee hearing to draw attention to the fact that Canada allows Mexicans to travel into the country without a visa.
And she alluded to an increase in Mexicans being stopped trying to enter the U.S. between ports of entry, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reporting 1,604 such incidents at the northern border in the first four months of this fiscal year compared with 882 for all of last year.
"It's extremely concerning, and dangerous to the United States of America's national security, that Canada's immigration policy allows Mexicans to travel, to Canada, without a visa," Taylor Greene said.
"It seems that Canada wants to participate in Mexico's invasion of the United States…. They end up coming into the United States."
What's the context
There has indeed been an increase in migrants entering the U.S. through Canada. Republicans have started raising it as an issue, part of their campaign against what they call the Biden administration's lax border policies.
In that process, some have cherry-picked the data: they've made the numbers sound more dramatic by comparing them to early in the pandemic, when there was little travel, and they've in some cases lumped together routine incidents at border checkpoints with stops between checkpoints.
The number of apprehensions is indeed up significantly from the last few years. But even at the current pace, Border Patrol Agents would stop fewer than 9,000 people coming from Canada this year; that's less than in the early 2000s, and a rounding error compared to the more than two million on the Mexican border.
A Democrat called the hearing a waste of time and said it would be better spent on serious problems.
"This manufactured northern border crisis," is how Glenn Ivey of Maryland referred to it.
"There's nothing going on with respect to Canada that merits them being treated like some kind of rogue state…. They're a good working partner with the United States."
Several Republicans, other than Taylor Greene, went out of their way to point out that their issue wasn't with Canada. The chair of the hearing, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, said: "They're friends — not anything other than that."
The problem, several Republicans said, was that the northern border is severely understaffed. Barely 10 per cent of U.S. Border Patrol Agents are stationed along the vast Canadian frontier, and even among that limited pool many are seconded for stints at the busier Mexican border.
The head of the U.S. Border Patrol Agents' union, Brandon Judd, said: "It's impossible to patrol the [northern] border." He said there's only one agent every 30 miles (48 kilometres).
Some speakers at the hearing referred to the new Canada-U.S. migration pact announced last week while U.S. President Joe Biden was in Ottawa, and suggested it benefited Canada more than the U.S. Others, the Democrats, referred to it as a good example of co-operation between two friendly countries.
There's no pressure on Canada, for now, to restore visa requirements on Mexicans. At issue is the fact that the country between Canada and Mexico, the U.S., requires a visa for Mexicans to enter.
This was a major irritant years ago. The Harper government created a visa requirement for Mexicans. The Trudeau government relaxed it.
Some U.S. immigration-watchers have been wondering whether the pressure from the U.S. could come for a policy switch.
Taylor Greene most certainly does not speak for the Biden administration, or for the Democrats who control the Senate, or even for many in her party; but she has a knack, sometimes, for serving as a bellwether of where her party is heading.
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