NIAGARA FALLS, ON — For the first time in his administration, President Biden traveled to Ottawa, Canada, to discuss the difficult immigration issues with Prime Minister Trudeau.
They will announced a new immigration agreement between the two countries. It would end a legal process that has allowed tens of thousands of immigrants from around the world to to move between the countries and pursue asylum cases without going through official border crossings.
Under the new agreement, each country would be able to turn away asylum seekers without authorization. But Canada has agreed to accept 15,000 such individuals who were previously caught by border security.
Some of the decisions made by the President and Prime Minister have a direct impact on our regional bi-national cross border communities especially Niagara Falls.
It's clear the United States and Canada are linked in so many ways, such as the annual $950 billion in cross border trade and 400,000 crossing the border every day, so what is happening over there does have some impact over here.
The shared tourism magnet communities of Niagara Falls could have a projected 14 million visitors this summer season.
Many do stay in cross border hotels. But right now there is that immigration flow where many who came from the U.S. southern border have actually gone north into Canada seeking asylum there, and the Canadian government has moved many of them into 2,000 booked Niagara Falls, Ontario, hotel rooms.
That situation cropped just as Niagara Falls was counting on its first full season without COVID restrictions for any tourists who want to cross the border.
Niagara Falls, Canada, Mayor Jim Diodati told 2 On Your Side: "This is supposed to be our big recovery summer. Luckily, we've got about 16,000 hotel rooms and approximately 2,000 are currently utilized. So I was just on the phone with our immigration department, and they assured me that they're working on mitigation plans, including using some of our universities and colleges, the residences for the summer, so that we can relieve some of the pressure."
He added: "We've got several thousand asylum seekers in our community right so we've been juggling. We're trying to do our part. We're a nation of immigrants, and the churches, and the mosques, and the temples are all trying to do their part to bring them coats, and boots, and hats, and whatnot. And you know our soup kitchen and our food banks have been feeling the extra pressure, and I can tell you the schools are feeling the pinch too. We've had to set up emergency classrooms in the libraries and the cafeterias and gymnasiums."
We asked, "Do you think any of them may want to come back - try to get back into the U.S. if they can or do you thing they would want to stay in your country?
Diodati replied: "Well, that's a good question. I think most of them now because of the safe third-country agreement that Canada and the U.S. have, you can only declare asylum once in one country."
Diodati continued: "Listen, they don't want to sit in a hotel room anymore than we want to pay to keep them in hotel rooms. Let's get them to work. Let's get them on their own two feet, and let's get them being productive contributing members of our society."
And now Canada reportedly again agreeing in this U.S. presidential visit to legally accept 15,000 asylum seekers who have been caught by Canadian border security agents.
Diodati concluded: "Looks like they've come to a good conclusion that it's gonna be symbiotic. That's going to help the U.S. for their southerly border, and that's going to help Canada with our southerly border."
Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins who represents Buffalo and Niagara Falls also applauded the agreement.
"Canada is a country that is very welcoming to migrants and willing to accept 15,000 every single year. That's a good solution," Higgins said.
Congress members Higgins and Bill Huizenga of Michigan also led an effort to encourage the Government of Canada to strengthen its commitment to protecting and investing in the Great Lakes.
An announcement was made Friday night that Canada will invest $306 million to protect the Great Lakes.
In a letter to President Biden, the members said, “we write to underscore the importance of the Great Lakes to the United States and Canada, as well as the shared commitment that both our nations must uphold to support the Great Lakes.”
The Congressmembers say Secretary of State Blinken told Congress this issue would be a priority in bilateral discussions. The Representatives wrote “We encourage you to highlight the importance of this binational resource, the investments needed to restore and protect the Great Lakes during your official visit to Canada…”
Republican Representative Claudia Tenney, who also represents portions of Western New York as well as Northern New York, also commented on the Biden- Trudeau meeting. Her statement read:
"New York’s 24th District is the largest dairy producing district in the Northeast. Given its proximity to Canada, our dairy industries are uniquely intertwined. During the USMCA, Canada made promises designed to improve market access for New York dairy producers. Unfortunately, these commitments have not been upheld, which led the U.S. Trade Representative to establish a dispute settlement panel under USMCA to address this dispute. Today, I asked USTR Ambassador Tai for an update on this matter and if she would consider additional enforcement actions to protect New York dairy producers. The Biden Administration must work to hold Canada accountable for meeting its USMCA obligations. In addition, President Biden continues to meet with foreign leaders to discuss how to combat the influx of migrants entering our country, but has yet to meet with our brave border agents. Following the 856% spike in illegal crossings in a portion of our Northern Border, I visited CBP agents at the Buffalo Sector to discuss this on going crisis. President Biden should do the same and make visiting our border agents who risk their lives everyday a top priority.”