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Trudeau, Higgins lash out at U.S. plan for troops near Canadian border

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is suggesting the possibility of sending troops to the Canadian border to prevent Covid-19-infected undocumented immigrants from entering, but neither Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nor Rep. Brian Higgins thinks much of the idea.

The Department of Homeland Security asked the Department of Defense to deploy up to 1,000 troops to the Canadian border and 540 to the Mexican border, according to a March 19 memo outlining the proposal, which was first reported by The Nation.

The troops would not be assigned to areas like the Buffalo Niagara region, where ports of entry into Canada are staffed. Instead, they would be deployed to rural areas such as the North Country, where long stretches of the border are unguarded.

"Any unknown or unresolved illegal entries into the United States in between ports of entry have the potential to spread infectious disease," said Julianna Blackwell, acting executive secretary of DHS, in a memo to her counterpart at the Pentagon.

Trudeau, however, objects to the proposal.

“Canada and the United States have the longest unmilitarized border in the world, and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way," Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. "We have been in discussions with the United States on this.”

Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, offered a blunt reaction to the idea.

“This plan by the Administration to deploy 1,000 U.S. troops to the Northern Border is a waste of valuable military resources during a public health crisis, and a totally unnecessary aggressive front on the border we share with America’s greatest ally," Higgins said.

The Trump administration disagrees. In Blackwell's memo to the Pentagon, she said Customs and Border Protection officers need help from military troops to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Military personnel will not conduct civilian law enforcement activities," she wrote. "Decisions regarding the arming of military personnel for self-defense purposes and the related rules for the use of force will be informed by the circumstances of their missions and made by DOD as appropriate, in consultation with CBP."

Canadians see no need for such a move, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters.

“We are very directly and very forcefully expressing the view I shared a moment ago which is that in Canada’s view, this is an entirely unnecessary step, which we will view as damaging to our relationship,” she said.

Higgins agreed.

"There is nothing occurring at our northern border that can’t be managed by Customs and Border Protections officers and their counterparts in the Canada Border Services Agency," he said. "If troops are to be deployed they would be better utilized in operations assisting with the construction of hospitals and distribution of emergency supplies, on a mission to save lives.”

The United States reported 80,021 Covid-19 cases as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Canada reported only 3,878 cases.

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