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Biden reaches agreement with Canada on migration curbs

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

President Biden is back from his latest foreign trip. This one was to Ottawa. That's a trip that presidents usually make early on in their time in the White House, but it took Biden a while to get there, and he had a lot to talk about with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was on that trip, and he joins me now. Franco, I mean, I appreciate you being here in studio. You're probably suffering jetlag from your exotic travels.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: It's been a long last few days, but it's great to be here, Scott.

DETROW: I mean, I'm joking. But the point is, Ottawa is very close to the United States, and it is usually one of the first trips the president takes. And as we mentioned, it took some time to get there. But once Biden did get there, it really did feel like a love fest between him and Justin Trudeau, even though they might not have a lot of common on the face of things.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. It was a love fest. And there is kind of a lot of differences between the two, especially just the age gap. I mean, you probably know this, but Biden actually knew Trudeau's father, the former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau. And, you know, even though there is this age gap, Biden and Trudeau - the younger Trudeau, of course, you know - they're - have spent a lot of time on the same side of some major issues, particularly Ukraine.

DETROW: Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, actually, Canada has a huge Ukrainian diaspora. Trudeau is one of the biggest backers of Ukraine's fight against Russia, and they talked a lot about this over the last couple of days. Yesterday, particularly, Biden talked about expanding alliances and also praised Canada's dedication to Ukrainian refugees. And Trudeau, he called this a moment of consequence and also said there was a need to double down on democracies.

DETROW: Canada, specifically Montreal, is also home to a large Haitian community, and the crisis of gang violence in Haiti right now was another thing on Biden and Trudeau's agenda. But it seems like maybe that was an area where they were a little less in sync. What was going on?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. They've got some differences there that they're still trying to work out. I mean, the situation in Haiti, as you know, is really rough. Gangs have taken over the capital, basically. Both Canada and the U.S. have been doing their best to try to help. White House actually has been pressuring Canada to lead a military force - pardon me - to try to bolster the police and stabilize the city. You know, Canada was first supporting the idea but then kind of backed away.

You know, Trudeau said just last week and has continued to say that outside intervention doesn't work. Yesterday, he promised Canada would, though, contribute $100 million to support the police forces in Haiti. And Biden, actually, despite the White House's, you know, insistence for the last few weeks that military intervention is needed, he seemed to kind of back down a bit on the request for intervention. Here's a little bit of what he said.

JOE BIDEN: Any decision about military force that's often raised, we think, would have to be done in consultation with the United Nations and with the Haitian government. And so that is not off the table, but that is not in play at the moment.

DETROW: That's an interesting shift. So this is an issue where they're still trying to work out a path forward, but the violence in Haiti has certainly led to immigration issues both in the U.S. and Canada. And that was an area where the two men did have some agreement. Tell us about that.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. That was pretty big news. I mean, both countries are struggling with large number of migrants and migration. You know, it's actually a source of rising political pressure for Trudeau. He - so much so that he raised the issue of this treaty with the United States that many blame for the increase of illegal crossings. There's actually a popular unofficial spot - it's called Wroxham Road, which is between New York and Quebec - that gets so much attention.

Well, Biden agreed to some of those changes that will allow both countries to turn away more migrants. And this new deal essentially allows Canada to send asylum seekers who cross the border back to the United States. And the United States will be able to do the same, sending them back to Canada. And let me just note one more thing, Scott. Canada will also accept an additional 15,000 migrants per year who arrive at the U.S. Southern border, and that's folks from Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador and others.

DETROW: And that gets to a broader trend with Biden that you've been covering. He has taken a number of steps lately to try to curb migration. What's going on here? What is he trying to do?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, he's been cracking down. I mean, Biden is making it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the United States. You know, some of this, you know, has to do with politics, of course. You know, we've talked a lot about how Biden appears to be setting up, preparing for a 2024 campaign, run for a second term. And migration, you know, is a vulnerable issue for Biden politically, and it's a favorite issue for Republicans. It really energizes those voters. Biden has talked about a comprehensive reform package that would include, like, a path to citizenship, but that's not going to go anywhere in this Congress or anytime soon. And more recently, Biden is making it harder for people to seek asylum in the United States. And those tougher policies are a way, politically, for Biden to kind of tack back to the center.

DETROW: So Biden's positioning himself for a run for a second term. He still hasn't officially announced it, but one of the big ways he has been positioning himself lately has been this big economic message of trying to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. That HAS sometimes frustrated allies like Canada, because if you're building more things in the U.S., you're, you know, not building those things elsewhere. And yet Biden talked a lot about this on his trip to Canada.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. He even boasted that these big spending packages will help Canada. You know, I'm talking about - we're talking about packages that include Made in America provisions. But Biden made a case, and the case that he made is that the United States needs critical minerals for batteries and semiconductors, and there's some funding to give Canadians - companies - money to process those. So there's some incentives for Canada, but we'll see what happens.

DETROW: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks for coming in.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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