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Trudeau Visit Raises US-Canada Contrast Over Syrian Refugees

  • Jeff Swicord

When young, charismatic Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives Thursday in Washington for a state visit and meets with President Barack Obama, the two leaders will discuss ways to deepen their bilateral relationship.

While Trudeau's progressive policies are more in line with the Obama administration than those of his conservative predecessor, the two nations have charted different courses on the issue of accepting Syrian refugees.

Under Trudeau, Canada has begun implementing a program to resettle 25,000 refugees. Trudeau says it is important because "it defines us as a nation."

FILE - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2016.

FILE - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2016.

“I think he was referring to a very long tradition of values of welcoming people in need around the world," Canadian immigration activist Cathleen Farrell explained. "So the refugee class is an important class of people who Canadians have long received. And I think he was trying to express a lot of what the general public feels.”

Obama has proposed admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, a move that has met stiff political resistance. .

Security concerns following the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks have been raised by politicians, especially in the presidential campaign.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, addresses the crowd during an election night watch party in Stafford, Texas, March 1, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, addresses the crowd during an election night watch party in Stafford, Texas, March 1, 2016.

Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz have called for restrictions on Syrian refugees.

“I am leading the fight in the U.S. Senate to stop President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s plan to bring to America, tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees. Why, because the administration itself admits it cannot vet these refugees,” Cruz said in a November debate.

But refugee advocates like Lavinia Limon with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reject that notion.

“Refugees are the most vetted people of anyone who is admitted to the United States," she said. "The Paris bombers were Belgian and French citizens. They could take part in a visa waiver program which means they could just buy an airplane ticket.”

Cathleen Farrell says there was some anti-immigrant feeling in Canada. But the story of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy who drowned last year off the Turkish coast as his family was trying to reach relatives in Canada, shocked the country.

“I think that hit people very hard in Canada," she said. "They felt sorrow and they felt shame.”

As Trudeau and Obama meet in Washington, their talks will focus on trade and climate change. But the refugee issue is likely to come up. The Obama administration has applauded Canada's policy of welcoming Syrian refugees.

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