'It's not just a broad net.' Herrell defends asylum proposal for Canadians protesting COVID mandates

Michael McDevitt
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES — Congresswoman Yvette Herrell, New Mexico’s sole federal GOP representative, made headlines last weekend when she made comments proposing temporary asylum for Canadians protesting vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 mitigation measures.

On Feb. 19, Herrell said she would be introducing legislation to temporarily grant asylum to “innocent” Canadian protesters being “persecuted” by their government.

The congresswoman's comments came after reports of police using pepper spray and stun grenades to disperse protesters in Canada's capital city.

“Just as we provide asylum for political prisoners, we should do the same for truckers who have been subjected to violence, had their property confiscated, and their bank accounts frozen by a government that is quickly becoming the embarrassment of the free world,” Herrell said on Twitter. “We cannot be silent as our neighbors to the north are treated so badly.”

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Canadians initially protesting a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers swarmed and occupied Ottawa, the capital city, for three weeks in February, and the protest eventually broadened to oppose all COVID-19 restrictions. Protesters across Canada also blocked several border crossings with the United States for days, most notably the busy Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

From left, New Mexico state Senator Ron Griggs and U.S. House Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-NM, stand in front of the Buffalo Soldier gate in Fort Bliss.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau temporarily invoked an emergency powers law to freeze protesters’ financial assets and give the government broader authority to crack down on the protesters, including limiting lawful assemblies, allowing police to seize vehicles, requiring companies to cancel the insurance of trucks involved in the blockades and targeting crowdfunding websites used to raise money for the protesters. 

By Feb. 21, the Associated Press reported most protesters had been cleared from the area in Ottawa surrounding the Canadian Parliament. Trudeau relinquished the emergency powers last week.

According to draft text of Herrell's bill, which was introduced Feb. 25 and is titled the "Canadian Trucker Freedom Act of 2022," asylum would be offered to Canadians involved in peacefully protesting the COVID-19 mandates who were harmed "financially, physically, or in his or her reputation, as a result of" their participation.

More:After Canada, US truckers decided to start their own 'convoys'. What are they protesting?

"This is nothing more than helping and standing up to protect our neighbors to the north," Herrell told the Sun-News. "We already offer political asylum for those coming, say, from Venezuela and other countries. This makes it no different."

Herrell, whose district includes nearly 180 miles of border with Mexico, has spoken on several immigration issues in her first 14 months as a federal lawmaker. She has criticized the vetting of refugees from Afghanistan as inadequate and has criticized the release of Haitian asylum seekers presenting at the southern border who she argued could not be monitored to return for court dates. She has introduced legislation to prevent the release of undocumented immigrants who have criminal convictions, cartel, terrorism or gang ties or who cannot be vetted properly, before their immigration cases are complete.

She told the Sun-News the "Canadian Trucker" proposal isn't in contradiction with her other immigration views. Those eligible for asylum under the bill would have to go through the typical protocols for asylum, including a background check, plus must meet other requirements.

"It's not just a broad net that we're just throwing out there for everybody," Herrell said. "Certainly, there are some checks and balances, there are some protocols that have to be met."

The bill specifies Canadian asylum seekers would need to test negative for SARS-CoV-2 to gain admittance to the country.

Surrounded by trucks, two protesters carry canoe paddles as flagpoles, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 in Ottawa. U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., recently introduced legislation to offer asylum to Canadians involved in peacefully protesting the COVID-19 mandates who were harmed "financially, physically, or in his or her reputation, as a result of" their participation.

 Opponents of the congresswoman called the proposal a distraction. 

"Instead of fighting for better economic opportunities for New Mexico, Yvette Herrell welcomes QAnon conspiracists who are blocking trade routes and driving up prices for working families in the United States," said Maddy Mundy, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement. "Herrell should stop flirting with conspiracists across the border and start taking care of the hardworking families in her own district."

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The GOP congresswoman, currently in her first term, said it's not about agreeing with why the truckers were protesting. Rather, Americans should be concerned, she said, about the precedent being set.

"I'm fearful that if we don't stand up against government overreach, especially when it comes to freedom, that we could see it in our own country," Herrell said.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.