Justin Trudeau’s government announced a major change to how Canada and the United States process asylum claims, a move that effectively shuts down the controversial border crossing, after meetings with Joe Biden in Ottawa on Friday.
Canada will bring an additional 15,000 South and Central American migrants to Canada under a deal that Canadian officials hope will curb a surge in irregular border crossings in recent months. The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the agreement would ensure more “fairness” in migration between the two countries.
Progress on irregular migration was one of several new policies and funding efforts announced by the two countries on Friday.
Until 2004, asylum claims could be made at any legal port of entry in Canada, where they would be processed and the claimants would be admitted if their claim was approved.
That changed when Ottawa successfully lobbied for the Safe Third Country Agreement, a deal that forced migrants to file asylum claims in the country where they first arrived. The current agreement covers land ports of entry, but not irregular or unofficial crossings.
In recent years, tens of thousands of migrants have bypassed the agreement and sought asylum at unofficial checkpoints along the 5,500-mile US-Canada border. Expanding the agreement to apply to the entire border, officials can now turn back migrants trying to cross through unofficial border crossings.
Although Canada pushed for the agreement in 2004, the deal has frustrated immigration officials amid a surge in asylum claims at the Quebec-New York border in recent years.
Last year, about 40,000 people entered Canada via the Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing through the woods in upstate New York. The crossing has become politically contentious in recent months, with opposition leaders and Quebec’s premier calling for the crossing to be closed.
In January, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police intercepted more than 5,000 asylum seekers along the road, the most since the government began tracking the 2017 surge that began after Donald Trump was elected president.
Changes to the deal require only an executive order, not congressional approval, meaning they could go into effect quickly. The deal is expected to take effect shortly after midnight, CBC Radio Canada reports.
Calls for an overhaul have also been fueled by a spate of deaths among people making irregular crossings in the freezing winter weather.
But the decision to change the agreement, which Trudeau government officials have been pushing for, has raised concerns that by preventing highly visible crossings, desperate asylum seekers could pursue more clandestine and dangerous crossings, as is all too often the case in the US-Mexico border. limit
“If the Canadian government applies the agreement to the entire land border, they will be launching a program to create jobs for smugglers,” University of Toronto law professor Audrey McLean said before the announcement.
The amendment to the agreement also raises questions of enforcement.
McLean said: “How do you think you’re going to patrol a border that’s thousands of kilometers long? Why would you do that? It would be an incalculable waste of all kinds of resources.”
US officials, who see 200,000 irregular crossings at the US southern border each month, had asked Canada to help ease pressure on its border by helping resettle 15,000 people.
It is unclear whether those covered by the quota will come through immigration, refugee or temporary foreign worker routes. The deal is not expected to change Canada’s current effort to resettle 25,000 refugees this year and 29,000 by 2025.
Amnesty International condemned the decision to amend the agreement, calling it an “infringement on the rights of refugees seeking safety”, echoing fears that the move would “incentivise migrants to attempt more dangerous crossings” to remote areas of Canada.
“It is also unconscionable that the government would take this step while the constitutionality of the agreement is being reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Cathy Nivyabandi, Amnesty International’s Canadian secretary, referring to the upcoming court case. the decision on the constitutionality of the agreement itself.
In addition to the migration deal, the two leaders talked about the transition to clean energy, climate change and economic cooperation.
“I tell other world leaders that I meet with. we’re lucky to have Canada to our north,” Biden said, calling the visit an “honor.”
“All our values are the same. We sometimes agree and disagree on things, but there is no fundamental difference between our shared democratic values, and that really makes a big difference.”
The two countries also used the visit to Ottawa, the first time a sitting US president has spent more than a few hours in the country in nearly two decades, to announce hundreds of millions in new funding efforts.
Canada has pledged C$420 million to protect the fragile ecosystems of the Great Lakes.
Under pressure from the Americans, Canada also announced C$100 million in new funding for Haiti’s national police amid the Caribbean nation’s eroding political stability and security. Canada is also expected to announce plans to accelerate its efforts to standardize North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) military equipment.
Later in the day, Biden addressed the Canadian Parliament, speaking to lawmakers, former prime ministers and a host of other guests. Among those attending the speech were Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavore, who were jailed by China in response to their country’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States. The two men remained in custody for more than 1,000 days.
In recent weeks, concerns about Chinese interference in Canada’s election have dominated the country’s domestic politics and have been the subject of debate between Biden and Trudeau.