Biden, Trudeau strike deal on asylum seekers during Ottawa visit

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau at Rideau Cottage, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Ottawa, Canada.
| Photo Credit: AP

U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a deal aimed at stopping asylum seekers from traversing the shared U.S.-Canada land border via unofficial crossings, an official U.S. document showed on Friday.

The two leaders are meeting this morning in Ottawa and are expected to discuss migration, how to address the worsening security and humanitarian situation in Haiti, the war in Ukraine, trade and fighting climate change, officials said.

The migration deal, according to a final rule set to be published in the U.S. Federal Register, will allow Canada to turn back immigrants at Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing point from New York State for a growing number of migrants.

Border crossings between the two countries are governed by the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which allows U.S. and Canadian officials to turn back asylum seekers in both directions at formal points of entry, but does not apply to unofficial crossings like Quebec’s Roxham Road.

The new deal extends the STCA to the entire border, the longest undefended frontier in the world, for people who claim asylum within 14 days of crossing, according to the notice. It will go into effect at midnight, according to officials from both Canada and the U.S.

The issue had been a growing political headache for Mr. Trudeau, whose parliamentary seat is in Quebec. But skeptics point to the difficulty and cost in monitoring such a long border, and the additional harm it may cause to migrants.

“It’s unworkable. How is a border this length monitored? People will cross undetected. People will cross in a more dangerous way,” said refugee lawyer Maureen Silcoff. “It’s a losing proposition to seal the border.”

As part of the agreement, Canada will take in an additional 15,000 migrants over the next year on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

“There are more people on the move in the Western Hemisphere (since) World War Two, it’s really staggering, and it’s historic,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC on Friday.

Mr. Biden will address parliament on Friday, after an introduction by Mr. Trudeau, and the two leaders will hold a joint news conference afterward.

Roxham Road, a dirt path that has become a route of choice for asylum-seekers, made international headlines in 2017 soon after then-U.S. President Donald Trump started cracking down on migrants, resulting in a rise in the inflow of asylum seekers into Canada.

Canada has been pushing the U.S. to extend the deal for a while. In recent months, there has been a sharp increase in asylum seekers entering Canada through unofficial border crossings. (Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington, Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto, additional reporting by Steve Scherer and Andrea Shalal in Ottawa, and Rami Ayyub in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland and Steve Scherer; Editing by Bradley Perrett and Jonathan Oatis)

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