US and Canada reach deal to turn back asylum seekers

Under the terms of the deal, Canada will be able to close its border to asylum seekers trying to enter from the US

Abe Asher
Thursday 23 March 2023 21:30 EDT
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The United States and Canada have reportedly reached an agreement that will allow the countries to turn away asylum-seekers at their shared border in another apparent crackdown on refugee rights by the Biden administration.

Mr Biden was scheduled to travel to Ottawa on Thursday on a 24-hour trip to meet with his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau about the agreement and an array of other issues including their differences on the handling of Haiti and the need to produce more batteries and other technology in North America.

The refugee policy, however, is expected to dominate the headlines from Mr Biden’s first presidential visit to Canada more than two years into his first term.

Under the terms of the agreement reported by The New York Times, which comes as rising numbers of migrants mainly from Central America have sought refuge and opportunity further north, Canada will be allowed to turn away migrants at the unofficial Roxham Road crossing commonly used as a point of entry for asylum-seekers coming from the US.

In return, Canada will reportedly establish a new programme to bring in 15,000 refugees fleeing violence, persecution and economic hardship in South and Central America — theoretically helping to decrease the number of migrants at the US’s southern border with Mexico.

The deal comes after Mr Trudeau worked for months to expand Canada’s ability to turn away migrants. Under the terms of a 2004 treaty with the US, Canada could only turn back asylum-seekers coming from the US if they were crossing at official points of entry.

That became an issue as border crossings at unofficial points of entry like the Roxham Road crossing from New York increased in recent years, with the total number of migrants coming to Canada increasing to nearly 5,000 people in January and straining the country’s support for its relatively liberal refugee resettlement policies.

However the deal is framed politically, it is likely to upset migrant rights activists who have seen Mr Biden’s administration in recent weeks float the possibility of returning to the Trump administration’s policy of detaining migrant families and has been accused of routinely separating families at the border.

Mr Biden has been criticised by several progressive members of Congress for his immigration policies, which have largely focused on preventing migrants from entering the country from Mexico.

The trip to Canada, where Mr Biden reportedly enjoys a warm personal relationship with Mr Trudeau, comes amidst rising tensions between the US and Mexico — with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador praising Donald Trump and attacking the US State Department.

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