US and Canada reach a deal on decades-old asylum agreement

The US and Canada have struck a deal on changes to a decades-old asylum agreement that would restrict certain migrants from seeking protections in Canada, two Canadian officials told CNN, marking a significant change in how Canada accepts asylum seekers.

While discussions have been ongoing for years, the sharp increase of people crossing into Canada from the US – some of whom are believed to have initially crossed the US southern border – had recently placed added urgency on talks.

US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to announce the modifications to the agreement before Biden concludes his visit and travels back to the US, according to one Canadian official.

Ahead of Biden’s visit to Canada, Trudeau faced blowback domestically over hundreds of migrants crossing Roxham Road, a remote street that connects Champlain, New York, with Hemmingford, Quebec.

The so-called Safe Third Country Agreement, signed in 2002, applies to individuals who have transited through a country where they could’ve made an asylum claim because it’s deemed safe, as the name of the agreement implies. It’s in effect at ports of entry, and individuals entering at a land port of entry may be ineligible to make a claim and be returned to the US.

But Roxham Road is not an official crossing, meaning that people who transit there could still seek protections in Canada even though they passed through the US.

Crossings between ports of entry were not initially included in the agreement because of limitations to information sharing, experts say, prompting Canada to try to close that loophole now that those limitations have been lessened.

Trudeau told CNN’s Paula Newton on Thursday that “there’s a lot of work being done,” but added that “hopefully we’ll be able to make an announcement to reassure Canadians and Americans that we continue to handle migration seriously” – an apparent nod to the deal.

“Canada is always willing to do more,” Trudeau told Newton, when asked whether such an announcement would include taking some migrants directly from the US. “We’re a country that has been built by the United States and has been welcoming people from around the world. We just need to make sure we are doing it in responsible proper ways to continue to have our citizens positive towards Immigration as Canadians always are.”

US authorities have started flying migrants crossing from Canada into the United States to Texas for processing and if eligible, expelling them to Mexico or their country of origin under a Covid-era border restriction, according to a Homeland Security official.

US Border Patrol has recently seen a historically high number of migrant crossings in the northern region, prompting the agency to send additional authorities to the region to assist.

The Swanton Sector, which covers some 24,000 square miles along the US-Canada border, has fewer personnel than sectors along the US southern border and has been overwhelmed by the increase in border crossings.

“Swanton Sector Agents are seeing elevated levels of illegal entries from Canada. In just over 5 months, we have apprehended more individuals than the last three (3) Fiscal Years combined,” said Swanton Sector Chief Patrol Agent Robert N. Garcia in a tweet, calling it “unprecedented.”

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