President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached an agreement in March after meeting in Ottawa to address migration, trade, and defense concerns. The agreement allows both countries to divert asylum seekers crossing the United States-Canada border. Specifically, the agreement applies to individuals that are caught crossing without proper documentation from either country within 14 days of entering the country. This deal will significantly impact asylum seekers heading into Canada from the United States, mainly through a popular unofficial crossing point known as Roxham Road in New York.
The Safe Third Country Agreement
The Canadian government has been trying to expand the 2004 The Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which has limited Canada’s ability to turn away asylum seekers coming from the U.S. That agreement also states that the United States is the country designated by Canada as a safe third country. The Safe Third Country Agreement requires refugee claimants to request refugee protection in the U.S. before they arrive in Canada through official U.S.-Canada border crossings. Under the agreement, migrants are required to make an asylum claim in the first “safe” country they reach, whether it is the US or Canada, before moving forward to either country.
This agreement was initially put into effect to allow for both governments to improve management in accessing the asylum system for both countries for people crossing the United States-Canada border, and was intended to discourage individuals from making multiple asylum claims in different countries and ensure that asylum seekers can receive protection in a safe country. However, Roxham Road has been a loophole for migrants, as the policy does not apply to the unauthorized entry point.
Roxham Road is a rural road connecting the United States and Canada near Champlain in upstate New York and Hemmingford in Quebec. It became a popular crossing point for asylum seekers because of that loophole mentioned previously in the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. With the new agreement in place, the loophole that allowed migrants to claim asylum at such unofficial ports of entry will close.
Nearly 40,000 asylum seekers crossed into Canada in 2022 without authorization, which is more than double the number in 2019. The vast majority of them entered at Roxham Road. It is expected that with the new agreement in place, Canada will see a decrease in unsanctioned immigration and an increase in authorized crossings. The increased number of sanctioned migrants into Canada is expected to make up for closing the irregular crossing points.
Goals of the Agreement
Both the U.S. and Canada look to achieve fair, safe, and orderly asylum protection and border security. Therefore, the goal Prime Minister Trudeau has for this agreement is to protect the integrity of the system, and to more efficiently control the flow of migrants between the U.S. and Canada. In turn, this new agreement has sparked discussion about alternative unsanctioned immigration pertaining to the high possibility of migrants seeking out alternative riskier and more dangerous routes.
According to NY Times, Canada also has agreed to provide a new refugee program for 15,000 migrants from South and Central America who are fleeing violence, persecution and economic difficulties, lessening the pressure of unsanctioned crossings into the U.S. through its Southern border. It will be interesting to see how the agreement plays out and how it will impact immigration between the U.S. and Canada.