Canada’s immigration minister was scheduled to sit down with his U.S. counterpart Tuesday as both countries face mounting political pressure to staunch the flow of undocumented migrants across their shared border.
Sean Fraser’s office said the minister would be meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas before he holds a news conference at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The meeting comes as Quebec Premier Francois Legault has been pushing the federal Liberal government to do something about the tens of thousands of would-be asylum seekers pouring into the province from the U.S. each year.
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly acknowledged that it’s time for Canada and U.S. to renegotiate the 2004 immigration treaty that creates an incentive for migrants to sneak onto Canadian soil.
The Safe Third Country Agreement, as it’s known, allows both Canada and the U.S. to turn away refugee claimants from a third country who try to make a claim for asylum at an official entry point.
That treaty, however, doesn’t cover claims by migrants who arrive in Canada by entering between official crossings, such as at Quebec’s Roxham Road, the country’s busiest unofficial entry point.
Quebec calls on Ottawa to slow flow of asylum seekers at Roxham Road
More than 39,000 claims were filed in 2022 by people who were intercepted by the RCMP, the vast majority of them in Quebec.
Legault has urged Trudeau to raise the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden, who is expected to make his first official in-person visit north of the border later this month.
“Roxham Road will have to be closed eventually, whether we like it or not,” Legault wrote in a letter to the prime minister last month.
“Quebec has a long tradition of welcoming refugees, and we are proud to contribute to this humanitarian duty. However, this influx cannot continue…. The capacity to receive refugees has been greatly exceeded.”
Mayorkas, meanwhile, has been targeted by Republican rivals on Capitol Hill who want to hold him and the rest of Biden’s administration to account for what they call a “crisis” of illegal immigration in the U.S.
As part of that effort, some of Biden’s critics have taken to talking more and more about the Canada-U.S. border, though the scope of irregular migration is nowhere near the numbers at the U.S.-Mexico frontier.
They’ve formed the Northern Border Security Caucus, a new coalition of 28 Republican members of Congress who say they are concerned about the influx of drugs, crime and undocumented migrants from Canada.
The group acknowledges that the perils of the northern border pale in comparison to the escalating migratory crisis south of the Rio Grande.
But they cite a steady increase in recent months in the number of “encounters” between border agents and people lacking U.S. legal status as evidence that the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Global migrant crisis worsens during the pandemic
Some blame Canada’s lack of visa requirement for travellers from Mexico and what they consider a less stringent approval process for student visas than the U.S. has.
From October through January, the first four months of fiscal 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded 55,736 encounters at or near the northern border with people deemed inadmissible to the U.S.
That was more than twice the nearly 24,000 encounters during the same four months the previous year, and already halfway to the 109,535 reported during the entire 12-month stretch of fiscal 2022.
© 2023 The Canadian Press