Human rights activists and immigration advocates expressed concerns over a new immigration deal between Canada and the United States that allows either country to turn away asylum-seekers who reach the border at unofficial crossings.
Since U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on March 24, the agreement has received a strong reaction from refugee and immigration rights advocates.
Critics of the deal say asylum-seekers will still attempt to cross the border but now will try to do so undetected and in more dangerous ways.
Yael Schacher, director for the Americas and Europe at Refugees International, said via email that this agreement erases access to protection for people seeking safety in North America.
"The expansion of the U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country agreement was kept a secret for a year and now is being implemented without opportunity for comment on its implications on refugee protection in the hemisphere, including the possibility that it will incentivize entries at ever more remote parts of the border in order to evade detection. … Additional legal pathways Canada reportedly may provide to some refugees will not make up for this cutting off of access to asylum at the U.S.-Canada border," she wrote.
The migration agreement is aimed at helping Canada stem the rising number of asylum-seekers who have crossed into the country from the United States. Nearly 40,000 asylum-seekers entered Canada from the U.S. in 2022, the highest number since Canada began tracking such crossings in 2017. Most of them entered at Roxham Road in Quebec.
Under the previous migration pact, U.S. and Canadian officials were able to turn back asylum-seekers in both directions at formal points of entry, but this did not apply to unofficial crossings. Canada had been pressing the United States to expand the deal, called the Safe Third Country Agreement, to include unofficial crossings.
Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the research group Center for American Progress, said in a statement emailed to reporters that the agreement is troubling and a backward step.
"Canada and the United States should use their partnership to build the migration management system needed to address historic levels of human mobility. … Shutting down avenues for asylum-seekers to reach safety does not achieve that. The Biden administration must live up to its commitment to build a sustainable and humane immigration system," Gaspard wrote.
As part of the deal, Canada has agreed to create a pathway for 15,000 refugees from Latin America to enter the country and ease pressure on the U.S. southern border.
"We continue to be open to regular migrants. And we will increase the number of asylum-seekers we accept from the Western Hemisphere in order to compensate for closing these irregular crossings," Trudeau said at a news conference.
Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters on March 23 the deal was "good news," without being more explicit.
At a congressional hearing Tuesday on the situation at the northern U.S. border, Andrew R. Arthur, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington research group dedicated to reducing immigration, mentioned the new U.S.-Canada agreement, calling it a "strong protective measure for the Canadian government."
"So, this really just benefits Canada. It doesn’t benefit the United States," he said.