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Trudeau, Trump Talk Borders as Asylum-seekers Stream into Canada


FILE - Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau attends a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after talks at the chancellery in Berlin, Feb. 17, 2017.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed border cooperation in a phone call on Thursday as pressure mounted in Canada over rising numbers of asylum seekers arriving from the United States.

The phone call, which followed a positive meeting between the two leaders in Washington last week, also covered the softwood lumber trade dispute, among other issues, Trudeau's office said in a statement.

The number of asylum seekers crossing into Canada at isolated and unguarded border crossings has increased in recent weeks amid fears that Trump will crack down on illegal immigrants, and photos of smiling Canadian police greeting the migrants have gone viral.

The White House said Trump emphasized the importance of working closely with Canada on cross-border issues, "including implementation of his administration's actions to protect America from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals and others."

Officials say Trump will soon issue a new executive order to replace the administration's directive suspending travel to the United States by citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries.

While Trudeau has won positive headlines for his welcome to refugees and has so far avoided political fallout with Trump, opponents and allies alike are pushing the Liberal government for a solution to illegal border crossings.

Brian Pallister, the Conservative premier of the province of Manitoba, called on the federal government for more resources to deal with the influx of asylum seekers, some of whom have lost fingers to frostbite in the dangerous crossing.

A man who claimed to be from Sudan runs for the border after his family crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Hemmingford, Canada, from Champlain, New York, Feb. 17, 2017.
A man who claimed to be from Sudan runs for the border after his family crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Hemmingford, Canada, from Champlain, New York, Feb. 17, 2017.

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada's policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings.

While Pallister said his province will welcome those in need with "open arms and open hearts," his call for a national strategy to deal with the arrivals adds to opposition criticism that Trudeau has put national security at risk by embracing asylum seekers.

As of Feb. 13, some 3,800 people had made an asylum claim in 2017, up from the same period last year and on track to approach the 2008 peak of 36,867, said Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Warmer weather could spur more arrivals.

Polls show Canadians are split over whether Canada should be accepting more or fewer refugees.

But even Liberal legislators are starting to hear from constituents concerned about a sudden influx of the mostly African, Middle Eastern and Asian asylum seekers.

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