Updated Mar 24, 2023 - World

U.S. and Canada strike deal to divert asylum-seekers at northern border

President Biden and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hold a joint press conference in Ottawa, Canada, on March 24. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Canada have struck a new agreement that will allow them to divert some asylum-seekers amid a surge in entries at the northern border.

Driving the news: The deal closes a legal loophole that allowed migrants traveling from the U.S. to Canada to apply for asylum if they used unofficial crossings — and vice versa.

  • The announcement came during Biden's first official trip to Canada, where he met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It amends the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was first signed in 2002 and has been in effect since 2004.
  • The agreement was meant to make asylum-seekers apply in the first safe country they reached, but the previous version only allowed each country to turn back asylum-seekers who entered at official ports of entry.
  • The changes take effect at midnight.

The big picture: Trudeau pressed the U.S. to update the agreement after a spike in migrants entering Canada through unofficial crossings — particularly along the border between Quebec and New York, CBC reports.

  • Canada announced Friday that it will "welcome 15,000 migrants on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere over the course of the year, with a path to economic opportunities to address forced displacement, as an alternative to irregular migration," per a press release from the Prime Minister's Office.

What they're saying: When asked why the two countries delayed implementing the new rules — which were developed last year — Trudeau said they wanted to "protect the integrity of the system and […] continue to protect and live up to our obligations with regards to asylum-seekers."

  • "But we also continue to be open to regular migrants," Trudeau said in French, noting that increasing the number of asylum-seekers Canada accepts is meant to "compensate for closing these irregular crossings."
  • The White House said in a release that "[i]rregular migration is a critical issue for the Western Hemisphere," and that the U.S. and Canada are working to prioritize "orderly and safe migration through regular pathways."
  • The PMO echoed the rhetoric, saying the deal will ensure "fairness and more orderly" crossings.

Yes, but: Some are warning of the dangers that could result from the new agreement.

  • It might deter some people, but "others will still come & they'll seek out more remote, isolated & dangerous routes," tweeted Regina Bateson, assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa.

Context: The Biden administration has in recent weeks announced several new policies to deter migrants and asylum-seekers from illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Biden faced backlash last month from immigration advocates over a proposal that would bar migrants from seeking asylum if they attempt to cross the southwest border illegally without first asking for protection in a country they traveled through.

Meanwhile, rights groups in Canada have previously challenged the legality of the STCA in the courts on several occasions, arguing that it violates refugees' rights and freedoms.

  • Advocates hope that a case before Canada's Supreme Court will deem the policy unconstitutional after appeals courts twice upheld it.

Worth noting: House Republicans have pushed forward with an investigation of Biden's border policies.

Go deeper: Hispanic lawmakers grill Mayorkas over new border policies

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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