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US moves to expand agreement with Canada on asylum-seekers

Canadian government also agreed to accept an additional 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere next year

President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, on Friday.
President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, on Friday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. and Canadian governments have moved to expand their bilateral asylum-sharing agreements to include migrants who crossed the countries’ shared border in between ports of entry.

The expansion of the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement, outlined in a Friday government filing, will allow American and Canadian officials to send back asylum-seekers, who are not citizens of either country and crossed the shared border without authorization, within 14 days of crossing.

This could include migrants who seek asylum in the United States after flying into Canada, which has more relaxed visa policies, and those who cross into the U.S. from Mexico and travel northward.

Previously, the asylum-sharing deal only allowed Canada and the United States to push back migrants who made an asylum claim at a designated port of entry, such as a land border crossing or an airport.

The Canadian government also agreed to accept an additional 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere next year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The expansion will take effect once both governments “have officially notified each other that they have completed the necessary domestic procedures,” according to the filing.

The release of the expanded accord came during a bilateral meeting in Ottawa between President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The expansion of the bilateral asylum accord comes in response to rising levels of migration at the northern border of the United States.

More than 8,000 migrants made a claim for protection in Canada after crossing the U.S.-Canadian border in between ports of entry between October and December 2022, according to statistics published by the Canadian government. During that same period last year, Canadian border officers logged just 789 claims from migrants who crossed the border in between ports, the statistics show.

The issue has drawn international attention with thousands of crossings into Canada from New York state via rural Roxham Road, which is not a designated port of entry.

The bilateral asylum agreement, which took effect in 2004, has come under fire in recent years from Canadian human rights advocates who have argued that the U.S. is not a “safe third country” for asylum-seekers to be sent to. The United States is currently the only country that Canada has deemed safe enough to share asylum obligations.

In 2020, a Canadian judge ruled that the U.S. treatment of asylum-seekers conflicted with a provision in the Canadian Charter guaranteeing the “right to life, liberty and security of the person.”

Judge Ann Marie McDonald had found asylum-seekers sent from the Canadian border back to the U.S. under the bilateral accord are “immediately and automatically imprisoned by US authorities,” where they have limited access to counsel and insufficient health care.

But the following year, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal reversed McDonald’s decision and held that the asylum-sharing deal does not violate migrants’ constitutional rights.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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