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U.S., Canada expand deal to reroute asylum-seekers amid rise in border crossings

U.S.-Canada border deal on Biden's agenda
U.S.-Canada border deal among key items on Biden's agenda in Ottawa 04:43

The United States and Canada have forged an agreement that will allow both countries to turn away greater numbers of asylum-seekers amid a rise in unlawful crossings along their shared border in the past year, two U.S. officials told CBS News Thursday.

The deal, set to be formally announced Friday during a meeting in Ottawa between President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will be a dramatic expansion of an accord dating back to 2004 that has allowed American and Canadian border officials to send some asylum-seekers across the U.S.-Canada border under the premise that both nations are safe countries where migrants can seek humanitarian refuge.

For the past two decades, the so-called "safe third country" agreement between the two nations has only applied at official border crossings, meaning that American and Canadian authorities have not been able to turn away asylum-seekers who cross into each country illegally.

But under the deal brokered this week, the accord will apply to migrants who cross the U.S.-Canada border in between official border crossings, a change that Canadian officials have long been pushing for, the two U.S. officials said, requesting anonymity to discuss the agreement before its formal announcement.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation first reported details of the new agreement earlier Thursday. As part of the deal, Canada will also commit to welcoming 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere over the next year through legal channels, one of the U.S. officials said.

While the updated accord will enhance both countries' ability to reject asylum-seekers amid unprecedented levels of migration, it will arguably benefit the Canadian government the most, as the country has seen a much larger number of illegal crossings into its territory from the U.S. in recent years. 

Nearly 40,000 asylum-seekers crossed into Canada without authorization in 2022, the vast majority of them along an unofficial crossing known as Roxham Road that connects New York with the Quebec province, Canadian government figures show. Another 9,500 migrants crossed into Canada in January and February alone.

In contrast, Border Patrol processed 3,577 migrants who crossed into the U.S. illegally from Canada in 2022, according to government data. While illegal crossings into the U.S. along the northern border have increased in recent months, rising to 628 in February, they remain well below the migration levels recorded along the southern border, where thousands of migrants are processed each day.

U.S. law allows the government to deport asylum-seekers to third countries if it determines that those nations offer migrants a "full and fair procedure" to request refuge. The accord with Canada is the only safe third country agreement the U.S. is currently enforcing. Similar accords with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador under former President Donald Trump were scrapped by the Biden administration.

Amid mass migration in the Western Hemisphere and record migrant apprehensions along the border with Mexico, the Biden administration has increasingly sought to restrict access to the overwhelmed U.S. asylum system.

In early January, Mr. Biden expanded the scope of a pandemic-era restriction along the southern border known as Title 42, adding Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the list of countries whose citizens can be expelled to Mexico if they cross into the U.S. illegally. The administration is planning to replace Title 42, which is set to lapse in early May, with a rule that will disqualify most non-Mexican migrants who cross the southern border illegally from asylum.

The efforts to deter illegal crossings have been paired with expanded opportunities for migrants to enter the U.S. legally, including a mobile app for vulnerable asylum-seekers in Mexico and a sponsorship program that allows up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to fly to the U.S. each month.

The revamped U.S. strategy has so far led to a sharp reduction in unlawful crossings along the southern border, but officials expect migrant arrivals to spike in the spring, after Title 42 is lifted.

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