Canada to accommodate 15,000 'illegal migrants' next year in deal to close Roxham Road

Canada may accommodate more Haitian migrants from the Western Hemisphere as part of its deal with the U.S. to close Roxham Road.

Canada to accommodate 15,000 'illegal migrants' next year in deal to close Roxham Road
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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A Biden administration official said Thursday that the two countries would agree to expand the 2004 treaty governing how they handle illegal immigration along their shared border.

The U.S. will apply the Safe Third Country Agreement for the entire border length, not only official entry points.

In exchange, Canada will welcome 15,000 migrants from across the Americas over the next year on a humanitarian basis — up from the previously established 4,000 additional migrants in total by 2028 as discussed at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last June.

"It's an issue we take extraordinarily seriously," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Wednesday evening.

"We have worked closely with our American counterparts for many months…to ensure the integrity of our borders and protect vulnerable asylum seekers."

Roxham Road has caused significant tension between Ottawa, Quebec and the U.S. because of an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada since 2017.

Last year, 39,171 illegal immigrants entered Quebec through Roxham.

"The numbers don't lie: illegal border crossings and illegal drug trafficking are increasing along America's northern border," said Matt Knoedler, spokesperson to Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly.

Kelly is one of the founding members of the Northern Border Security Caucus, a group of 28 Republican members of Congress who are pressuring the Biden administration to shore up border security along the country's northern flank.

"Members of the Northern Border Security Caucus encourage both leaders to have a productive dialogue during the meeting," said Knoedler.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby would not disclose Wednesday whether Biden would demand Trudeau take in more Haitians directly.

"They share a concern about the dire situation down there from a security and humanitarian perspective — this is not unfamiliar to either the prime minister or the president," said Kirby.

The impoverished, quake-ravaged Caribbean nation has devolved into a failed state since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moïse.

Roving gangs of marauders now control more than half of Port-au-Prince, the country's capital city, in the grips of a cholera outbreak with little access to medical help, a near-total lack of public security and a powerless interim government.

The Biden administration, its hands full with Russia's war in Ukraine, the rise of China and other great-power concerns, want Canada — home to a large diaspora of French-speaking Haitians, mainly in Quebec — to take a lead role.

On issues of migration, "we're well aware of Canadian concerns. We have concerns of our own," Kirby said. "It's a hemispheric, shared regional challenge. So I do not doubt that they'll discuss it."

Senior government officials in Ottawa say the discussion on Haiti will involve the two leaders but not the Haitians themselves. 

Trudeau has focused on sanctions, helping Haitian authorities with surveillance support to track gang activity, and building a political consensus on how the West can best help.

Statistics collected by Panama's Department of Migration show about 800 people a day crossing through the Darien Gap in January and February — usually the slowest period of the year.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) expects summer 2023 will smash all previous records.

Among the migrants crossing the Darien gap are a growing number of Haitians, constituting 16,744 of the 49,291 migrants who crossed the Darien in January and February.

U.S. officials outsourced much migration enforcement to Mexico and Central American countries, with the Biden administration increasingly concerned about more illegal crossings and their effect on the 2024 election.

It is likely to pressure Canada to take charge of the deteriorating situation in Haiti to prevent the outflow of illegal immigrants, as suggested by Panama.

According to the CBC, "Haitians are generally thought to be one of the nationalities most likely to continue their journeys as far as Canada for reasons of language and family connections."

The HRW said some of those headed north through the Darien did not depart directly from Haiti but are still responding to events on the island.

"One of the things that we found from speaking to Haitians in the Darien is that many of them have already tried to establish themselves in another country in the Americas, in Chile, in Brazil and Colombia," they said.

"They often face many challenges that can include legal challenges. They can consist of racism against Haitians, a severe issue in South America."

"We spoke to people who said, 'I made enough in Brazil maybe to support myself, but I didn't make also enough to send money to my family in Haiti, and with the situation the way it is in Haiti, I need to be able to send money back to them.'"

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