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An RCMP officer looks at passports from asylum seekers from Colombia crossing the border at Roxham Road into Canada, on Feb. 9.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Quebec Premier François Legault is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to press U.S. President Joe Biden on the massive influx of migrants entering Canada at an irregular border crossing, arguing that the province’s “capacity to receive refugees has been exceeded.”

The request came in a letter to the Prime Minister dated Sunday, and follows debate over how to grapple with the significant rise in migrants seeking asylum in Canada by crossing at Roxham Road, between Quebec’s Eastern Townships and New York State. Mr. Trudeau is scheduled to speak with Mr. Biden when the President visits Canada in March.

“Quebec has a long tradition of welcoming refugees, and we are proud to contribute to this humanitarian duty,” Mr. Legault wrote. But he said that the sheer volume of people entering through his province has pushed its social services to the brink. “This influx cannot continue.”

Mr. Legault repeated his long-standing request to the Prime Minister to prioritize renegotiating the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, which requires border officials in both countries to prevent asylum seekers arriving from the other country from entering at official crossings. The Premier has said he hopes that this will be extended to unofficial crossings, too.

This system has in recent years prompted a high volume of refugees to seek alternate ways to cross the border, with Roxham Road as the key artery. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the RCMP intercepted 39,540 asylum seekers last year who entered Quebec through unofficial ports of entry – a nearly 10-fold increase from 2021. Meanwhile, the RCMP made only 369 interceptions across every other province combined in 2022.

Quebec Minister of Immigration Christine Fréchette said last week that Ottawa had been paying to move many of the recent migrants who’ve crossed at Roxham Road to other provinces.

“We are starting to see results,” Ms. Fréchette had said. “We’re very happy with that.”

But Mr. Legault’s letter suggested he wanted a more permanent solution to the problem: “Quebec has done more than its share of the work in recent years.”

Mr. Legault’s office said late Monday afternoon that it had not yet received a response to its letter. The Prime Minister’s Office deferred comment to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser’s office.

Near Roxham Road, RCMP border patrol relies on locals’ help – and tests their patience

Asked about Ottawa’s response to Mr. Legault’s letter, Bahoz Dara Aziz, a spokesperson for Mr. Fraser, acknowledged the “immense pressure” Quebec has been under, and pointed to the thousands of migrants it had transferred to other provinces since June.

“Our collaboration with the U.S. in updating the Safe Third Country Agreement is ongoing,” she added. “As we progress toward this, we urge those looking to enter Canada to recognize the risks of crossing irregularly and explore the diverse range of immigration programs offered by Canada.”

At a news conference at the Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting in Charlottetown Sunday, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King said he’d recently received a call from Mr. Fraser asking about the province’s capacity to accept asylum seekers who’d crossed into Quebec.

“I told him that as a full and equal partner in the confederation of Canada, we would like to try our very best to do our part,” Mr. King said. But he added that the tiny province is in the midst of a housing crisis, and “wanted to have a deeper conversation about what that would look like and what our ability to help would be.”

OPINION: Justin Trudeau needs to stop stalling on Roxham Road

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said that between 150 and 200 migrants “could be seeking asylum” in his province, and called assisting with the refugees “a national obligation.”

Last month, in the depths of winter, the body of Haitian migrant Fritznel Richard was found in the woods near Roxham Road, adding greater urgency to public discussions over what to do about the influx of asylum seekers in the region.

With files from Eric Andrew-Gee.

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