For years, Canada has wanted the United States to change a key border agreement in order to shut down irregular border crossings, notably Quebec’s Roxham Road, but the U.S. didn’t want to make a deal.
Now, there is something President Joe Biden wants: help in dealing with the United States’ own southern border and with migration across the hemisphere.
There is a way to make a deal on Roxham Road.
The road at the boundary between upstate New York and Quebec has become a major unofficial border crossing where 39,000 people crossed into Canada in 2022. Under the terms of the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., people arriving at an official border post to claim asylum in Canada are turned back to make the claim in the U.S. But the agreement doesn’t apply between official border crossings.
For years, the U.S. hasn’t been interested in changing that. But Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have reasons now to make a deal. And Mr. Biden is coming to Canada March 23 and 24.
In its simplest form, a deal could boil down to a temporary quid pro quo. The U.S. could agree that Canada can direct back asylum-seekers who cross between official points of entry, and Canada could resettle more of the migrants from places such as Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba, who are in Mexico trying to enter the U.S.
A broader version would see Canada, and probably Mr. Trudeau, take on diplomatic efforts to promote orderly migration in the hemisphere, including programs aimed at the root causes of migration such as gang violence.
That might sound to some like squidgy Canadian do-gooding, but Mr. Biden could find that valuable for realpolitik reasons.
On May 11, the U.S. is slated to lift public-health restrictions that had allowed U.S. authorities to rapidly expel many migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum. That would normally mean large numbers at the U.S.-Mexico border – and political danger for the U.S. President. The Biden administration is to impose tough measures to discourage that and to expel Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians caught trying to enter the U.S. between border posts.
But Mr. Biden doesn’t want his immigration policy to be only a closed door, so his administration promises to work on other “pathways” to get into the U.S. – or other countries. It has opened “parole” programs that allow temporary entry for tens of thousands of people from specific countries whose nationals are targeted by tough removal measures.
In other words, Mr. Biden promised to fight irregular border crossings but find more legal “pathways” for migrants to get into the U.S. – and into other countries.
That isn’t entirely new. At the Summit of the Americas last year, several countries sketched out commitments to “legal pathways” for migrants in a Los Angeles Declaration. The Biden administration noted that Canada planned to resettle 4,000 migrants from the Caribbean and Latin America by 2028. But that is a very small number.
“They have been fairly open with the fact that they would like Canada to play a role in supporting some of these things,” said Susan Fratzke, senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
That was what David Cohen, U.S. ambassador to Canada, was alluding to when he said in February that closing Roxham Road would do very little to solve migration problems. It was interpreted as Mr. Cohen rebuffing talks about Roxham Road when he was arguing the topic of the talks should be broader.
Canadian officials have been talking to U.S. and also Mexican counterparts about those issues; Immigration Minister Sean Fraser met U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas last week.
What might the U.S. want? Ms. Fratzke said it could include additional Canadian efforts with “in-country processing” to bring more asylum seekers who are in Mexico to Canada. Since not all of those people meet the legal definition of a refugee, the U.S. wants other countries to expand additional “pathways” for immigration. Canada has a francophone immigration program, for example, that could be expanded to accommodate more Haitian migrants who aren’t legally refugees though they are fleeing chaos.
With political pressure mounting over Roxham Road, what Mr. Trudeau wants seems pretty clear: an arrangement that effectively extends the Safe Third Country Agreement so that it applies to irregular border crossings. It would mean Canada taking on more responsibility for migrants elsewhere in the hemisphere but essentially closing Roxham Road. Now that both leaders have lots of motivation, there is a way for a deal to be done.