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U.S. and Canada reach a deal to close a popular but unofficial border crossing

An officer speaks to migrants as they arrive at the Roxham Road border crossing in Quebec, Canada, earlier this month.
Sebastien St-Jean
/
AFP via Getty Images
An officer speaks to migrants as they arrive at the Roxham Road border crossing in Quebec, Canada, earlier this month.

Updated March 24, 2023 at 5:49 PM ET

The U.S. and Canada have reached a deal that would give both countries the authority to turn away asylum-seekers at unofficial crossing points on their shared border, President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.

Starting early Saturday morning, migrants who cross into Canada between official ports of entry will be quickly returned to the U.S., Trudeau said at a joint press conference in Ottawa.

The new agreement will also allow the U.S. to send asylum-seekers who cross the northern border at unofficial crossing points back to Canada, according to the published text of a rule that is set to be published in the Federal Register.

The deal is the latest move by the Biden administration to discourage migrants from crossing the border illegally in order to seek asylum, over the objections of immigrant advocates and some Democrats.

"Today's coordinated actions with the Government of Canada will protect the integrity of the asylum process, discourage dangerous crossings between ports of entry, and encourage lawful pathways for migration," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

The U.S. and Canada have long had what's known as a Safe Third Country Agreement in place that allows them to turn back migrants if they cross through official ports of entry. But Canada has seen a dramatic uptick in traffic at unofficial crossings.

Last year, more than 39,000 asylum-seekers crossed into Quebec outside official ports of entry — many of them using Roxham Road, a small road in northern New York that dead-ends at the U.S.-Canada border. That's led Canadian officials to call for tougher restrictions.

Many of those migrants initially came to the U.S. at the southern border and were bused to New York City. But tens of thousands have since found themselves in limbo -- unable to work legally, or to send money back to their relatives in Venezuela and other countries in Latin America and beyond.

"We couldn't just shut down Roxham Road. People would've looked for other places to cross. That's why we chose to modernize the Safe Third Country Agreement," Trudeau said at the joint press conference.

As part of the deal, Canada has also agreed to provide "access to legal pathways" for an additional 15,000 migrants per year from Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

"We will increase the number of asylum-seekers who we accept from the Western Hemisphere to compensate for closing these irregular crossings," Trudeau said in French through an interpreter.

But immigrant advocates criticized the deal for limiting the movement of asylum-seekers.

"It's an unfortunate development for asylum seekers seeking protections and basic human dignity," said Elora Mukherjee, the director of Columbia Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic.

"Asylum seekers flee violent conditions to build better futures for themselves and their families—they undergo extreme journeys across thousands of miles in search of safety and relief," said Murad Awawdeh, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, in a statement. "To now restrict the movement of asylum seekers is to recklessly endanger their lives."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.