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U.S., Canada strike agreement to divert asylum seekers ahead of Biden-Trudeau talks

Biden in Ottawa for one day to reaffirm relations

U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, walk on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One to depart to Ottawa, Canada, on Thursday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI
1 of 2 | U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, walk on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One to depart to Ottawa, Canada, on Thursday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo

March 23 (UPI) -- The United States and Canada reached an agreement Thursday to make changes to a longstanding deal that would allow the countries to divert asylum seekers from their borders to stem surging migration, reports said.

The agreement, first reported by CNN, was confirmed by The New York Times and is expected to be announced by President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.

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The move will allow Canada to turn back immigrants who cross into the country from an unofficial border crossing in New York while Canada has agreed to provide a legal refugee program for 15,000 migrants seeking asylum from violence and economic troubles in Central and South America.

The United States and Canada signed the original deal, the Safe Third Country Agreement, in 2002.

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The treaty went into effect in 2004 and prevents asylum seekers from making an asylum claim in one country if they have already passed through another country where they could have made an asylum claim. It does not apply to those who enter Canada by plane or ship.

However, the Roxham Road crossing at issue -- which connects the New York town of Champlain with Hemmingford, Quebec -- is not an official border crossing and so asylum seekers could still seek haven in Canada despite having passed through the United States.

A Homeland Security official who spoke to CNN said that the United States has started flying migrants from Canada to either be processed in Mexico or returned to Mexico or their country of origin.

Biden made his first trip to Canada Thursday for a "meaningful visit" with Trudeau on a broad range of global issues. He is scheduled to give a speech Friday to the country's parliament in Ottawa.

The leaders will sit down behind closed doors to focus on emerging global security challenges, defense spending, climate change, trade expansion, immigration concerns, the Ukraine war, and ongoing political unrest in Haiti, according to U.S. state-owned media.

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"This is a meaningful visit," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Wednesday during a White House briefing to set up the president's visit, according to Politico.

Kirby described the upcoming sit-down as "the first true, in-person, bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Canada" since the Obama era.

"This visit is about taking stock of what we've done, where we are and what we need to prioritize for the future," he said.

The president's visit will last just one full day, with Biden arriving Thursday evening, and flying home to Delaware the next night after delivering the parliamentary address and attending a state dinner.

The most pressing issue on the table is the security of North American airspace -- as provided by the joint North American Air Defense Command -- in the wake of an explosive episode last month in which Biden ordered the military to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon after it drifted across the U.S. for several days.

The leaders will seek ways to boost international security throughout the Western Hemisphere, as well as in Europe and Asia.

The talks will also address sending a U.N. peacekeeping force to Haiti, where more than 500 people have been killed in violence that erupted among street gangs following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.

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Biden previously indicated that he wants Canada to take the lead in supporting safety efforts in Haiti, while also seeking more help from Brazil which had been involved in Caribbean peace efforts before.

"I think that they will continue to talk about ways we can continue to support from a humanitarian assistance perspective, for the people of Haiti and Haitian national security forces," Kirby said.

Biden will also discuss "taking concrete steps to increase defense spending, driving a global race to the top on clean energy, and building prosperous and inclusive economies," Kirby added.

Although the leaders have crossed paths multiple times virtually and in person at summits over the past two years, diplomatic experts said the meeting was still an opportunity for Biden and Trudeau to reaffirm their partnership on the world stage, with the global balance of power at stake.

Biden's meeting with Trudeau comes on the heels of a three-day summit in Moscow between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was being closely watched amid speculation that Beijing could soon help Russia militarily in Ukraine.

It was notable, however, that relations between the longtime allies appeared subdued after Biden waited until now -- more than midway through his term -- to visit the country's northern neighbor.

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For weeks, Biden's visit has been "front-page news" in Canada, according to Louise Blais, Canada's former ambassador to the United Nations, who tried to explain the low-key nature of, and apathy toward, Canadian diplomacy in the United States.

"Whereas you compare that with the amount of coverage that the visit has received in the United States, it gives you a little bit of an idea of the asymmetrical aspect of the relationship. But that being said, it's a warm and positive relationship," she said.

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