Yesterday, President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a joint announcement on an issue that seemed somewhat small for such a high-level affair: What to do about the renegotiation of an agreement between the two countries to turn back asylum seekers who crossed the border to seek asylum in one country versus the other.
Asylum seekers could get around the prior version by crossing outside of official ports of entry, and about 39,000 migrants did just that last year, some of them arriving on buses paid for by New York City after they had initially made their way here.
This is not a radical change in the border rules, but more like a slight adjustment of an agreement that has existed for more than 20 years. Yet if the Washington is going to now foreclose one of the existing options for U.S. asylum seekers, it should explain why that’s a good idea in a situation where there are nearing two million active cases in our domestic immigration court backlog, and after months of having taken a pretty much hands-off approach to the resettlement of asylum seekers around the country.
It’s fallen to states and localities like New York to try to accommodate arrivals with inadequate federal funding and almost nonexistent assistance, but the feds apparently have time to announce misguided Trump-adjacent restrictionist border policies and renegotiate with Canada to keep migrants from having a chance to seek asylum there instead.
Ultimately, the number of asylum seekers transiting through the U.S. to Canada, often via Roxham Road near Champlain upstate, is minuscule in comparison to the much larger numbers of asylum seekers in the U.S.. The closing last night at midnight of the Roxham Road bypass will change little about the broader landscape of migrant arrivals.
Yet it demonstrates the Biden administration’s somewhat puzzling priorities here. Both the U.S. and Canada should instead commit to expanding their international refugee resettlement programs to give would-be asylum seekers more orderly routes to humanitarian migration, avoiding the often dangerous treks altogether.
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