The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it is reviewing a proposal to amend a border pact to manage asylum seekers, but Canada’s immigration minister insists no formal talks on the topic are happening right now.
“DHS is currently reviewing the proposal made by Canada to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement, but we have no decision to announce at this time,” said a U.S. government spokesperson in an email.
The spokesperson said border patrol agencies on both sides of the border collaborate on security efforts and that elements of the U.S. government — including Department of Homeland Security and the State Department — are working closely with the government of Canada “to understand the evolving flow of northbound asylum seekers, including through joint CBP-CBSA analysis and collaboration by ICE and the State Department at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas.”
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen insists there are no “formal negotiations” underway, but noted that the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) agreement was signed in 2004 and could be due for an update.
“It’s 14 years old now. As (with) any other agreement, there’s always room for improvement, there’s always room for growth,” he told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ottawa.
“Those discussions are ongoing. In terms of a formal negotiation process, that is simply not there.”
Last year, Hussen rejected calls to suspend the agreement, saying there was no need to “tinker” with it. More than 200 academics wrote a letter calling on the government to suspend the STCA after U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies caused widespread uncertainty and drove many people without formal status in the U.S. to cross the border into Canada.
Hussen called the bilateral pact to manage asylum seekers a “great tool.”
“It’s been an amazing experience for Canada and a good agreement for Canada and the United States on the joint management of asylum seekers,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government is prepared to “have a conversation” about amending the agreement.
“This is very exploratory at the moment, scoping issues and potential solutions,” he said. “It’s very early days.”
But he also rejected the U.S. government’s assertion that a proposal is on the table.
“No. There’s no formal proposal at the moment. There is a conversation about how we make our border, both ways, strong, effective and secure from the perspective of both countries,” he told reporters.
Asked about the Conservative pitch to have the STCA apply to the entire border, Goodale said that’s “entirely impractical” because it would push people to more remote and dangerous crossing points, which would undermine border security.
“It’s not a wise proposition,” he said.
The STCA requires asylum seekers to make their claim in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception spelled out in the agreement.
The agreement applies only to claimants trying to enter at official land border crossings, by train or at airports, which is why some are making the trek into Canada outside official crossing points.