TORONTO (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada and the United States have reached a reciprocal agreement under which they will now be sending back migrants who attempt to cross illegally anywhere at the border.
Trudeau called it an exceptional measure that will protect Canadians amid the pandemic. It addresses concerns about the difficulty of screening refugee claimants for the new virus.
Trudeau, meanwhile, said his government has received 500,000 applications for employment insurance compared to just 27,000 for the same week last year. Those laid off are able to access employment insurance. The criteria for those eligible was expanded earlier this week.
“Over the past week, Service Canada and many government agencies have received a historic number of calls from concerned Canadians,” Trudeau said.
Thousands of migrants have fled north to Canada since 2017. There is a longstanding agreement between the United States and Canada that requires those seeking asylum to apply in the first country they arrive in. So, if they crossed from the U.S. at a legal Canadian port of entry, they would be returned and told to apply in the U.S. But if they request asylum on Canadian soil at a location other than an official crossing, the process is allowed to go forward.
In most cases, the refugees are released and allowed to live in Canada, taking advantage of generous social welfare benefits. Now they will be turned back to American authorities under the new agreement.
Many migrants were crossing the border into Quebec from Champlain, N.Y. at Roxham Road, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Montreal.
“These measures will be reciprocal so individuals crossing from Canada into the U.S or the U.S. into Canada will be treated the same. They will be returned,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said.
Blair called the measure temporary.
Blair said about 45 to 50 have been crossing illegally each day but on Thursday just 17 crossed. The government earlier announced that anybody crossing would have to be quarantined for 14 days.
Trudeau also further confirmed that all non-essential travel between Canada and the United States will end at midnight Friday. The two countries announced the measure earlier this week.