Quebec Premier François Legault says he is “happy” that the irregular border crossing between Quebec and New York known as Roxham Road will close as of midnight.
“I think it’s a very beautiful victory,” Legault said at an afternoon press conference in Montreal.
The deal was reached between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during Biden’s first official visit to Ottawa since taking office two years ago.
Policy-wise, the move means that the Safe Third Country Agreement now applies to all border crossings, including irregular ones such as Roxham.
The agreement requires that asylum seekers must make a refugee claim in the first safe country they reach — Canada or the United States.
But it did not require turning back asylum seekers who cross irregularly at places such as Roxham Road, which was considered a loophole.
Under the expanded deal, asylum seekers trying to enter through any irregular border crossing will now be turned away and sent to the closest American port of entry.
According to federal data, nearly 40,000 migrants crossed through Roxham Road last year alone.
Closing Roxham is something Legault has been asking Ottawa to do.
The premier had expressed concerns over the number of people crossing, saying Quebec had reached its welcoming capacity.
The province provided housing and other necessities for asylum seekers while their requests were processed but Legault argued resources were stretched thin.
As part of the new deal, Canada committed to accepting 15,000 immigrants from the Western Hemisphere.
But Legault insists Quebec has already carried its weight.
“Given the great number (of asylum seekers) we received last year in Quebec, I think we did our part,” Legault said. “I think there’s some catching up to do so that there are more in other provinces.”
While Legault celebrates the move, those working with refugees are concerned.
“Is it a dream or a nightmare? I have to pinch myself,” said Frantz André, the head of the Action Committee for People without Status.
“How can we take decisions as quickly as that. It is people’s lives. Those are people, they’re not numbers, they’re not cattle that you take from a point to another point. That’s not right, that’s not acceptable.”
André says the new policy will put migrants fleeing crises in more distress.
“They’ve seen Canada to be more welcoming, a more generous country and now that Canada is saying no, that will put people in very extreme distress,” André said.
André also worries about those who are trying to join their families in Canada and might be turned away.
— with files from Global’s Sean Boynton and Farah Nasser