Canada, US join forces on tackling border asylum-seekers
Canadian and U.S. officials are working on a plan to tackle asylum seekers crossing into Canada illegally, with American officials keen to discover how they entered the United States in the first place, said a source familiar with the matter.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is set to visit the Canadian capital Ottawa early this month for talks on the border and the influx of people, said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Hundreds of people, mainly from Africa but also the Middle East, are fleeing U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, migrants and refugee agencies say. It is not common to have so many asylum seekers based in the U.S. looking for refuge in Canada over such a short period.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under increasing domestic pressure to deal with the influx, which experts say could pose a threat to national security if it is allowed to continue unchecked.
Canadian and U.S. officials speak daily about the border crossers and law enforcement agencies from both nations met in Montreal last month to plot strategies, the source said.
At the meeting, the U.S. side asked Canada to provide details of the people crossing the border, in particular, how exactly they had entered the United States and what their status was there.
Kelly plans a day of talks on the border and related issues with Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is in overall charge of law enforcement, said the source.
A Goodale spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The Montreal summit grouped representatives from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canada Border Services Agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
RCMP spokeswoman Annie Delisle confirmed the meeting had taken place, saying the two sides had agreed on an “action plan which outlines a collaborative approach to dealing with the influx of asylum seekers.” She declined to give more details.
The crossings are very limited and do not represent a major security concern, said one senior official in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“Frankly, it is far more embarrassing to this country than it is threatening,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official, and a second person directly involved in border affairs, said U.S. authorities had not mounted a major effort to beef up security along the Canadian border, in part because they lack manpower and equipment.
A senior Canadian security source classified the risk as medium- to long-term, since it was likely that those crossing the border now really were seeking asylum.
Vast stretches of the 5,500 mile (8900 km) frontier are unguarded and the more images spread of people walking across, the more vulnerable Canada could become, said the Canadian security source.
“If we keep this up for a while, and it becomes known that the border really is porous, then people will use it as an opportunity to put (operatives) in,” said the source.
(Additional reporting by John Walcott in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese)