Asylum seekers, border issues top agenda in Kelly meeting

The issue of asylum seekers illegally crossing the Canada-US border topped the agenda as Canadian officials met with the US Homeland Security chief.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said after the Ottawa meeting more “hard facts” need to be gathered before a full response is developed.

Mr Goodale also said many of the refugee claimants had been in the US on legal visas before crossing to Canada.

John Kelly was the first of President Donald Trump’s cabinet to visit Ottawa.

A growing number of asylum seekers have been making the dangerous winter journey to Canada, crossing the border illegally in the provinces of Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia.

Mr Goodale said it appeared some of the refugee claimants began planning the voyage months ago.

He said there was no current evidence human smugglers were involved in the illegal crossings, but added both governments were monitoring the situation for that type of activity.

The two nations need more information on the nature and the causes of the migration before they can develop an appropriate and humane response, the minister said.

“The issue becomes how do you cope with this human migration you are suddenly confronted with,” Mr Goodale told journalists during a news conference on Friday.

“No one is suggesting the construction of a wall along the Canadian border. No one is saying the RCMP should line up along the border and join arms and shoo people away.”

Mr Kelly’s visit also came as Canadians are feeling apprehensive about how President Trump’s tough stand on borders and trade will affect the international boundary.

Three issues in particular have been in the spotlight in Canada:

Mr Goodale said he received assurances from Mr Kelly that the US was committed to making the border “thinner” for trade and travel.

The minister also said the two agreed that travellers crossing the joint boundary should be treated respectfully and that Canada would monitor for any trends suggesting otherwise.

Mr Kelly met a number of senior ministers in the Trudeau government on Friday, including Mr Goodale, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The Department of Homeland Security has a wide-ranging mandate with responsibilities related to national security and terrorism, immigration and cybersecurity.

The agenda was full, with the ministers discussing traveller screening, trade, co-operation on border security and infrastructure, and immigration, refugee and visa policy.

Canada and the US have a long history of collaborating on trade, travel and security along the 8,890 km (5,525-mile) – the longest international border in the world.

Border issues also came up during a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.

Speaking to journalists in Houston, Texas, where he was participating in an international energy conference, the prime minister defended Canada’s “strong and rigorous system” for screening immigrants and refugees.

“We do not compromise on security,” he said, adding that Ottawa was committed to continued collaboration with the US while protecting Canadian rights.

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