AMNA NAWAZ: On his first presidential trip to Canada, President Biden met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the duo announced a Northern border deal to address the growing number of migrants crossing from the U.S. into Canada.
In 2022, Canada saw some 40,000 crossings at unofficial points of entry, the highest number in five years.
Most of those were at Roxham Road in Upstate New York, where the crossing into Quebec has become the busiest route for asylum seekers.
The deal allows Canada to turn away people at irregular entry points like Roxham and send them back to the United States.
Canada also pledged to welcome some 15,000 Central American migrants through legal pathways.
President Biden spoke about the deal in a speech to Canada's Parliament today.
JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: I applaud Canada for stepping up with similar programs, opening new legal pathways for 1,500 migrants to come to Canada from countries in the Western Hemisphere.
At the same time, the United States and Canada will work together to discourage unlawful border crossings and fully implement and -- the updated safe third country agreement.
Welcoming refugees and seeking -- asylum-seekers is a part of who Canadians and Americans are.
AMNA NAWAZ: Watching all this closely is Abdulla Daoud.
He's the executive director of The Refugee Center in Montreal.
His group has been working with migrants who've crossed the border into Canada.
Abdulla Daoud, welcome, and thanks for joining us.
Let's start with the impact of that agreement announced today.
How big a change is this in terms of how migrants are usually processed and handled when they come into Canada?
ABDULLA DAOUD, Executive Director, The Refugee Center: I mean, thanks for having me.
But, yes, I mean, it's a big, big change.
Like you said, we usually encounter about 40,000 individuals this past year in 2022.
And now that we're seeing the number reduced to 15,000, it's kind of scary.
These individuals are seeking safety here in Canada and seeking asylum in Canada.
They're going to try to come in whichever way they can.
So it is a big change and it's a very fearful change.
AMNA NAWAZ: What about the part of the deal on which Canada it says they will open up additional legal pathways for some 15,000 people to arrive from we know some of those South and Central American countries where we have been seeing a large amount of migration.
What do you make of that?
ABDULLA DAOUD: I mean, it's a very small step, like I said, 15,000 compared to the 40,000 that we just had this -- in this past year.
And it's also just from the Western Hemisphere.
So, if we're looking at the majority of individuals that come in, there's a lot of individuals who come from Afghanistan, who come in from Libya, from Yemen, from West Africa.
So, it is a diverse mix of individuals who are seeking safety.
It's -- there's kind of global disorder right now, and a lot of individuals are trying to migrate to safer areas because they are facing persecution.
So, I don't think it's well-thought-out.
I think it's kind of a knee-jerk reaction to kind of the politicization of the topic lately.
AMNA NAWAZ: When you talk to these folks, these families that you deal with, you work with there, what do they tell you about why they're deciding to try and come to Canada in particular?
What is it that draws them there?
ABDULLA DAOUD: I think Canada does have this reputation that it does welcome refugees and it does welcome asylum-seekers.
And they do believe that they actually have a chance at due process and being heard here.
I think that's the most important part.
Individuals don't feel that they have that same safety in the United States.
So, they believe that their best chance to actually seek safety and have their stories heard and provide the actual evidence that they can is in Canada.
This is why they're choosing Canada.
AMNA NAWAZ: And what about your immigration system?
I mean, we have seen here in the United States the system has been really taxed, pushed to its limits, when we have seen the same increase of people arriving at the U.S. Southern border.
And, like many nations, Canada is now seeing a dramatic rise in the number of people seeking asylum there.
How has your system been able to handle it?
ABDULLA DAOUD: Just like any system, of course, it's a little bit of a strain, but it's nothing that we cannot handle.
So, if you just look at this past year, we accepted over 150,000 Ukrainians as refugees into the country.
And our infrastructure was able to accommodate that.
So, from the about 90,000 to 92,000 individuals that did claim this past year through all ports of entry, whether irregular or regular, we were able to accommodate that as well, obviously, with some more investment and some more help.
But, in general, it's not a number that is unheard of.
It is an increase, but we can accommodate it, and we can create obstacles, and we can actually create infrastructures and systems to accommodate more.
So, this kind of response, I think, is a bit fearful, because just as a lot of historical examples have shown us, when we are restricting migration patterns and we don't create enough of a breathing room for regularized migration patterns, people resort to different means.
And bad actors and bad-faith actors might come into play where you can see human smuggling or human trafficking come into play here as well.
AMNA NAWAZ: U.S. and Canadian officials say they think agreements like this will help to discourage unlawful migration.
Do you agree with that?
ABDULLA DAOUD: I don't think so.
I think as -- I think it would be a pretty bad deterrent policy.
I think individuals are coming here to seek safety, no matter what, by any means necessary.
So, this is our fear, and this is what the community organizations and human rights advocacy groups have been echoing, is, we don't want bad-faith actors coming here and take advantage of these people in precarious situations by smuggling them in.
Allowing more regularized pathways to migration with higher numbers that actually reflect migration patterns is a better solution.
So, 15,000, while we only had 40,000 this past year, I don't think is a good move forward.
AMNA NAWAZ: As you know, Mr. Trudeau's government pledged to increase immigration.
They welcomed arriving refugees from Syria with open arms.
And Canada is always seen as a welcoming place for arriving populations.
Do you think that this increase you're seeing now, the politics of this moment, as you referenced, do you think that change -- or you will see that change in Canada in terms of that welcoming spirit?
ABDULLA DAOUD: No, I don't think so.
I think that the spirit of the people is very strong.
I think everyone here is very welcoming towards refugees.
I think there's politicization of this particular topic.
And with the wrong policy, people can polarize it.
So we're hopeful that the correct policy moves forward and we do increase numbers in a more regularized fashion.
And I think that will continue our current welcoming spirit.
But I think these increased numbers, again, like I said, like I just said, it's just election of the sad state of affairs of the world today.
So, 15,000, I think, is a drop in the bucket.
We can definitely do more.
And we hope that there is a current challenge to the safe third country agreement in court today.
And we hope that the challenge goes through.
AMNA NAWAZ: That is Abdulla Daoud, executive director of The Refugee Center in Montreal.
Thank you for joining us.
ABDULLA DAOUD: Thank you for having me.