Refugee-friendly Canada is tightening its border with the United States

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Wheel two large suitcases and carrying a shoulder bag, Isaïe Jean-Baptiste, his wife Stephanie and their two-year-old daughter Gloria, stand on one side of a shallow ditch. On the other side is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “If you come any further you will cross into Canada and be arrested,” said the Mountie. “Understand?” Mr. Jean-Baptiste, an agricultural engineer from Haiti, shakes his head and proceeds to be arrested, processed and then admitted to Canada as a refugee.

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Mr. Jean-Baptiste is among many asylum seekers who have crossed Roxham Road, an unofficial border crossing between Quebec and New York state, in the past year. On March 24, however, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, struck an agreement with President Joe Biden to ban such crossings. The two leaders modified the “safe third country” agreement, which previously allowed Canada to send asylum seekers back to the United States only if they crossed at official checkpoints. Now almost all asylum seekers who cross the 8,900km (5,525 mile) border can be sent back to the United States, unless they are an unaccompanied child or they have relatives in Canada.

Last year 40,000 migrants were caught crossing the border – the highest number since 2017, when monitoring of illegal crossings began. Despite the new agreement, the Canadian government is still eager to accept migrants through legal channels. Mr. Trudeau wants the country to welcome 500,000 new permanent residents each year by 2025. That’s twice as many as were admitted on average between 2001 and 2014. It reveals the Canadian paradox: although it has strict immigration laws, it is far more generous than the United States.

It helps that very few Canadians are anti-immigrant. Around 85% of those surveyed believe that immigration is good for the economy and 69% support current or high levels of immigration. 76% would like to see the country accept more refugees. On the other hand, 30 years ago, when half as many immigrants came every year, 70% felt that there was too much immigration.

Some of this generosity is pragmatic. Around 1m posts are unfilled across the country, around 6% of the total. With an aging population, things are only likely to get worse. Fifty years ago there were seven workers for every pensioner; by 2035 the ratio is expected to be 2:1. Already more than 40% of Canadians are 55 or older.

Feelings about migration also come from the fact that a quarter of Canadians today are immigrants themselves. Figures released on March 22 by Statistics Canada show that the country’s population rose by more than 1m in 2022, or 2.7%, to 39.5m. That’s the highest annual population growth rate in 60 years. Almost all of this increase was due to migration.

Partly because of their broad support for immigration, and because many constituencies have large immigrant populations that determine general elections, few opposition politicians have spoken out. the face of Mr. Trudeau’s ambitious targets. Quebec is an exception. This is the only category for which the federal government has the right to determine how many migrants they admit each year. In 2018 the governing Coalition Avenir Québec, a conservative party, reduced the province’s immigration from 50,000 to 40,000. Last year François Legault, his prime minister, equated the rise of immigration with “terrorism and violence”.

Mr. Legault apologized and has toned down his language. This may be because business owners are particularly concerned about the lack of workers. Quebec’s population is older than elsewhere in the country, says Karl Blackburn, head of the Conseil du patronat, an employers’ group that wants higher immigration levels and wants to allow temporary foreign workers to become residents. permanent “These people are not stealing anybody’s work,” he says. “They are contributing to the growth of Quebec.” As with that province, so with Canada.

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