NEW YORK – A Catholic refugee organization has come out against the expansion of an immigration agreement between the United States and Canada, arguing it allows both countries to turn away more asylum seekers and therefore limits their legal right to seek protection.

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the expansion of the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement on March 24. At the same time, it was announced that Canada had agreed to welcome an additional 15,000 migrants this year on a humanitarian basis from top sending Western Hemisphere countries, like Haiti, Colombia, and Ecuador.

Leaders of the Jesuit Refugee Service – an immigration advocacy organization – in both countries came out against the move. Norbert Piché, Country Director of JRS Canada, said rather than punish those seeking asylum, the countries need to address the reasons migrants are arriving at the Canada-U.S. border.

“While we welcome the Canadian Government’s reported plan to create a new refugee program for 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere fleeing persecution and violence, it must not be made at the expense of all those who are seeking Canada’s protection by entering the country irregularly,” Piché said in a statement.

“Canada must be consistent in its efforts to welcome all who seek safety,” he said.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is a longstanding agreement between the countries that migrants must make asylum claims in the first safe country they reach. The agreement has always applied to official ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border. The expansion of the agreement closes a loophole in the agreement that allowed migrants arriving at unofficial ports of entry to make asylum claims.

Roxham Road, a dirt path that links New York and Quebec, has become an especially popular unofficial port of entry in recent years. About 40,000 migrants crossed unlawfully into Canada last year, more than 39,000 of which were into Quebec. The crossings peaked with about 5,000 in December.

In a joint statement, Biden and Trudeau highlighted the new agreement as an expression of the two nations’ friendship.

“Our enduring partnership is based on a mutual commitment to shared security, shared prosperity, and shared democratic values, including the importance of fighting climate change and an abiding respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Biden and Trudeau said.

“As the closest of friends and allies, we remain committed to making life better for people on both sides of our shared border and to building a more free, equitable, secure, and prosperous world.”

Joan Rosenhauer, the executive director of JRS/USA, criticized the expansion of the agreement as the latest example of the Biden administration implementing “new restrictions to asylum that will harm those already in danger.”

Faith and immigration advocacy groups have criticized the Biden administration for like-minded policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, including a swath of new policies that expand expulsions.

“We urge the U.S. to withdraw, and dismiss consideration of, any policy that creates new barriers for vulnerable asylum seekers and to implement a fair and humane asylum system, in accordance with the long-established values of our country,” Rosenhauer said.

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