Encourage welcome on the Canada and United States Border

Looking through a coil of barbed wire at a border wall

U.S. President Joe Biden was recently in Canada. During his visit, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden announced, effective immediately, changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) on the border between the U.S. and Canada.

We believe that these changes will:

  • Force people to make riskier crossings
  • End a relatively orderly process for claiming asylum
  • Drive undocumented workers into Canada's underground

What is the Safe Third Country Agreement?

The STCA was first put in place in 2004 under the premise that both the U.S. and Canada are safe places for someone to make a refugee claim and so a person must lodge an asylum claim in the first of these countries they arrive at. Therefore, if a person came to Canada via an official land border to claim asylum, they would be turned back.

There were exceptions to this. Most significantly, if a person does not cross at an official border crossing they can make an asylum claim because they are on Canadian soil.  Many people have been doing just that and the majority who had claimed asylum were deemed to be in need of protection by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.

What is changing?

The changes announced in March to the STCA effectively remove the exception that asylum seekers crossing by land can claim asylum at any point that is not an official entry. Now a person must be in Canada for at least 14 days before they can make an asylum claim. This change closes a relatively orderly process that allows people in the US who did not feel safe there to claim asylum in Canada. Many people were coming to a place on the border between New York and Quebec to walk across the border, be detained by the RCMP and then make a claim for asylum in Canada. Organizations such as the Canadian Council for Refugees believe this will drive people to make riskier crossings in the many remote areas of the border. It will also likely drive undocumented migrants in Canada underground.

We want to encourage the Canadian government to continue to work with the U.S. government to reconsider this recent agreement. In a world that sees barriers and walls as solutions, we choose to embrace welcome as a Jesus-rooted response.

What is MCC’s experience?

While MCC in Canada doesn’t have a lot of experience working with asylum seekers on the Canada/US border, our colleagues in the US and Mexico have spent years working on the border between the US and Mexico.

According to  Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. Migration Education Coordinator, militarized borders, walls, and other border barriers don’t show up overnight, nor do border-crossing human smuggling rings sprout without cause. In the U.S. the rhetoric about unauthorized migrant crossings at the southern border reached a heated tone by 1994. As Mexico, the U.S. and Canada were getting ready to sign the greatest trade agreement between the three neighbours, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and eliminate economic borders, the creation of “Operation Gatekeeper” clearly demarked the geopolitical lines between the U.S. and Mexico.

According to the Immigration and Nationality Services,  the goal of Operation Gatekeeper was purportedly "to restore integrity and safety to the nation's busiest border." However, human smuggling and migrant deaths increased in the years after Operation Gatekeeper started. Increased militarization of the border has been justified by the idea of a need to protect the U.S. from a siege. The Mexico-U.S. border wall has been built to funnel migrants to remote areas in deserts that serve as “natural lethal deterrents.” In 2022 alone, the remains of 175 migrants were found in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

Almost three decades later, we can see how Operation Gatekeeper was ineffective in significantly reducing unauthorized immigration, but without a doubt contributed to hardship and death for border crossers.

Today, MCC staff and partners at the Mexico-U.S. border witness one of the most constantly militarized areas in the western hemisphere. Billions of dollars have been spent on a physical barrier that has failed to stop migration, yet, it has promoted the creation of a multi-billion dollar smuggling business and funneled over 10,000 migrants to their deaths since 1994. What started from anti-immigrant political rhetoric has become a never-ending multi-billion-dollar operation. In February of this year, political rhetoric in the U.S. about the Canada-U.S. border was reminiscent  that of the 1990s at the southern border. “Where's the outrage, America?” called out U.S. Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, referring to border crossings from Canada, “You watch our country under a siege.” 

What are we called to do?

With the new STCA, we are called to speak out from this experience and invite a return to policies of hospitality and welcome. The new STCA policies and current rhetoric have the same potential to create harm as Operation Gatekeeper had in the southern border in the 1990s. Our experience at the southern border drives us to denounce any policy that will push mobile populations to dangerous situations, increased vulnerability, and possible death. We believe the new STCA rules have that potential.  

What does the Bible say?

In Ephesians 2:14, Paul presents Jesus as the one who destroys barriers and walls of hostility. Our invitation as Jesus followers is to join him on that mission. In a world that sees barriers and walls as solutions, we choose to embrace welcome as a Jesus-rooted response.

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Hon. Marc Miller

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship


Marie-France Lalonde

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship


Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe

Critic, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (Bloc Québécois)


Tom Kmiec

Shadow Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (Conservative Party of Canada)


Jenny Kwan

Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (New Democratic Party)