Canada talks to U.S. about illegal migration, unsure about surge

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A senior Canadian official held talks in Washington on Monday about immigrants illegally entering from the United States and indicated Ottawa was not sure it would see a surge in border crossings this year.

FILE PHOTO: A pregnant mother and her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Amanda, who stated they were from Haiti, are watched by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers as they prepare to cross the U.S.-Canada border into Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada, from Champlain in New York, U.S.A., August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

More than 20,000 asylum seekers made the trip last year, some losing fingers and toes to frostbite in the middle of winter. Thousands were Haitians fearing deportation after the United States ended their temporary protected status granted after a 2010 earthquake.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday and said afterward that the two countries still did not fully understand what exactly was driving the phenomenon.

Washington said last month it would end the temporary protected status of some 200,000 Salvadorans in September 2019.

Goodale, asked whether he was concerned by a possible increase in border crossings, said “the status issues are not likely to arise in significant volumes during the course of 2018” given the September 2019 cutoff date.

“So far, the statistics would indicate the impact is relatively minor, but we need to be ready for every eventuality,” he said in a phone interview from Washington.

Canada has sent multiple members of parliament to speak with diaspora communities in the United States and dissuade people from crossing illegally.

Despite this push, the number of people walking across the border increased 23 percent in December compared with the month before. Goodale, though, said that was well below the peak seen earlier in 2017.

“If the numbers dramatically change, then we would be ready to cope with that,” he said.

During the meeting with Nielsen, Goodale also discussed cyber security, opioids, and issues regarding border preclearance, or approving goods and people before they cross the frontier.

Reporting by David LjunggrenEditing by Jonathan Oatis