By David Ljunggren
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Canada's public safety minister raised concerns on Monday with Minnesota's state governor about an unauthorized influx of thousands of asylum seekers into Canada this year.
Nearly 3,500 people have walked into Canada from the United States from January through May, according to government data, crossing the border through fields, forests and ditches to avoid official ports of entry where they would be turned back under a bilateral agreement. Once on Canadian soil, asylum seekers, many of whom are of Somali and Ghanaian origin, are each entitled to a hearing.
While Canadians have assisted many stranded or freezing border-crossers, some have also worried about safety, and the fairness of asylum seekers entering Canada without permission.
"The problem has not gone away and we need to fully figure out why this is happening and we need a full effort on both sides to make sure that we're doing everything we possibly can do for the integrity of the border," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in an interview, after meeting with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.
"Because if people broadly begin to have doubts about that, then the reaction will get to be harsher and harsher and harsher and it's in everyone's interest here to ensure the integrity of the border," Goodale said.
Dayton told reporters that he and Goodale discussed ways to better secure the border with technology and emphasized the importance of trade to each country's economy.
Dayton said he would have a chance to raise the topic when he meets with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly next month.
Many of those walking into Manitoba come from the neighboring state of Minnesota. The journey can be dangerous, resulting in one woman's death and two cases of asylum seekers losing fingers to frostbite.
Although the number of border-crossers into Canada is unusually high this year, numbers have declined two months in a row, even as weather became milder.
"This does defy logic at the moment," Goodale said. "You would have thought it would be easier at 30 (degrees Celsius) above than 30 below."
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Writing by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Richard Chang)