Canada's Trudeau and Trump Talk Border Control, Softwood Lumber

Justin Trudeau
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, February 16. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed border cooperation in a phone call on Thursday as pressure mounted in Canada over rising numbers of asylum seekers crossing to Canada from the United States.

The phone call, which followed a largely positive meeting between the two leaders in Washington last week, also covered the softwood lumber trade dispute, among other issues, Trudeau's office said in a statement.

The number of would-be refugees crossing into Canada at isolated and unguarded border crossings has increased in recent weeks amid fears that Trump will crack down on illegal immigrants, and photos of smiling Canadian police greeting the migrants have gone viral.

While Trudeau has won positive headlines for his welcome to refugees and has so far avoided political fallout with Trump, opponents and allies alike are pushing the Liberal government for a solution to illegal border crossings.

The Conservative premier of the province of Manitoba, which has seen a surge of refugee arrivals, called on the federal government for more resources to deal with the influx of asylum seekers, some of whom have lost fingers to frostbite in the dangerous crossing.

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada's policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings.

While Brian Pallister said his province will welcome those in need with "open arms and open hearts", his call for a national strategy to deal with the arrivals adds to opposition criticism thatTrudeau has put national security at risk by embracing asylum seekers.

As of Feb. 13, some 3,800 people had made an asylum claim in 2017, up from the same period last year and on track to approach the 2008 peak of 36,867, said Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Warmer weather could spur more arrivals.

Polls show Canadians are split over whether Canada should be accepting more or fewer refugees.

But even those in his own Liberal Party have begun to feel the heat from constituents concerned about a sudden influx of the mostly African, Middle Eastern and Asian asylum seekers.

"One or two people have raised the issue with me ... and I expect I'll have a few more" conversations with constituents about the arrivals, said Kevin Lamoureux, member of parliament for Winnipeg North, where many asylum seekers settle awaiting their refugee hearing after crossing theborder.