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Decision to Keep Land Border with Canada Closed Roils Lawmakers

September 27, 2021 by Dan McCue
In this June 8, 2021, a car heads into the U.S. from Canada at the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, Wash. Canada is lifting its prohibition Monday, Aug. 9, on Americans crossing the border to shop, vacation or visit, but the United States is keeping similar restrictions in place for Canadians. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration’s decision to extend travel restrictions at its land border with Canada is causing consternation among some members of Congress.

The White House announced the decision to continue to bar nonessential travel by land between the two countries last week, just as it was announcing new rules to allow air travel into the U.S. from a host of other countries.

The U.S. extended the current prohibition another 30 days, until Oct. 21, despite the fact Justin Trudeau’s government has fully opened its border to vaccinated Americans.

And the decision has upset a number of senators and House members who say that cross-border traffic is vital to their state’s economy.

Among them is Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who joined a number of other senators in penning a letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to allow vaccinated Canadians to travel to the U.S. through all ports of entry, regardless of the nature of their visit.

Gillibrand argues the land border closure has placed severe economic strains on the supply chains of New York businesses, hospitals, and medical equipment providers that rely on travel across the northern border to stay afloat and produce essential goods and services. 

“New York and Canada have a valuable economic partnership that has been deeply affected by travel restrictions put in place to prioritize the health and safety of so many New Yorkers who live along the border. However, the circumstances have changed and it’s time to allow fully vaccinated Canadians to travel safely into the United States across the northern border,” Sen. Gillibrand said in a written statement. 

“Countless New Yorkers and medical providers depend on travel across the northern border to stay afloat. I am encouraged by President Biden’s announcement to ease travel restrictions in the EU, UK, and parts of Asia starting in November, and I encourage the administration to make reopening the Canadian land border a top priority,” she said.

The other signers of the letter were, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, Gary Peters, of Michigan, Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, Angus King, of Maine, Maggie Hassan, of New Hampshire, and Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire, all of them Democrats.

Also opposing the administration’s decision is Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who said the prolonged closure is “devastating” northern New York.

“On the same day the Biden administration announced it will start to ease foreign travel restrictions with several countries, including China and Iran, President Biden still refuses to even establish a clear plan for reopening the northern border,” Stefanik said in a written statement. 

“It’s past time for this administration to do its job, so members of the North Country can be reunited with families, tourism can resume, and small businesses no longer have to suffer from this administration’s failure. This prolonged closure has been devastating for our region, and New York deserves better,” she said.

In June, Stefanik introduced the Restoring Northern Border Travel Act, which would require the Department of Homeland Security to expand the categories of permitted travel into the U.S. across the U.S. – Canada border to include individuals traveling to visit family members or property in the U.S., attend business meetings or site-visits, or access U.S. airports. 

This bill would also require DHS to begin implementing and submit to Congress a plan to fully restore nonessential travel into the U.S. at the northern border. 

But the Biden administration has said it’s not ready to ease the border crossing restrictions just yet.

“We’re continuing to evaluate and make policy decisions,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a Sept. 23 press briefing, adding that when it came to lifting travel restrictions related to various countries, “we wanted to do it in a way that was equitable.”

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