Katko, Schumer, Ritchie to Biden: Join with Canada to re-open border

This Feb. 12, 2021, file photo shows the border crossing into the United States in Lacolle, Quebec. The United States Government on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, extended the closure of the land borders with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travelers until at least Aug. 21.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government this week extended the closure of the land border with Canada to non-essential travelers until at least Aug. 21 prompting a sharp response from Oswego County officials.

The announcement by the Department of Homeland Security came two days after the Canadian government announced it would begin letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens into Canada on Aug. 9, and those from the rest of the world on Sept. 7.

“These decisions are clearly not founded in any concern for public health,” said U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus. “This inequity is nonsensical and continues to hamper local economies and even the travel of vaccinated Americans. President Biden’s backwards policies are threatening the safety, health and economic security of all Americans.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a “failure to reciprocate” Canada’s plan to re-open the border, which is “jeopardizing an already tenuous recovery for thousands of businesses, families and communities across upstate New York.”

At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, both the U.S. and Canadian governments restricted non-essential travel by land between the two countries on the more than 5,500-mile (8,800-kilometer) border, although Canadians have been able to fly into the United States with a negative COVID-19 test. Until the Canadian decision on Monday, the two governments extended the closure every month.

“It is critical for the United States to level the playing field and create a uniform system, following the science and data, to safely — and finally — re-open the border for those vaccinated,” Schumer said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that happens as swiftly as possible.”

Homeland Security posted a separate announcement Monday restricting entry on the Mexican border. On the southern border U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have been going back and forth with ease.

Cross-border trade between the United States and Canada has not been affected by the closure.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed costs $1.5 billion. Canadian officials say Canada had about 22 million foreign visitors in 2019 — about 15 million of them from the United States.

State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, called it simply "unacceptable."

"As the State Senator representing the longest stretch of our state's 450-mile shared border with Canada, I know how critically important this issue is. Denying Canadians entry into our country hurts New York’s border communities and especially the many hardworking business owners who have already suffered tremendously due to the pandemic," Ritchie said. "Many of these businesses are seasonal and depend on cross-border tourism to survive. With the summer travel season in full swing, the need to safely reopen the border as soon as possible cannot be overstated."

The U.S. announcement notes that increasing vaccination levels in the United States and Canada have increased and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered the COVID-19 risk level in the two countries from "very high" to "high."'

"Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 within the United States and globally, the Secretary (of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas) has determined that the risk of continued transmission and spread of the virus associated with COVID-19 between the United States and Canada poses an ongoing 'specific threat to human life or national interests,'" the announcement said.

The decision drew immediate criticism from politicians from U.S border states.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, on Wednesday called the U.S. decision to extend the border closure "absurd."

"It harms our small businesses and families, and does not follow the science," he said in a statement. "Canada has announced they will open their borders to fully vaccinated Americans, and it's time the United States follows suit."

The Maine congressional delegation — two Democratic members of Congress and a Republican and independent senator — sent Mayorkas a letter urging him to allow fully vaccinated Canadians into the U.S.

"This continued border closure has a negative impact on our local economies and families, which is why we urge you to develop an immediate plan to allow vaccinated Canadians to resume travel to United States," the four said in the letter.

North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said Wednesday the border restrictions "have now crossed the line from precautionary to preposterous."

"Keeping the border closed to travelers won't substantially drive vaccination rates up, but it will continue to hold the economy down and hurt communities that depend on cross-border activity, including North Dakota's retail and tourism industries," Burgum said in a statement.

At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, both the U.S. and Canadian governments restricted non-essential travel by land between the two countries on the more than 5,500-mile (8,800-kilometer) border, although Canadians have been able to fly into the United States with a negative COVID-19 test. Until the Canadian decision on Monday, the two governments extended the closure every month.

Homeland Security posted a separate announcement Monday restricting entry on the Mexican border. On the southern border U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have been going back and forth with ease.

Cross-border trade between the United States and Canada has not been affected by the closure.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed costs $1.5 billion. Canadian officials say Canada had about 22 million foreign visitors in 2019 — about 15 million of them from the United States.

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