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Map of U.S. with scissors cutting COVID-19 tapes

U.S. congressman pushes for federal plan to reopen U.S.-Canada border

Friday, May 21, 2021 @ 11:28 AM | By Rosanna Berardi

Rosanna Berardi %>
Rosanna Berardi
U.S. congressman and co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus Brian Higgins is calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a plan to reopen the U.S.-Canada border, which has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. Lawmakers have been pushing for the border to reopen for months now and with the ongoing rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., Higgins believes it is time for action.

To the dismay of many, the restriction on non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canada border has been extended — yet again — through June 21, 2021. Following this most recent extension, Higgins expressed great disappointment, stating: “[i]t is truly unacceptable at this point to have another 30-day extension with no further exceptions for those vaccinated, no goals or targets outlined to expand crossings, no reciprocal allowances for family reunification, and no plan.” He further stated: “[w]e have made great strides in fighting the pandemic and we need to make progress on reopening the border. That is essential to both families that have been separated for way too long and to our binational economies.”

On Jan. 21, 2021, President Joe Biden issued Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, which called on the secretary of health and human services, secretary of transportation and secretary of homeland security to submit a plan on how to implement appropriate public health measures at land ports of entry. The plan was to be submitted to Biden within 14 days of the order, but no plan has yet to be introduced to the public. 

On April 13, 2021, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce called for a clear plan from the government on how the border will reopen and Higgins (D-N.Y.) has voiced his support. In a call with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Higgins proposed an immediate partial reopening of the border that would allow people with family in the U.S. to cross at a land port of entry. Specifically, he proposed the U.S. government expand the definition of essential traveller to include family members of U.S. citizens and residents.

The Canadian government currently has an exemption for immediate and extended family members of Canadian citizens and residents that allows such individuals to cross the U.S.-Canada border to reunite with their loved ones, but the U.S. has yet to adopt a similar family unification exemption. In proposing the expanded definition, Higgins stated: “People living on either side of the U.S.- Canada border have already lost a year of time with their loved ones and they should not have to wait one more day. The U.S. can and should take immediate action to allow family members to be together again.”

Furthermore, Higgins would like to see a full, safe reopening of the U.S.-Canadian border by July. He believes people should be allowed to cross the border if certain safety measures are implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, Higgins believes that travellers should be required to wear a mask and show proof of vaccination to cross the border. In discussing his plan, Higgins stated: “If you’re vaccinated twice, if you wear a mask, if you practise good physical distancing, you pose no danger to anyone in Canada, and vice versa.”

Higgins’ plan may face some backfire given the relatively minimal access Canadians have to the COVID-19 vaccine. Notably, as of May 10, 2021, only 3.4 per cent of Canada’s population had been fully vaccinated. This is a significantly smaller percentage compared to the 35.5 per cent of fully vaccinated Americans. Ontario has also implemented a provincewide emergency brake, effective April 3, 2021, due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. In response to these concerns, Higgins suggested the U.S. ask the World Health Organization to assist Canada with vaccine distribution. He also believes these circumstances should not stop individuals who are fully vaccinated and following recommended safety measures from being able to cross the border.

Reopening the border could be a nice incentive for more people in the U.S. to get vaccinated as many are itching to get back to their pre-COVID lives. It will also help rebuild and restore the dependent U.S.-Canada relationship that has been strained given the continued limitations put on land movement. Therefore, whether or not Higgins’ phased plan is adopted, many agree it is time for the U.S. and Canada to establish a clear, definitive plan to reopen our shared border.

Rosanna Berardi is the managing partner of Berardi Immigration Law and the CEO of High Wire Woman, where she helps working women create a blueprint to live their lives in a simpler way and take back their most precious commodity: their time.

Photo credit / Yakobchuk ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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