Politicians push back on Canada border closure

The Parliament building in Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada, is seen here in 2018. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

The federal government Monday, Sept. 20, once again extended a ban on nonessential travel along the borders with Canada and Mexico for another month, an action that was met once again with criticism from leading politicians in New York state.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, last week asked the Biden administration to ease its border restrictions and let vaccinated Canadians to travel to the U.S. for non-essential travel through all ports of entry. On Aug. 9, Canada began letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens enter the country.

“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,” Gillibrand said in a Sept. 21 press release. “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. Countless New Yorkers and medical providers depend on travel across the northern border to stay afloat.”

The closure and loss of Canadian business, according to Gillibrand, costs the U.S. economy $1.5 billion each month and $665-855 million annually in Erie County alone.

“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,” Gillibrand said.

The U.S. said Monday it will allow foreigners to fly into the country this fall if they have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test — changes replacing a hodgepodge of rules that had kept out many non-citizens and irritated allies in Europe and beyond where virus cases are lower.

The changes, to take effect in November, will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications and allow foreigners with work permits to get back to their jobs in the U.S.

The new policy will replace a patchwork of travel bans first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and tightened by President Joe Biden that restrict travel by non-citizens who have in the prior 14 days been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new policies, which still will require all foreign travelers flying to the U.S. to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight. Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the U.S., as well as after they arrive home.

The tougher rules for unvaccinated Americans come as the White House has moved to impose sweeping vaccination-or-testing requirements affecting as many as 100 million people in an effort to encourage holdouts to get shots.

Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine, Zients said.

There will be no immediate change to U.S. land border policies, according to Zients.

State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said Monday in a statement that the Biden administration out of touch “given the unified and repeated calls among business leaders and local, state and federal officials on both sides of the aisle who have called for the border to reopen.

“The President’s decision to continue shutting out our Canadian neighbors while very disappointing isn’t all too surprising given the dearth of information from the White House. In comparison to what we read and hear about on the southern border of the U.S., reopening the northern border would seem very straightforward, safe and, simply, the right thing to do. We need to keep pushing. As I’ve said before, Governor Hochul should join our effort to get this message through to President Biden.”