Biden’s keeping the Canada-US border closed makes no sense

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The announcement that Canada will reopen to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9 was welcomed news for our border communities. For more than 16 months, families and businesses along the northern border have been forced to make significant sacrifices because of the closure. Soon, Americans separated from their friends, families, and loved ones in Canada will be able to drive over the border and reunite. 

This moment reflects the powerful success of the COVID-19 vaccine and the unprecedented public health campaign waged to get here. A year ago, vaccines were still in development and the virus was spreading unchecked through our communities. Businesses had shuttered their doors and people were staying home to stop the spread. Contrast that with today with more than 154 million Americans fully vaccinated, commerce on the uptick, and unemployment falling. The CDC says that fully vaccinated people can resume something close to normal life. 

Despite this remarkable progress, the Biden administration decided Canadians will not receive a friendly welcome at our border. On July 21, the Department of Homeland Security announced the northern land border will remain closed to Canadians until at least Aug. 21. DHS pointed to the continued spread of the virus from Canada poses as a “specific threat to human life or national interests” but that is sharply out of touch with reality. 

The administration’s reasoning conveniently ignores that Canadians have been allowed to fly into the United States for the entirety of the pandemic, regardless of their vaccination status. Further challenging the administration’s logic is that an impressive 78 percent of Canadians have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and that over 50 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, a higher rate than in the U.S. There is no difference between a fully vaccinated Canadian traveling by plane or by car to enter the U.S., yet the administration fails to accept that.   

This decision is much more than an inconvenience to people taking a day trip into the United States. It threatens our nation’s economic recovery and the livelihoods of entire communities along the northern border from Blaine to Buffalo. Canada is one of our top trading partners, contributing $20 billion to our economy annually. According to the Canadian Embassy, Canadian tourists spend $1.2 billion and $800 million in our home states of New York and Washington each year, respectively. 

It is easy to dismiss these numbers as just figures until you realize that money is what allows border communities like ours to provide vital social services, small businesses to make payroll, and families to put food on the table. Already, northern border communities are facing the prospect of a second consecutive summer without tourism and travel from Canada. For residents of Niagara Falls, N.Y., that represents an economic kick to the stomach. For the isolated community of Point Roberts, Wash., it means the prospect of losing the only grocery store in town and an unrecognizable future. 

As public officials, we understand the government has a responsibility to protect the public health and safety of the American people. However, the government has a dual responsibility to explain its actions and reasoning to impacted communities. Endless month-to-month border closures, accompanied by no timeline, plan, or logical justification, not only represent a dereliction of responsibility but also a callous indifference to the real devastation this policy is inflicting on our constituents. 

In a few weeks, Canada will begin welcoming fully vaccinated Americans back to their country. The United States has the capacity and resources to safely and efficiently do the same. Allowing fully vaccinated Americans and Canadians to see their friends, see their families, and visit one another can be done safely. As the only person capable of making a difference, President Biden must reopen the U.S. border by Aug. 9. 

Brian Higgins represents New York State’s 26th District bordering Canada. Suzan DelBene represents Washington State’s 1st District bordering Canada.

Tags Brian Higgins canadian border COVID-19 Joe Biden Suzan DelBene

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