U.S. border to remain closed until at least Aug. 21

·5 min read
U.S. border to remain closed until at least Aug. 21
A CBSA officer places a document on the windshield of a car entering Canada and asks it to pull off to the side in Niagara Falls, Ontario on Friday, July 16, 2021. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A CBSA officer places a document on the windshield of a car entering Canada and asks it to pull off to the side in Niagara Falls, Ontario on Friday, July 16, 2021. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The U.S. land border will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21, according to a renewal order issued by the American government Wednesday.

In a notice pre-published in the U.S. Federal Register, the U.S. government says that while vaccination rates have improved, opening the land border to non-essential travel still poses too great a risk.

"Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 within the United States and globally, the Secretary 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," says the U.S. government notice.

The new order expires one minute before midnight on Aug. 21.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement that offered little additional explanation.

"To decrease the spread of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, the United States is extending restrictions on non-essential travel at our land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico through August 21, while ensuring the continued flow of essential trade and travel," wrote DHS spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández.

"DHS is in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably."

WATCH | Mexican ambassador says 'it makes sense' for the U.S. to treat the Canadian and Mexican land borders the same

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was also tight-lipped.

"We rely on the guidance of our health and medical experts, not on the actions of other countries," Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Cincinnati.

"We created these working groups so we can have an open line of communication, discussion on what the criteria look like, what measures needed to be met. Those are ongoing and of course, we continue to be briefed internally as well."

The American order comes only a few days after the Canadian government announced its land border would open to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens on Aug. 9 and to fully vaccinated travellers from other countries on Sept. 7.

No change to Canada's border plan: Blair

Speaking to reporters today, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he has been working closely with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who informed him of the U.S. government's plan to keep its land border closed to non-essential travel.

"There are a number of considerations that I know that the American government is currently undertaking with respect to their borders and that work will continue," he said.

Blair said the U.S. policy doesn't affect Canada's decision to open its border next month.

"Our responsibility, of course, is to look after the best interests of Canadians and to follow the advice of our public health officials," he said. "That's precisely what we have done."

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was sharply critical of the U.S. government's decision and the lack of co-ordination with Canada's move to open the land border to fully vaccinated Americans with a PCR test starting Aug. 9.

"It flies in the face of both science and the most recent public health data," said Beatty, who urged the Canadian government to press Washington to change its mind. "It's hard to see how allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to enter the U.S. poses a public health threat when travel within the U.S. is unrestricted."

Beatty said vaccination rates are higher in Canada than the U.S. and infection rates are lower, and pointed out that the U.S. has adopted different rules for those who fly to the States and those who want to drive.

'This is completely unnecessary'

South of the border, Democratic congressman Brian Higgins was infuriated by his own government's announcement.

Speaking to reporters during a news conference, Higgins said President Joe Biden's administration has to explain why it decided to keep the U.S. land border closed.

Higgins — who represents a district in New York state that includes Buffalo and Niagara Falls and was hard hit by the border closure — said Biden has to show leadership on re-opening the border.

"There's only one person who can make this work — that's the president of the United States," he said.

Higgins said his seats on the budget and ways-and-means committees give him "leverage" and suggested that the decision to keep the border closed without any explanation could prompt him to vote against Biden administration initiatives.

"This administration wants legislation passed?" Higgins said. "Okay, give us justification for your decision."

Higgins said the continued border closure doesn't make sense given the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, and is costing the U.S. economy an estimated $1.5 billion a week.

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, whose district includes northern New York border communities like Plattsburgh and Massena, called the decision to keep the land border closed "misguided."

"President Biden's failure to reopen the northern border, especially given Canada's recent decision to reopen the border to fully vaccinated American travellers in August, is absolutely and unequivocally unacceptable," said Stefanik.

"This failure of the Biden Administration to reopen our Northern Border is devastating to North Country families, businesses, and communities who were hopeful that the United States would reciprocate on Canada's decision to restore travel across the border."

Stefanik called on fellow lawmakers to support the Restoring Northern Border Travel Act she introduced last month, which would expand the list of people allowed to cross the border to include family members and property owners.

Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene said keeping the border closed will result in more businesses shutting down in her Washington State district.

"Right now, Canadians can fly from Vancouver to Seattle but residents in the border town of White Rock cannot drive the short distance south across the border to Blaine," said DelBene, whose district includes the community of Point Roberts, where residents traditionally travel through Canada to get to the rest of the United States.

"Instead of helping them build back better, we're putting our border communities at a significant disadvantage."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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