Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, Co-chair of the congressional northern border caucus, is appealing to the incoming Biden Administration to make coordination between the U.S. and Canada a top priority, including development of a reopening plan at the northern border and the expansion of technology that provides for improved border crossing efficiencies over the long-term.
In a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, who has been named by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as Homeland Security secretary, Higgins wrote, “The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the daily operation of our shared border with Canada. Restrictions on non-essential travel at our land ports of entry first imposed in March 2020 have frustrated many of my constituents in completing their routine activities. A lack of any meaningful plan from the outgoing administration to address these concerns has added to this frustration. I urge you to work in coordination with our Canadian counterparts to create a management plan that safely allows for renewed expanded travel across the border.”
The border between the U.S. and Canada first closed to nonessential travel due to the pandemic on March 24. Travel restrictions have been extended eight times with, Higgins said, no attempt by the Trump administration to work in the interim to develop a plan for reopening. Higgins said he recognizes the challenges presented by the pandemic, but has repeatedly called for the development of a nuanced approach when considering allowable crossings along the northern border.
The Canadian government has added exemptions to allow for immediate and extended family reunification measures. Higgins’ letter addresses the “imbalance” created without similar action taken on the U.S. side of the border: “Binational cooperation is integral to a functional land border, yet the current administration’s dysfunctional processes have made this difficult to achieve. … For example, Canada has instituted a family reunification policy that the United States has yet to reciprocate. This creates confusion on both sides of the border for families and loved ones who are trying to figure out if they’re even eligible to cross. A first step in binational cooperation should be to institute a similar reunification process.”
This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau predicted the border would not be reopened anytime soon. He said, “Until the virus is significantly under more control everywhere around the world, we are not going to be releasing the restrictions at the border.”
Higgins said he hopes the new administration will work quickly to take the coronavirus seriously and rebuild the working relationship between the two ally nations to the mutual benefit of the cross-border economies.
The northern border constitutes the longest land boundary between two countries in the world, at 5,525 miles. During “normal times,” approximately 400,000 people and over $1.6 billion in goods cross the border daily through more than 120 ports of entry. Higgins’ Western New York district borders Southern Ontario and includes four international border crossings.