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Following ‘fractured relationship’ & 10 months of COVID-19-related restrictions at the border, new administration ‘prioritizes’ US-Canada relations
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26, Buffalo/Niagara Falls), who serves as co-chair of congressional northern border caucus, said President Joe Biden’s week one actions demonstrate a new beginning for the U.S.-Canada relationship. This week, Biden released an aggressive plan to fight COVID-19, which includes a directive for departments to collaborate with the Canadian government toward the goal of quickly developing health and safety measures at the border. The Biden team also announced the new president’s first call with a foreign leader would take place today – the president’s third day in office – with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“There is work to be done to repair our binational relationship, to rebuild trust and to return to the collaborative ways the U.S. and Canada have long enjoyed,” Higgins said. “President Biden’s actions demonstrate our ties with Canada are a priority under this administration. This focus on the northern border is critical to our shared ideals and economic interests.”
In December, Higgins wrote to the incoming secretary of Homeland Security, asking the Biden team to, “work in coordination with our Canadian counterparts to create a management plan that safely allows for renewed expanded travel across the border, incorporating appropriate health screenings and working collaboratively with all relevant authorities.”
On his second day in office, Biden signed an executive order addressing northern border restrictions, calling for federal agencies to develop plans for safe international travel in the next 14 days. The relevant portion of the executive order reads:
Sec. 5. International Travel.
(c) Land Travel. The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of HHS, the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of CDC, shall immediately commence diplomatic outreach to the governments of Canada and Mexico regarding public health protocols for land ports of entry. Based on this diplomatic engagement, within 14 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of HHS (including through the Director of CDC), the Secretary of Transportation, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President a plan to implement appropriate public health measures at land ports of entry. The plan should implement CDC guidelines, consistent with applicable law, and take into account the operational considerations relevant to the different populations who enter the United States by land.
Higgins’ press release said he “recognizes the challenges presented by the pandemic, but bipartisan calls from Congress, which he led, for the prior administration to develop a plan to reopen safely and consider a nuanced approach to allowable crossings went unanswered.”
Last week, the congressman hosted a virtual meeting with Let Us Reunite during which time “Western New Yorkers provided emotional personal accounts of the hardships associated with being separated from their loved ones for months.”
Higgins added, “While we come from different nations, U.S. and Canadian citizens have long enjoyed a unique relationship. We are neighbors at vacation property, customers at one another’s small businesses, travel companions at airports, diners at local restaurants, and loyal fans at sporting events. We are family – both in law and in spirit – and we are eager to come back together.”
The northern border first closed to nonessential travel due to the pandemic on March 24, 2020. The 5,525-mile U.S.-Canada border has over 120 land ports of entry, four of which are included in Higgins’ Western New York district.