As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 raises new challenges and continues to spread, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY-26), and Congressman Chris Jacobs (R-NY-27) are urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to maintain the open U.S.-Canada land border for vaccinated individuals safely and efficiently. After nearly 20 months of closure, the Biden administration announced the decision to allow fully vaccinated travelers from Canada and Mexico to travel to the U.S. for non-essential travel through all ports of entry in October of 2021. The New York lawmakers are now urging the administration to uphold its decision to protect the economic livelihoods of New York businesses and to ensure additional burdens are not placed on the nation’s supply chains.
“Now that vaccines are widely available, we cannot return to the economic and personal sacrifices that would be made if the northern border is closed once again,” said the lawmakers. “The impact of nearly 20 months of closure was devastating to countless New York businesses, medical providers, and families who depend on travel across the New York-Canadian border. The northern border is the gateway to an indispensable economic partnership, and we are confident border crossings can continue safely and efficiently.”
Throughout the pandemic, Senator Gillibrand has been a vocal advocate for safely reopening and maintaining an open U.S.-Canadian border. Weeks before the administration made its decision to reopen the border in October, Gillibrand sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requesting clarification and medical justification for the CDC’s decision to treat air and land border crossings differently. Since the onset of the pandemic, Gillibrand has requested guidance from both the Biden and Trump administrations to understand how closures and quarantines would affect New York’s bordering communities and to ensure all necessary exemptions have been made in the interest of public health and safety. The closure and loss of Canadian business cost the U.S. economy $1.5 billion each month and $665-855 million annually in Erie County alone. In July of 2021, Gillibrand applauded Canada’s decision to reopen the border to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens, even as the U.S. government extended its ban on non-essential travel from Canada.
The full text of the letter can be found here and below:
Dear President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas:
Thank you for your commitment to a safe and efficient northern border even as the pandemic has forced restricted travel and sometimes closure. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continually been advocating for safe, healthy travel between the United States and Canada at our shared northern border because of how vital it is to New York communities. Maintaining an open border to vaccinated travelers has been essential to the functioning economy of New York State and to the wellbeing of New York families.
We write to urge you to work with Canada to keep the northern border open to vaccinated individuals, even as the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 raises new challenges. This is necessary to protect the economic livelihood of New York businesses and to ensure we are not placing additional burdens on our supply chains. It is also important for our constituents who are reliant on travel across the northern border to connect with friends and family members.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the United States-Canada border was closed for more than a year and a half. This extended closure caused significant disruptions in border towns, where people routinely cross to shop, visit family and participate in local events. We heard from so many New Yorkers about the harm their families suffered as a result. The closure and loss of Canadian business cost the U.S. economy an estimated $1.5 billion each month and $665-855 million annually in Erie County alone.
Vaccines work and provide the best opportunity to end this pandemic. Canada has a high rate of vaccination with over 76% of its general population fully vaccinated with both doses. We must recognize vaccine efficacy and follow the public health data. There should not be additional restrictions placed on non-essential travel for fully vaccinated Americans and Canadians and all ports of entry on the northern border must remain open
We appreciate your consideration and look forward to continuing to work with you on this issue.