NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is asking U.S. officials to work with the Canadian government to reopen the northern border to non-essential as soon as possible.
This follows several calls from Rep. Brian Higgins (N.Y.-26) to reopen the border as soon as possible to allow loved ones on both sides of the border to see each other once again.
“The deep, long-standing social and economic bonds that communities in Western New York and Southern Ontario share were abruptly severed last March to deal with the profound public health challenge that COVID presented, and since then residents and businesses up and down the Norther Border have been eagerly waiting for the day when rates would be low and vaccinations available so that restrictions could be relaxed and logically lifted,” said Senator Schumer. “While at the beginning — and in the height — of the pandemic it was understandable for such drastic measures to be taken, we know much more about the virus than we knew in March of last year and are making strong gains against it. Since vaccination rates have risen and overall rates are steadily falling and New York is ready to reopen, based on the data, it is time to take the first steps towards reopening the Northern Border to non-essential travel. That is why I am calling on Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas to coordinate with their Canadian counterparts ASAP and come up with a plan — based on science, data and common sense — that will allow for staged and steady border travel and reunite families and friends and jumpstart local economies. I’m also asking that they take appropriate measures to ease the burden shared by thousands of stakeholders across the Northern Border.”
The calls to make changes on Canadian side of the border are growing, as well.
Mayor Jim Diodati of Niagara Falls, Ontario, says border traffic is vital to his community.
"40,000 people count on tourism to put food on the table, to pay the rent, to pay the mortgage. So, it's right up there with oxygen," said Diodati.
"Very difficult. Lots of tears," said Tracy Valencourt. She and her husband live in Fort Erie. She has family in Cheektowaga and West Seneca. If she were to visit them, she couldn't afford to take the time off of work to quarantine. She, as many others are hoping family can be considered essential, and given the ability to cross the border without quarantining.
Diodati believes if someone is vaccinated, they should have the ability to cross the border.
"If we need to temporarily have vaccination passports, so be it. I mean, I cannot bring my dog across the border without proof of rabies vaccinations. I can't travel to certain countries without proof of malaria vaccinations and that's OK. That's a safety protocol and I have no problem with that," added Diodati.
Sen. Schumer also sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas
Dear Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas:
I write to urge the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to work in coordination with your Canadian counterparts to finally develop a transparent, bilateral, and public plan based on public health data and guidance – with specific standards, protocols, and metrics – to safely reopen the Northern Border to non-essential travel. Similarly, I strongly urge you to negotiate an interim expansion of the essential travel designation to include the thousands of impacted New Yorkers, in addition to millions of other vaccinated American and Canadian citizens. Having endured one of the deadliest chapters in New York’s history, the residents along the border are ready to turn the page and re-establish the familiar links to their loved ones, their property, and their prosperity.
While the fight against the COVID pandemic remains paramount, we must acknowledge the progress New Yorkers have made in rolling up their sleeves, getting vaccinated, and reducing the burden of the virus. Due to the rising rates of vaccinated Americans and the subsequent decline in cases in New York and elsewhere, it has become abundantly clear that an agreement can and should be reached to safely accommodate the border communities without compromising the fight against COVID-19. A bi-national plan with clearly defined benchmarks will provide clarity and transparency to a confusing and frustrating process. Such an agreement is critical to safely and coherently reopening the border for non-essential travel as quickly as the underlying data would permit. I ask that this detailed plan be publicly released with all due speed.
As you work bilaterally to develop this plan, I further request that you work with our Canadian allies to immediately expand the definition of essential travel to include that of citizens with family, property, educational, medical, or business interests, who have also fulfilled their civic responsibility to get vaccinated. As we approach the summer season, thousands of New Yorkers and Canadians alike are facing the prospect of being cut-off from their properties for another year. Compounding this headache is the report that the Canadian government is preparing to levy additional taxes on underutilized vacation properties, despite the inability of property owners to reach their homes.
Additionally, I once again ask that you work with your Canadian counterparts to clarify the policy for boaters who traverse the border mid-transit. Boaters, including tour boat companies that cross the border without docking, do not increase the spread of COVID-19 and should not be unduly penalized by the border policy.
Lastly, I request that you develop a plan to ensure the safety of our border personnel as we reopen the border. It is incumbent upon both the United States and Canada to provide adequate testing, vaccination, and protective equipment to CBP and all federal employees along the entirety of the Northern Border. I also ask that CBP evaluate current policies and processes to increase efficiency and touchless travel at ports of entry. Without ensuring the safety of our frontline personnel and adapting our port procedures to a new COVID reality, we cannot hope to return to the normalcy that has defined U.S.-Canadian border crossings in New York and beyond.
Once the epicenter of the global health and economic pandemic, New Yorkers have worked diligently to significantly reduce the spread of COVID infections and have led the nation in vaccinations week after week; it is now incumbent on the federal government to do their part and aid their desperate desire to fully rebuild and recover. This recovery cannot be done, and I will not rest, until bilateral collaboration to safely reopen the United States and Canadian land border is an utmost priority and a plan for a full reopening is publicly released.
The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 20, 2020.