Politics Lawmakers from struggling border districts pressure Biden to ease coronavirus travel restrictions
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Lawmakers representing border districts say their communities are reeling from the economic effects of the yearlong ban on nonessential travel between Canada and Mexico and are calling on the Biden administration to reopen the northern and southern borders.
President Biden vowed days after arriving in Washington in Januaryborder restrictions. The Trump administration , that recreational and tourist travel would immediately be blocked at all land ports of entry. That ban has been renewed every 30 days since then and is valid through March 19.
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By last summer, politicians were pushing the Trump administration to look at ways to reopen some of the 167 land border crossings along the 2,000-mile southern border and 5,500 miles of the northern border. Biden signed an executive order in late January to come up with a plan in two weeks to review reopening the border, but that initiative has not been publicly released.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is lobbying Biden to only keep restrictions in place on a localized basis. In a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week, the centrist Republican senatorthat limited exceptions be made as the first steps to reopening the ports of entry.
Congressional Northern Border Caucus Co-Chairs Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat,to Biden a list of ways that federal law enforcement officers can resume normal operations. Their proposal includes establishing a bilateral plan that both Mexico and Canada are on board with, vaccinating all staff from the Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations who work at border crossings, and reuniting families who live across the border from one other.
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The Biden administration has moved swiftly to distance itself from Trump-era immigration policies, but at the US-Mexico border, a pandemic-related order put in place by former President Donald Trump remains in effect, allowing officials to continue to turn away thousands of migrants. © Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images US President Donald Trump speaks after touring a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas on January 12, 2021.
“As we approach one year of restricted travel, we also must recognize the significant impact these restrictions have had on individuals, families, businesses, and communities on both sides of the border,” states the letter, which includes bipartisan support from two dozen lawmakers. “The continued ritual of monthly extensions without substantive signs of collaboration or progress only increases uncertainty and amplifies hardship for the border communities we represent.”
Higgins, whose district runs along Buffalo and Niagara Falls, is pushing for a.
“For communities like Western New York, a trip across the border feels like a trip across the street. And after nearly a year divided, we are in desperate need of a plan to reconnect with our Canadian neighbors,” Higgins said in a statement.
Canadian government statisticsthat nonessential travel at its border dropped by around 95% in August 2019, compared to August 2020. Aaron Bowker, a spokesman for CBP’s Buffalo field office, the amount of passenger traffic attempting to cross into New York from Canada declined by 95% last summer.
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“It is absolutely critical to our Northern Border economy, and the economic partnership with Canada that President Biden commits to a metrics-based, bilateral plan to safely reopen the US-Canada border to non-essential travel as soon as possible,” Stefanik said this week.
Down on the southern border, Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, said the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo regions have been crippled by the travel restrictions, noting that 18 million people who travel here each year have not been allowed to cross.
“That means that this year in March, our economy has lost $19 billion that goes to restaurants, stores, and all of our hotels and all that,” Cuellar. “The reality is that they are letting undocumented people come to the U.S., but they are not letting people with visas, cardholders, come across.”
Cuellar expects travel restrictions to be relaxed as more people get vaccinated.
The United States has a population of more than 320 million people and hasmore than 28 million cases of the coronavirus. In comparison, Canada has 843,000 cases among its 37 million residents.
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Three Minnesota Republicans in Congress (Michelle Fischbach, Pete Stauber, and Tom Emmer) told Biden this week that the closure is hurting communities that "rely heavily" on tourism and cross-border travel.
“They have been hit especially hard by the pandemic-related travel restrictions, devastating local economies,” the lawmakers wrote.
Biden met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week, but no agreement was reached on changes to border restrictions. Canadadays ahead of the bilateral meeting, making it harder for Canadians who do visit the U.S. to return to Canada.
The government notice of the travel restrictions identifies “individuals traveling for tourism purposes (e.g., sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events)” as engaging in nonessential travel. Essential travelers are considered those traveling for medical reasons, people going to school, people who work in the farming or agriculture industries, emergency and public health officials, members of the U.S. military, and commercial employees involved in cross-border trade. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the U.S. are exempt.
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U.S.-Mexico Border Trouble Gives Republicans Foothold After Democratic Stimulus Win .
More than 3,000 unaccompanied migrant children were in Customs and Border Protection custody as of Monday.A record 7,000 unaccompanied migrant children were transferred to U.S. refugee agency shelters in February while there were more than 3,200 unaccompanied minors in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody on Monday, according to CNN. These numbers have placed strain on border facilities.