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Nearly 14 Months Since The U.S. & Canada Restricted Non-Essential Travel Across The Northern Border, Continuous Extensions Of Restrictions With No End In Sight Have Trapped Individuals, Families, Businesses, And Communities In A Cycle Of Waiting 

Thousands Of American & Canadian Property Owners And Businesses Are At Risk Of Losing Another Summer Season; New York Communities That Share Deep, Long-Standing Social And Economic Ties With Canada Deserve To Know The End Is In Sight

Schumer To Feds: Develop A Binational Plan To Safely Reopen The Norther Border ASAP

Standing at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls in the wake of the announcement that New York would begin lifting many COVID restrictions on May 19th, due to increasing vaccination rate and falling COVID rates, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer called on the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to coordinate with Canadian government and public health officials to develop a comprehensive plan, based on data, science and common sense, for reopening the Northern Border. 

Since March 2020, American and Canadian stakeholders on both sides of the border have grown frustrated with the endless cycle of month-by/month closure extensions and the lack of transparency on which they’re decided. With the current moratorium on non-essential traffic set to expire on May 21, and vaccination rates rising on both sides of the border, Schumer urged the relevant parties to come to an agreement as soon as possible on how and when to allow for increased cross border travel to avoid the loss of another summer season and $900 Million in cross-border dollars.

Schumer explained that the Greater Niagara Region is home to 8 Million people between Western New York and Southern Ontario. Each year, more than 3 Million Canadian travelers enter the United States through ports of entry in Erie or Niagara Counties. Furthermore, the significance of the cross-border economy has been measured at $400 Billion in GDP for the region, forming an inextricable link between the two counties along the Niagara River and Lakes Erie and Ontario. The continued closure of the Northern Border has contributed to significant revenue loss across a wide spectrum of businesses in both nations, but also presents significant logistical problems for those with interests on the other side of the border. 

“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.”

Specifically, Schumer requested that a binational agreement on reopening criteria be established and disclosed to the public without delay, allowing clarity and certainty for the thousands who have been displaced by the continued cycle of closure extensions. Such clarity, Schumer argued, would provide transparency, goals to meet and guide policy, and would eliminate the need for monthly extensions that have seemed arbitrary. 

Second, Schumer pushed for a re-evaluation and expansion of the essential travel designation. With New York vaccination rates going up every day, Schumer stated that American and Canadian citizens with familial, educational, medical, educational, and property interests should be considered essential travelers if they’ve undertaken their civic responsibility to get vaccinated. This push comes on the heels of reports that the Canadian government is considering levying an addition tax on under-utilized vacation properties, despite not allowing American property owners to access their Canadian properties. In most cases, American and Canadian citizens with vacation homes across the border have not been able to visit their properties since last March.

Third, Schumer stressed the importance of recreational and commercial boating in the waters along the border. Currently, American and Canadian boaters are not able to cross the border by water, even if they have no intention of stopping at a port of entry. This practice, Schumer said, unfairly penalizes boaters who present no risk of COVID transmission.

Finally, Schumer also urged Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas to provide and any all necessary support to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and other federal personnel along the Northern Border. Schumer explained that no effective border policy can be implemented without ensuring proper vaccination, testing, and protective equipment for the federal employees managing the border and ensuring the continued flow of goods, services, and travelers. 

Schumer was joined by Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino, Buffalo Niagara Partnership CEO Dottie Gallagher, and Niagara Falls Bridge Commission CEO Ken Bieger. 

The U.S.-Canadian Border first closed to non-essential travel on March 20, 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID between the two countries. Since then, the border has remained closed, causing hardships for individuals, families, businesses and communities, who depended on cross-border travel to see loved ones or to generate revenue. Schumer said the people who have done their civic duty to get vaccinated and complied with the border closure for the greater good of public health, deserve justification for the border’s continued closure and a plan with benchmark goals that will lead to reopening.

Senator Schumer’s letter to Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas appears below:

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.