Skip to content


WNY-ers Depend On Canadian Healthcare Workers To Staff Hospital, Clinics, & Medical Practices; Unclear Travel Rules To And From Canada Jeopardizes Access To Medical Care In Midst Of Public Health Emergency

Schumer Reveals That Not Only Will Healthcare Be Affected By Border Closing, But Also Food-Banks, Homeless Shelters, & Sanitation And Manufacturing Industries: All Are Necessary In Coronavirus Fight 

Schumer to DHS: Clarify Border Rules ASAP To Prevent Confusion and Response Disruption

After securing an additional $6 billion for New York to support the state’s fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19), U.S. Senator Charles Schumer today called on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Wolf to clarify travel restrictions that DHS announced it would impose at the U.S.-Canada border. DHS said that it would prohibit travel of “non-essential traffic” between the U.S. and Canada to tighten border restrictions in an effort to contain the pandemic, but, Schumer explains, DHS never clarified what travel was deemed essential and what travel was deemed non-essential, creating confusion for Western New Yorkers, many of whom either work in Canada or depend on Canadians who commute to New York for work. Schumer argued that area hospitals are dependent on the presence of hundreds of Canadian doctors and health care professionals who commute to Upstate New York every day, especially in major medical hubs like Buffalo.

“With more and more cases being revealed each day in Western New York, it’s imperative that the federal government does everything within their power to aid and at the very least, not hinder aid coming to and for Western New York. It’s vital that we do not lose a huge portion of our medical professionals to a U.S.-Canadian border crossing restrictions,” said Schumer. “Now, more than ever, having access to medical attention and services can mean life or death, and with a growing number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Upstate New York the need for an unrestricted flow of Canadian healthcare workers is intensifying. Canadian medical professionals are essential traffic into Upstate New York.”

Additionally, Schumer explained, with the COVID-19 outbreak, the demand for the services of food-banks, homeless shelters, and the sanitation and manufacturing industries have intensified. As the U.S. shuts down cities, restaurants, and workplaces, these organizations largely remain open, supporting New York’s most vulnerable populations and ensuring that New Yorkers will be able to safely return to their normal way of life

Schumer said that given the current state of the U.S. economy and how spread thin the state’s response network has been in the last week, New York cannot afford a massive loss of necessary personnel to unreasonable travel restrictions. Additionally, tribes and First Nations have raised concerns with regard to their Jay Treaty rights to move freely between their traditional territories spread over the U.S. and Canada. Many tribal members live on one side of the U.S.-Canadian border and travel to the other side for services or occupation, and it is unclear how the DHS travel restrictions would affect them.

Senator Schumer’s letter can be found below:

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf,

            I write to express my concern regarding the President’s announcement that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will prohibit travel of “non-essential traffic” at the U.S.-Canada border. While I recognize the necessity of tight border restrictions to contain this pandemic, the continued absence of proper guidance for our border staff could wreak havoc on the surrounding communities and further exacerbate the harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Area hospitals and healthcare clinics rely on Canadian doctors and health care personnel to treat patients. Buffalo is already a major medical hub with hundreds of Canadian employees. Western New York already faces over twenty confirmed Covid-19 cases according to the New York State Department of Health. Additionally, hundreds of nurses and physicians from Canada commute daily to North Country hospitals, clinics and medical practices. Now more than ever, the uninterrupted services of cross-border healthcare workers may mean life or death.

Furthermore, many employees who commute from Canada are vital to the missions of food banks, homeless shelters, and other non-profits organizations that are currently being over-stressed by this crisis. That is to say nothing of the hundreds of men and women who work in other fields like sanitation and manufacturing whose continued presence at their jobs is critical to New York’s responsiveness. Given the current precarious state of the U.S. economy and our response network, we can ill afford any additional unnecessary shocks.   

Before issuing any travel restriction orders, I ask that you respond to the following questions in order to provide more clarity on implementation for border staff, trans-national healthcare workers and other vital employees: 

  1. What is considered essential? Is it anyone with a work permit? Is it anyone in the health care field regardless of what kind of visa? Does this exemption include Tribal and Native Nation citizens under the Jay Treat? This designation is flummoxing the bridge personnel already.
  2. What steps, if any, are being taken to ensure the safety of CBP officers? These men and women are on the front lines of this crisis. We must take adequate action to ensure our border personnel are given the protective equipment and access to testing that they need to keep themselves, their families, and our border safe. At present, they are unable to even identify whether or not they have questioned or searched someone who is symptomatic.
  3.   Are Americans who re-enter the country from Canada if they’ve been elsewhere automatically subject to a mandatory self-quarantine?

Thank you for your work to protect the American public and I hope to get your prompt attention to my inquiry. I look forward to our continued collaboration.