MASSENA, N.Y. (WWTI/WIVB) — One of the most powerful voices in Washington, D.C. stood at the Massena International Airport on Wednesday, urging for the reopening of the United States- Canadian border.
To reopen the Northern Border, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer called on the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to coordinate with the Canadian government and public health officials and develop a comprehensive plan.
This is following the announcement that New York State would begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions on May 19 due to increasing vaccinations rates and falling COVID-19 infection rates.
During his press conference on May 5, Senator Schumer claimed that the Thousand Island- St. Lawrence Seaway region’s economy is deeply integrated with the Canadian economy. According to data, over 2.3 million Canadian visitors enter the U.S. through three ports of entry in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties.
However, Schumer added, than in 2020, border crossing decreased 98% in Alexandria Bay and Ogdensburg and over 50% in Massena, New York.
“The deep, long-standing social and economic bonds that communities in the Northern Country and Canada 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, 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.”
The U.S.-Canadian Border first closed to non-essential travel on March 20, 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The current non-essential travel restrictions between the United States and Canada are set to expire on May 21, 2021. Senator Schumer urged relevant parties to reach an agreement soon to allow for border crossings.
Schumer sent the following letter to the Secretaries of Homeland Security on both sides of the border;
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.
On May 5, Senator Schumer also visited Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, New York. Watch the full recap in the player below.