Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Urge Biden to Help Ease Canadian Travel Ban

January 29, 2021 Updated: January 31, 2021

A bipartisan letter was sent to President Joe Biden by two Upstate New York lawmakers, calling on the Biden administration to implement a plan for reopening the U.S.-Canada border for non-essential travel to ease the challenges of those living in border towns.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), who both serve as Co-Chairs of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, were encouraged by Biden’s executive order in which the president authorized federal agencies to collaborate with Canadian and Mexican officials to develop a plan for cross-border travel.

“As our nation works to emerge from this crisis, we respectfully request that you make bilateral collaboration on safely reopening the U.S.–Canada land border an immediate priority,” the two representatives wrote in their letter (pdf) to Biden.

The New York State Congress Members made a case for families that live on the border of the two countries and whose lives have been disrupted by the almost year-long travel ban.

“We also must recognize the significant impact these restrictions have had on individuals, families, businesses, and communities on both sides of the border. 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,” the representatives wrote in their letter.

Americans “are in desperate need of a plan to reconnect with our Canadian neighbors,” Rep. Higgins, told WIVB News. “For communities like Western New York, a trip across the border feels like a trip across the street.”

“I have worked tirelessly with our counterparts in Canada on this issue, as it continues to impact North Country businesses, families, and communities,” Stefanik said in a statement. “Today we’ve outlined tangible steps the Biden Administration can take to immediately relieve the hardships placed on border communities while charting a clear pathway forward.”

However, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it clear recently that the restrictions on non-essential travel are not going anywhere until the pandemic is fully under control.

“As of last March, non-Canadians, non-permanent residents aren’t allowed to travel to Canada, there is a travel ban for all foreign travelers. That’s something that we put in in March and very much remains in place,” said Trudeau at a press conference on Jan. 26.

Adding, “That’s why we’re working very carefully and very diligently on the new measures we will be bringing forward in the coming days, to make sure that we are further discouraging non-essential travel.”

The border between the United States and Canada has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21, with the order extended several times. Twenty-four U.S. House members co-signed the letter Stefanik and Higgins authored outlining a plan to restore travel between the two countries.

They are asking the Biden Administration to take 5 steps toward reopening non-essential travel between the two countries, including using the Jan. 12 Department of Homeland Security’s guidelines for non-essential travel, immediately vaccinating U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff at the Northern border, and Canada developing exemptions on travel for those Americans who own homes in their country.

In addition, the House members are asking the United States to follow Canada’s lead and ease travel restrictions on family members and extended family members of those members who live in Canada and implement mutual policies that allow recreational boaters to transit through the other nation’s boundary waters.