The border crossing between the U.S. and Canada in Houlton. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Voices on both sides of the political aisle are beginning to push for progress on reopening the border with Canada, as families separated for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic wonder when they can be reunited.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, visited the US-Canada border near Niagara Falls in his home state of New York on Wednesday, May 5, to call for taking the first steps toward reopening the border for non-essential travel. He urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken along with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to begin working with their Canadian counterparts to come up with a plan to formally begin the process.

“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 then we knew in March of last year,” Schumer stated.

“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,” he said.

In a letter sent to both Blinken and Mayorkas, Schumer stated that cross-border travel should be expanded to immediately include anyone who has family, property, educational, medical or business interests in Canada and who has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The move comes as the border closure is approaching 14 months preventing all non-essential travel, with even further restrictions in some provinces such as along the Maine-New Brunswick border.

As one of the country’s top-ranking Democrats, Schumer joins several other U.S. politicians who have been vocal about the need to restore U.S.-Canada travel. Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, called for easing of border restrictions back in March.

Following Schumer’s statements, Collins reiterated her support for reopening, saying it would help Maine’s border communities, and that cases and number of vaccinations along the Maine-New Brunswick border were low enough to accommodate a reopening.

“I welcome the support of other Senate colleagues from border states like Senator Schumer’s call for more dialogue with the Canadian government,” Collins said. “I have spoken with Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas about the need to ease travel restrictions, especially for those who are recently tested or vaccinated, to help Maine families as well as small businesses that rely on Canadian customers.”

While voices of U.S. politicians in favor of reopening continue to grow louder, challenges still remain regarding how to reopen safely without further risk of spreading infection. Canada’s vaccine rollout has been slower than in the United States, and newer variants of the virus are causing a surge of cases in several provinces, such as Alberta and Ontario.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that vaccine passports were being considered as a way to allow international travel in and out of Canada. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs reiterated the possible option for allowing travelers going from Maine to New Brunswick in a press conference held in late April.