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The Canadian government has announced that it will reopen its border to U.S. citizens who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Aug. 9. The U.S. government, however, has said it will continue to restrict non-essential travel across the border from Canada and Mexico at least until Aug. 21.
This perplexing decision by the Biden administration is inexplicable. Top Maine leaders across the political spectrum — and leaders in other northern border states — have pushed back, calling on the federal government to reconsider.
“The State of Maine is inextricably bound to our Canadian neighbors. Our ties stretch across our economy, our culture, and our families,” Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday, adding that this U.S. border decision negatively impacts those ties. “I share the Federal government’s concern about the spread of COVID-19, but vaccines are now available and Canada’s vaccination rate now exceeds that of the United States. The time has come for the U.S. government to safely open the border.”
The Maine congressional delegation sent a letter on Wednesday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejando Mayorkas urging the Biden administration to remove border restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians, as Canada is doing for fully vaccinated Americans.
“We applaud this decision to allow our citizens to travel across the border; however, we were surprised by reports that the United States government has instead extended existing restrictions through August 21, 2021, blocking Canadians from traveling to the United States for business or leisure,” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden wrote. “This continued border closure has a negative impact on our local economies and families, which is why we urge you to develop an immediate plan to allow vaccinated Canadians to resume travel to [the] United States.”
The explanation provided by Homeland Security, frankly, isn’t much of an explanation at all. At least not a good one.
“To decrease the spread of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, the United States is extending restrictions on non-essential travel at our land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico through August 21, while ensuring the continued flow of essential trade and travel,” Homeland Security Assistant Press Secretary Angelo Fernandez Hernandez said. “DHS is in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably.”
We reached out to Homeland Security, trying to understand the basis of the decision. We pointed to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said Monday, “Any decisions about resuming travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts.” What, then, was the expert guidance that led to this border decision, we asked.
To their credit, Homeland Security officials got right back to us, but only to defer to the existing statement and say they had nothing else to share right now.
We’re not impressed, and we’re not alone.
In an interview with the BDN editorial board, King called the response “a non-explanation” that doesn’t have “one single iota of science.” He emphasized that the situation has both economic costs and costs on families split on both sides of the border.
“This is the kind of thing that gives government a bad name,” King said. “They owe us a better explanation.”
In a separate interview, Collins noted that strict border restrictions made sense at the beginning of the pandemic but thinks “at this point, the restrictions are draconian on our side” and that the U.S. should be mirroring Canada’s “logical, risk-based approach” to the border. She noted the level of integration between many communities on each side of the border and how difficult it has been with the pandemic border restrictions. The situation where fully vaccinated Americans are able to cross the border without restrictions and Canadians are not “defies logic and common sense,” she said.
“My worry is that if the United States does not reciprocate, it will encourage the Canadian government to resume its restrictive rules,” Collins told the editorial board.
We share the frustration that Collins, King and other Maine leaders have with this decision, and share in the hope that the Biden administration will reverse course. If there’s a good explanation for continuing these restrictions at the Canadian border, we’ve yet to hear it.