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U.S. to continue border limits for Canadians through Aug. 21

U.S. to continue border limits for Canadians through Aug. 21

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Peace Bridge (copy) (copy)

The Peace Bridge border crossing connects Buffalo with Fort Erie, Ont., right, on either side of the Niagara River. The normally bustling crossing has been on hold for more than a year due to Covid travel restrictions.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. border will remain closed to Canadians for another month, according to an announcement to be published in Thursday's Federal Register, even though Canada plans to welcome visiting Americans starting Aug. 9.

The Department of Homeland Security filed the Federal Register notice Wednesday, calling the extension of the border closure a public health decision.

"Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of Covid-19 within the United States and globally, the Secretary has determined that the risk of continued transmission and spread of the virus associated with Covid-19 between the United States and Canada poses an ongoing 'specific threat to human life or national interests'," the Department of Homeland Security said in the pending Federal Register notice.

The decision means that for the 17th consecutive month, most Canadians will not be able to drive across the bridges that connect Southern Ontario with Western New York. The latest monthlong extension of the border closure is now set to expire at 11:59 p.m. EST on Aug. 21.

The land border between Canada and the U.S. was closed to nonessential travel on March 21, 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that closure has been extended on a monthly basis ever since. The latest extension had been scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

This time for the first time, though, the U.S. is acting alone in extending the closure of its side of the border. Canada announced on Monday that it will open its border crossings to vaccinated Americans starting Aug. 9, prompting a joyous reaction from Buffalo-area residents longing to visit loved ones or property in Canada.

The U.S. decision to keep its side of the border closed is likely to produce an opposite – and harshly negative – reaction from U.S. lawmakers who represent border regions, as well as from Canadians with loved ones or second homes in the U.S.

Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, have been leading the charge to get both the U.S. and Canada to ease their border restrictions.

“For months now people and businesses along the border have been strung along month after month holding out hope for the border to reopen," Higgins said. "Today’s decision by the Biden administration harms economic recovery and hurts families all across America’s northern border; this is completely unnecessary."

Schumer agreed.

“As Canada prepares to further open the border next month, the United States is failing to reciprocate, jeopardizing an already tenuous recovery for thousands of businesses, families, and communities across Upstate New York," Schumer said. "It is critical for the United States to level the playing field and create a uniform system, following the science and data, to safely -- and finally -- reopen the border for those vaccinated, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that happens as swiftly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Jacobs, an Orchard Park Republican, said: “Another month-long extension of the U.S. – Canada border shutdown is regrettably par for the course. Reopening the border to nonessential travel can be done safely. Every day we don’t reopen is another day of the Biden administration’s complete failure on this issue.”

The Federal Register announcement implies that the U.S. and Canada are moving forward together on the border closure even though they are not.

"U.S. and Canadian officials have mutually determined that non-essential travel between the United States and Canada currently poses additional risk of transmission and spread of the virus associated with Covid-19 and places the populace of both nations at increased risk of contracting the virus associated with Covid-19," the Federal Register notice said.

"Moreover, given the sustained human-to human transmission of the virus, coupled with risks posed by new variants, returning to previous levels of travel between the two nations places the personnel staffing land ports of entry between the United States and Canada, as well as the individuals traveling through these ports of entry, at increased risk of exposure."

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