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Washington lawmakers 'extremely frustrated' by U.S. continuing Canadian border closure

The Bellingham Herald logo The Bellingham Herald 10/5/2021 David Rasbach, The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

Oct. 4—The White House continued to refuse expanding on the reasoning behind its decision not to allow vaccinated Canadians to cross the border by land into the U.S., despite Americans being allowed to head north, and that is frustrating Washington lawmakers.

"I remain extremely frustrated that the White House has failed to sufficiently explain its position on our northern border," Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington's 1st District said in a statement emailed to The Bellingham Herald. "How can it follow the science when a Canadian can fly from Vancouver to Seattle but not drive from British Columbia to Whatcom County?

"This continues to cause pain and suffering for our border communities especially the residents of Point Roberts. The administration should make an immediate exemption for fully vaccinated Canadians to travel into Point Roberts and bring its northern land border policy in line with the new regulations around air travel from Europe and elsewhere."

DelBene's remarks were in response to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying in a briefing Monday that the decision on opening the border has been left up to public health officials.

"It's determined by our public health officials," Psaki said. "Our objective, of course, is to return to overland travel, just like we're working toward returning to international travel, but we leave it to them to make that determination."

The border has been closed since March of 2020, when the two countries banned travel for non-essential travel in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 during early stages of the pandemic.

Initially set to last a month, the two countries each extended the closure a month at a time until Canada began allowing vaccinated Americans to cross for reasons such as tourism, visiting family and shopping on Aug. 9.

The U.S. did not follow suit, and is still prohibiting Canadians to cross for non-essential reasons, last extending the closure in a Sept. 20 announcement. That closure is currently set to last until at least Oct. 21.

"Another month brings another border extension," DelBene said at the time. "That means more unpredictability, suffering, and frustration for our border communities."

Of particular interest to DelBene and other Washington lawmakers has been the impact the closure has had on Point Roberts. Whatcom County's exclave community has been cut off from the rest of the county and state during the closure, seriously hurting businesses in the area that rely on Canadians who visit or live in the community.

"This is the wrong decision by the administration — there must at the very least be an exemption for Point Roberts as we work to safely reopen the U.S.-Canada border," Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said after the latest extension of the closure. "I appreciate the administration's science-based approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and I firmly believe that the evidence supports a narrow and tailored exception to the administration's Canadian border closure and a reopening of the Point Roberts port of entry to Canadian travel."

In a letter to Point Roberts community members Monday, Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu encouraged owners of businesses impacted by the border closure to apply for to get up to $50,000 through the state's Border Business Relief Program.

He also noted that the Whatcom County Council will allocate up to $250,000 to address the needs of the Point Roberts community and that his office working to identify gaps in the state's relief program.

"I share your disappointment over the continued unilateral closure of the US-Canada border, and I have communicated these frustrations to our partners in the federal government at every opportunity. ... The isolation of your community because of the continued border closure is arbitrary and unwarranted, and it needs to end," Sidhu wrote.

The White House announced last month that it plans to begin opening travel for all vaccinated foreign nationals in early November, according to a McClatchy story.

Under that plan, travelers will need to show they are fully vaccinated before they board international flights bound for the U.S., according to the story. A negative COVID-19 test from within three days of departure also will need to be supplied, and enhanced contract tracing and masking will be required while they are in the U.S.

Those requirements resemble what Canada is requiring of vaccinated U.S. citizens to cross the land border, but restrictions at land ports of entry into the U.S. were not mentioned.

"As you know, we're going to have an update on our international travel guidelines as we get closer to November, early November remains the timeline that we're focused on," Psaki said Monday. "But I will leave it to our health experts to outline more specifics."

This story was originally published October 4, 2021 3:05 PM.


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