DERBY LINE – As elected North County lawmakers introduce legislation that would force the Biden administration to end all COVID-19 mandates for Canadians crossing the northern border, Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont quickly said he will not support the bill.
The Northern Border Reopening Act was introduced by Rep. Chris Jacobs in February as a way to get border crossings back to pre-pandemic levels by dropping all COVID-19 mandates on Canadian nationals entering the United States.
Rep. Jacobs said the mandates infringe on basic liberties, harm the economy, and have kept families unjustifiably separated for far too long.
At a recent press conference, Jacobs was joined by members of Families are Essential, a U.S.-Canadian activist group that has several members living in northern Vermont.
Members of the group, some from Derby Line, have been separated from loved ones since the pandemic began two years ago.
The group shared their support for the legislation and spoke about the impact border restrictions have had on families in both countries.
“I have four children, five grandchildren, and parents in their nineties who have all been torn apart,” said Sandy Pearce, Families Are Essential co-founder and dual citizen of the United States and Canada. “There are thousands of families who all have our own horror stories of how this border closure has affected us.”
The legislation, which many see as an important step to fully reopening the northern border for trade and tourism, does not have the support of Representative Welch.
“Rep. Welch does not believe the Northern Border Reopening Act will help the US and Canadian governments work together to increase safe travel between the two countries,” a statement issued by Rep. Welch reads.
Today, Canada announced that starting April 1, vaccinated travelers will no longer need to provide a COVID test to cross the land border. Unvaccinated people will still need both a test and a place to quarantine for 14 days. Random COVID tests will also be issued to vaccinated people crossing into Canada.
Congressman Brian Higgins of New York, a Democrat like Welch, applauded the news today that most travelers entering Canada will not need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, but in a letter sent to President Biden, he stated he does not feel it is enough.
Higgins said that the United States should go one step further and consider the elimination of current vaccination requirements for all travelers at land ports of entry. He said it inhibits cross-border travel, the flow of commerce, and creates an unnecessary barrier to the eventual resumption of pre-pandemic cross-border activity.
“Based on current trends, I believe it is time to follow the science and remove the remaining restrictions at the U.S. and Canadian borders to allow Americans and Canadians to move freely across,” Higgins writes.
Although not coming right out and saying he supports the Northern Border Reopening Act, the letter Higgins sent to the president today pushes for the same thing.
Traveling into the U.S. by land does not currently require a test, but is only open to those who are vaccinated.
Rep. Jacobs says he does not agree with keeping the border closed to people who did not receive a vaccine, and says it is time to move forward.
“The Biden Administration has decided that being able to reunite with your family is conditioned on making a personal medical decision,” Jacobs said. “That is wrong, I believe, and we need to move beyond that.”
Representative Pete Stauber from Minnesota also says the time has come to fully open the border.
“Many of my constituents have relatives north of the border who they’ve been unable to see,” Congressman Stauber said. “This is why I cosponsored the Northern Border Reopening Act.”
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik says the additional restrictions to cross the northern border have harmed upstate New York and North Country communities, families, and small businesses.
“I have been calling on both Canada and the United States to resume pre-pandemic travel at the northern border, and this is a chance for the United States to set an example for returning to normalcy,” Stefanik said.
In an email request sent to Congressman Welch by Newport Dispatch asking about the Northern Border Reopening Act, and the continuation of banning unvaccinated people from crossing the northern border, Welch responded:
“Rep. Welch continues to believe the border should be fully open to vaccinated travelers as we begin to return to a sense of normalcy after two long years.”
The statement continues:
“Rep. Welch remains committed to working with the Biden Administration and Canadian officials to ensure the border with Canada is open and accessible to Vermonters and Canadians.”