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Stefanik, fellow reps call for plan to reopen the border

WASHINGTON — North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and fellow representatives are pushing for the United States and Canada to develop guidance for a phased reopening of the border.

“We are asking that the United States and Canada immediately craft a comprehensive framework for phased reopening of the border based on objective metrics and accounting for the varied circumstances across border regions,” the members wrote in a letter to acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair.

“Additionally, we request consideration of any interim measures that may be appropriate to bilaterally ease restrictions on family members and property owners — including those with property on U.S. soil accessible only through cross-border transit — in order to restore the social bond that unites our two nations.”

30-day extensions

The border has been closed to “non-essential” travel, including tourism, since March 21 to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Those allowed to continue crossing include U.S. citizens returning to the U.S., those traveling to attend educational institutions or go to work, and those traveling for emergency or government response, according to a press release.

Both governments have been extending the restrictions by 30-day periods. It was announced last month that they would remain in effect until July 21.

Polls show that many people support the border’s continued closure. A random poll of 1,009 Canadians, which Nanos Research conducted between May 26 and 28, found that 40% think Canada should keep the border closed until the end of the summer, and 31% say it should stay closed until there is a vaccine.

Last week from June 29 to July 6, an unscientific Enterprise online poll found that 59% of 715 people who took the poll think the border should stay closed to non-essential traffic for another month.

Untenable

Stefanik and fellow Northern Border Caucus co-chair Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, led the letter, signed by more than 20 others.

“The continual 30-day extensions without a plan for how restrictions will be modified prolongs uncertainty for both communities and creates unnecessary tension as we approach each new expiration,” the members wrote.

“States and provinces have created frameworks for reopening that rely on monitoring public health data, the expertise of health officials and other defined criteria to inform government decisions on how to proceed with each phase of a reopen. This process alleviates uncertainty and allows residents to understand the decision-making and anticipate next steps.

“Continuing to extend border restrictions at 30-day intervals is untenable for the communities that have been separated from family and unable to tend to their property for over three months.”

Chamber supports

The North Country Chamber of Commerce applauded the representatives’ advocacy.

“Such a strong and collaborative statement by a bi-partisan group of 29 members of Congress is hopefully not to be ignored by either government,” chamber President Garry Douglas said in a statement.

“They are joined with major stakeholders on both sides of the border, not in calling for a simple reopening but in a strong expression of the urgent need for a plan and process that can show everyone the eventual way forward, while urging consideration of some modest expansions of the essential traveler categories in the interim.”

He gave as examples an expanded definition of family, possibly allowing those who own property within a certain distance of the border to cross and potentially expanded allowance for essential business-related travel.

“These and other aspects of the current situation deserve serious bi-national consultation and discussion before we end up with another simplistic extension,” Douglas said.

“We thank the 29 members and the co-chairs for their leadership and engagement.”

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The Enterprise staff contributed to this report.

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