Rep. Elise Stefanik and Sen. Steve Daines on Thursday plan to introduce a bill to force Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to begin reopening the U.S.-Canada border after more than a year of international travel being essentially cut off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The “Restoring Northern Border Travel Act,” first obtained by Fox News, comes as coronavirus cases in both countries drop steeply and vaccination rates are increasing. It also follows months of agitation from Stefanik, R-N.Y., Daines, R-Mont., and several other members of Congress who represent northern states and districts to reopen the economically important border.
“It is unacceptable that President Biden continues to ignore the needs of Montanans and keep the northern border closed while supporting the southern border being wide open to a surge of illegal immigrants and a flood of illegal drugs into our Montana communities,” Daines said in a statement about the bill.
The southern border is not, in fact, any more open for legal commerce or travel than the U.S.-Canada border — both are still closed to non-essential travel. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this month extended identical “non-essential travel” restrictions for Mexico and Canada until at least July 21.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Daines’ Montana has one of the longest borders with Canada in the United States. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)
The agency said it is working with “the White House’s expert working groups with Canada and Mexico to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably.”
But the U.S.-Mexico border has been subject to a massive flood of migrants, largely from Central America, which Republicans largely blame President Biden for over his dovish campaign rhetoric on immigration. Law enforcement encountered more than 180,000 migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border in May.
Meanwhile, economies in the northern U.S. that rely on commerce with Canada continue to struggle with travel severely limited by both countries, Stefanik and Daines said.
“Extending the travel restrictions for yet another month, despite the tremendous progress the U.S. has made in fully vaccinating Americans and safely reopening, is absolutely unacceptable to the families, businesses, and communities along the northern border,” Stefanik said of the DHS move to extend restrictions until July.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, May 14, 2021, just after she was elected the new chair of the House Republican Conference, replacing Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. Stefanik represents a district in northern New York that makes up a significant part of the state’s border with Canada. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The newly minted House Republican Conference chair accused Biden of “caving to Prime Minister Trudeau’s incessant desire to delay.”
The Stefanik-Daines bill would immediately force Mayorkas to allow border crossings for family visits, to visit property owned in the United States, business travel, and travel to an American airport to board a flight. It would also require Mayorkas to present to Congress a “plan to full restore non-essential travel into the United States at land ports of entry along the United States-Canada border.”
The bill is highly unlikely to ever become law with Congress controlled by Democrats in both chambers. But it represents growing pressure from not only politicians but businesses and activists to resume travel between the two closely allied neighbors.
There was some movement toward reopening this week, with Canada announcing it will ease quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers starting on July 5. But with summer already arrived and most places in the United States wide open, Daines said it’s unreasonable that travel between the United States and Canada is still nearly as heavily restricted as it was during the height of the pandemic last fall and winter.
“The Biden administration’s inability to establish a plan to restore cross-border travel and relax travel restrictions is simply unacceptable for families and businesses located along the northern border,” Daines said. “Our communities have waited over a year for clarity and signs of progress, yet this administration keeps extending the closures without a promising end in sight.”