Three Republican members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation on Thursday, May 13, unveiled a series of measures aimed at easing the impact of the U.S.-Canada border closure on businesses in Minnesota’s Northwest Angle.

Accessible by road only by driving through about 40 miles of Manitoba, the Northwest Angle has been cut off to vehicle traffic since March 21, 2020, when the U.S.-Canada border closed to nonessential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forum News Service
Forum News Service

The only way to reach the Northwest Angle through Minnesota is by crossing some 40 miles of Lake of the Woods, a treacherous trek when the wind blows.

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Reps. Michelle Fischbach, Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber on Thursday introduced the ANGLE Act, along with legislation to create a corridor that would facilitate cross-border travel for people with negative COVID-19 tests. The bill also would require the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to begin negotiations with Canada on reopening the border.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minnesota.
U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minnesota.

The ANGLE Act – short for Assistance Needed for Great Losses Experienced in Isolated Northern Lakes Economic Territory Act – would create a forgivable loan program for “remote recreational businesses” affected by the northern border closure, according to a press release from Fischbach's office.

To qualify, businesses would have to show a loss of revenue greater than 50% from March through December of 2020.

The trio of Republicans also called on the Biden administration to begin negotiating a “bilateral solution” to the border issue with Canada.

“The closure of the northern border has been devastating for Minnesotans living in the Northwest Angle, who remain cut off from the mainland and whose businesses have been left to go bankrupt,” Fischbach said in a statement. “Even with highly effective vaccines driving infection rates way down, there does not appear to be an end in sight.”

Thursday’s legislation follows a public forum Fischbach and Stauber hosted Tuesday, April 6, in International Falls, Minn., to hear about the impact of the ongoing border closure on border communities. Three Canadian Members of Parliament and a handful of Canadian business owners also attended the forum virtually.

Also in early April, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both D-Minn., wrote letters to Secretary of State Tony Blinken requesting action to work with Canada on reopening road access to the Northwest Angle. Klobuchar’s letter also was addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Majorkas.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Government has severely restricted cross-border travel, and the uniform policy that treats all cross-border travel equally creates major problems for exclaves like the Northwest Angle,” Smith wrote in her letter to Blinken. “The effect of these policies is to prohibit Americans from traveling to their homes, and they have starved tourism-reliant business owners of their customer base. By ignoring the unique circumstance of this community, Canadian officials have placed undue hardship on American citizens.”

Thursday’s action by Fischbach, Emmer and Stauber also included a letter they wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging a “swift, mutually agreeable resolution” to the border closure.

“We ask that you expeditiously allow for travel to and from the non-contiguous United States through Canada in order to facilitate regular commerce with the community and allow for American citizens to reunify with their property or loved ones,” the letter states. “While we appreciate that Canada has challenges of its own in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe that there are solutions that can allow for American citizens to travel freely to the Angle while minimizing or altogether eliminating risk of further spread.”

Vaccination rates in Canada have lagged behind the U.S.. Ontario, for example, is in a lockdown that will continue until at least June 2, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., reported Thursday. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for even more border restrictions, among other measures, in an effort to bring COVID cases under better control, CBC reported.