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North Dakota, Minnesota lawmakers dismayed over continued U.S.-Canada border closure

Officials were unified in their criticism of the Biden administration’s continued border restrictions which also include the U.S./Mexico border. The southern border, some legislators say, is porous, and illegal immigration continues on a daily basis, while vaccinated travelers are unable to enter the country, and impact the economic well-being of border regions. The widespread availability of vaccines and rising vaccination rates in Canada, are other reasons they say the border should be reopened, particularly after Canada began allowing vaccinated travelers to visit the country on Aug. 9, provided they follow entry protocols.

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Cars from the U.S. trickle across the border at Emerson, MB, Monday, the first day in nearly 18 months since the border closed due to COVID-19. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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Elected officials in North Dakota and Minnesota reacted with dismay after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday, Aug. 20, the day before travel restrictions were ostensibly set to end, that U.S.-Canada land border crossings would remain closed to nonessential travel into the U.S. for at least another month.

Officials were unified in their criticism of the Biden administration’s continued border restrictions which also include the U.S./Mexico border. The southern border, some legislators say, is porous, and illegal immigration continues on a daily basis, while vaccinated travelers are unable to enter the country, and impact the economic well-being of border regions. The widespread availability of vaccines and rising vaccination rates in Canada, are other reasons they say the border should be reopened, particularly after Canada began allowing vaccinated travelers to visit the country on Aug. 9 , provided they follow entry protocols.

“There’s no good reason to keep COVID travel restrictions on our borders, which unnecessarily hurt local economies in North Dakota that rely on visitors from Canada,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “I urge the Biden Administration to shift its border efforts to addressing the crisis at the southern border and away from needless and economically harmful constraints like the one it announced today.”

Like Cramer, Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican, said efforts should be directed toward securing the southern border, and that vaccinated travelers will benefit small businesses on both sides of the northern border.

“The Administration needs to secure the southern border and stem the flow of illegal immigration happening on the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Hoeven. “At the same time, the Biden administration needs to open the Canadian border. Canada’s vaccination rate is similar to the United States, and Canada is allowing vaccinated U.S. citizens into Canada.”

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Gov. Doug Burgum agreed the situation on the southern border needs to be addressed, but likened the closure of the northern border to an issue of fairness, considering Canada’s rates of vaccination.

“The percentage of Canada’s population that is fully vaccinated is now more than 12 percentage points higher than in the United States, yet the Biden administration refuses to reopen the border to Canadians for nonessential travel even though Canada has been allowing vaccinated Americans into their country for over 10 days,” Burgum said. “This continues to cause real pain for North Dakota’s retail and tourism industries that depend on Canadian travelers, and for the friends and family members who are separated by these border restrictions and have repeatedly had their hopes dashed by unnecessary delays. It’s long past time for the administration to secure the southern border and safely reopen the northern border.”

Burgum also plugged coronavirus vaccines as “our best tools to preserve hospital capacity and protect against the delta variant” of the virus. He urged people with questions about the vaccines to visit their medical provider.

In Minnesota, Republican Rep. Michelle Fischbach said she was exasperated to hear the closure had been extended once again, saying the lack of tourism hurts local economies. Given widespread access to vaccines, she said, it’s time to reopen the border.

“As I have said repeatedly, with multiple safe and highly effective vaccines available to all who want one, we have to move forward, and I will continue pushing the Biden Administration to take meaningful action to resolve this once and for all.”

The borders have been largely closed since March 2020, with extensions of that closure being announced on a monthly basis ever since.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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