Montana senators blast latest extension of US-Canada border restrictions

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Sep. 21—The Biden administration said Monday it is extending travel restrictions at the land border between the U.S. and Canada at least through Oct. 21, prompting another round of bipartisan criticism from Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines.

Restrictions have been in place at the border since March 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19 between the two countries. But in August, Canada eased its restrictions to welcome travelers from the U.S. who show proof of full vaccination and a negative Covid test.

"I am bitterly disappointed to learn that the Biden administration has once again decided to unnecessarily keep Montana's northern land border closed for at least another month," Tester, a Democrat, said in a statement Monday.

"There is no good reason to prohibit fully vaccinated travelers from crossing the border into the U.S. to conduct business and visit friends and family, and this shortsighted decision will hurt folks in Montana and Canada that depend on trade and travel to stay in business," he said. "The Biden administration needs to follow the science and reopen the border to fully vaccinated Canadians so that both of our economies can continue recovering from this crisis."

Daines, a Republican, alleged Biden "has ignored the well-being of Montana families and businesses.

"Biden's continued refusal to open the northern border is inexplicable and is devastating Montana border communities and our economy," Daines said, repeating his assertion that the southern border with Mexico is "wide open to illegal immigrants."

Daines also has backed legislation that aims to fully reopen the northern border, regardless of travelers' vaccination status.

The border restrictions apply to nonessential travel. Commercial shipping is considered essential business, and cross-border trade has continued throughout the pandemic.

ON FRIDAY, Tester and seven other senators from northern border states sent a letter urging Biden to lift the restrictions on fully vaccinated travelers by October, provide a clear plan to fully reopen the border to provide certainty to businesses, and appoint an "interagency lead" who would be tasked with implementing that plan.

"Canadians come to our states to conduct business, enjoy recreational opportunities, buy goods and visit friends and family. The restrictions on nonessential travel across the border have greatly curtailed these activities and led to economic and emotional strain in our communities," the letter states. "These limits on cross-border travel via land ports of entry are still in place even though, under existing [Department of Homeland Security] regulations, fully vaccinated Canadians can board an airplane and fly into the United States. We struggle to understand the public health rationale for the disparate treatment in modes of travel."

Other senators who signed the letter include Maine independent Angus King and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. They noted that Canada has achieved significantly higher vaccination rates among its people.

"As of this writing, 84% of individuals 12 years and older in Canada have received at least one dose of the vaccine and the country is experiencing 10 cases per 100,000 people. Alternatively, 74% of individuals 12 years and older in the U.S. have received the vaccine and we are averaging 44 cases per 100,000 people," the letter states. "Given that Canada has opened its land border to fully vaccinated Americans, we feel that now is the time to open our land border to fully vaccinated Canadians."

The senators added that vaccines "offer us the chance to mitigate and ultimately eliminate the spread of this virus. Allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to travel freely to our states and others would reflect the public health data which shows that vaccines work."

Assistant editor Chad Sokol may be reached at 406-758-4439 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com.

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