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The Spokesman-Review: White House says U.S.-Canada border closure ‘determined by our public health officials’ as Northwest Democrats, Republicans alike cry foul
By Orion Donovan-Smith
WASHINGTON – Weeks after allowing passenger flights from Canada to the United States, the Biden administration has not explained why Canadians can’t make similar trips in a car.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized the policy as affecting struggling border communities in their districts.
Asked about the issue in Monday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to say why the administration has not heeded calls from prominent Washington Democrats – including Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee – to ease the border restrictions or at least grant an exemption for the isolated border community of Point Roberts.
“It’s determined by our public health officials,” Psaki said in response to a question from The Spokesman-Review. “Our objective, of course, is to return to overland travel, just like we’re working toward returning to international travel, but we leave it to them to make that determination.”
Psaki’s response came after the White House on Aug. 10 referred questions about the border closure to the Department of Homeland Security, which declined to elaborate beyond the agency’s Sept. 21 announcement on Twitter that the restrictions would stay in place until Oct. 21 to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In coordination with public health and medical experts, DHS continues working closely with its partners across the United States and internationally to determine how to safely and sustainably resume normal travel,” the announcement said, noting that the decision “may be amended or rescinded prior to (Oct. 21), based on public health considerations.”
Under the policy announced Sept. 20 by White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients, Canadians can travel to the United States by air if they show proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test within three days of their departure. Canada reopened its land border Aug. 9 to nonessential travel by Americans who meet those same conditions, but despite Canada’s higher vaccination rate and lower COVID-19 transmission rate, Canadians can’t cross the border in the other direction.
The restrictions have strained the economies of U.S. border towns that rely on Canadian visitors, none more so than Point Roberts, a tiny “exclave” on a peninsula in Whatcom County that can only be accessed by land through Canada. In a Sept. 24 letter to President Joe Biden, Inslee noted that 85% of the economy of Point Roberts depends on commerce from Canadians.
The state of Washington’s Commerce Department on Monday launched an emergency grant program for businesses along the border suffering “real and lasting harms” from the restrictions, as the governor wrote to Biden with a plea to grant an exemption for Point Roberts or at least a partial reopening of the border for nonessential travel from Canada.
Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Democrat whose district stretches from King County to the Canadian border and includes Point Roberts, said in a statement Monday she remains “extremely frustrated that the White House has failed to sufficiently explain its position on our northern border.”
“How can it follow the science when a Canadian can fly from Vancouver to Seattle but not drive from British Columbia to Whatcom County?” DelBene asked. “The administration should make an immediate exemption for fully vaccinated Canadians to travel into Point Roberts and bring its northern land border policy in line with the new regulations around air travel from Europe and elsewhere.”Click here to read the full article on the Spokesman-Review.