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Friday, July 30, 2021

Rep. Welch calls for change to US-Canada border policy to allow families to reunite

DERBY LINE — After being separated for more than ten months, families and international couples impacted by the closed US-Canada land border are hopeful that changes are on the way to allow them to safely reunite.

The Congressional Northern Border Caucus recently issued a bipartisan letter making several recommendations to the Biden Administration supporting opportunities to improve the existing situation at the border, and specifically calling on family reunification.

“The coronavirus pandemic has caused enormous disruption for all of us, but it has been particularly hard for families along the border who have been unable to see their loved ones in Canada for almost a year,” Rep. Peter Welch said.

Families in border communities like Derby Line have faced unique hardships while they have been unable to cross the land border.

Even during the winter, families are often seen gathering on either side of the border outside the Haskell Library, just to get a glimpse of their loved ones.

Since the travel restrictions were first implemented, Canada has expanded their exemptions to allow family members and extended family members to enter Canada to reunite.

The U.S. has not reciprocated this policy, despite the fact that Canadians are still able to fly into the U.S.

The current policy results in restrictions that fall squarely on families in border communities and those who lack the means to travel by air, while doing little to protect public health.

The letter, signed by 24 members of Congress, says in part, “Reciprocating family travel exemptions lessens uncertainty for families approaching the border just seeking to reunite with loved ones. We urge your Administration to immediately establish and publicize a family travel exemption similar to the Canadian policy.”

The border between the US and Canada first closed to non-essential travel due to the pandemic in March of 2020 and restrictions continue to be in place today.

On January 22, President Biden issued an executive order addressing northern border restrictions, calling for US departments to work with Canadian agencies and develop a plan to be delivered within 14-days.

In the letter issued today, Welch and other members lay out several items besides family reunification for the Administration to consider as they develop a plan for the northern Border.

Members are proposing the following actions:

Establish a Bilateral Plan for Restoring Travel
Prioritize Vaccines and Testing for All CBP Staff
Develop a Policy for Property Owners
Ensure Reciprocal Access to Transit through Boundary Waters

The United States and Canada share 5,525 miles of border, the longest land boundary between two countries in the world.

When fully operational, more than 400,000 people and over $1.6 billion in goods cross the Northern Border daily through over 120 Ports of Entry.

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