BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The U.S.-Canada border has been closed for nearly a year for non-essential travel.
But the new Administration in Washington is looking to change that.
In just the first few days in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the U.S. to collaborate with the Canadian government to develop a health and safety measure to reopen the borders.
“The relationship between Canada and the United States took a major hit over the past eleven months,” remarked Congressman Brian Higgins.
Congressman Higgins serves as co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus.
Higgins said the order could finally create a solution to safely reopening the U.S.-Canada border.
The order calls on the U.S. Secretary of State, Defense Department and Homeland Security to start dialogue with the Canadian government.
“I think it's exciting and certainly we need to start having those conversations now,” declared Dottie Gallagher, president, Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Many Western New Yorkers are blocked from traveling over the Peace Bridge to seasonal homes.
On the Buffalo Niagara side of the border, Gallagher said so many businesses continue to feel the financial pain.
“35 percent of our members told us that their business was significantly impacted by the border closure, so while we think all essential travel was enough — really it is an incredible pain point in the region,” Gallagher noted.
But trucking has remained essential.
“For us the biggest challenge is to make sure — as an essential business — that we're able to have a free flow of essential goods between countries,” explained Robert Rich, Jr., president, Roar Logistics in Buffalo.
Rich said even with the border restrictions, truck transportation is running at about 75-percent.
"The biggest challenges we have is with the closing of businesses — the opening of businesses, so really the border itself is not a problem. The problem lies with the shutdowns and closings of warehouse and businesses as well as restaurants and other community based organizations,” Rich said.
But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said now is “not the time to travel” with a growing number of COVID-19 cases in Canada.
Let me be very clear: Nobody should be taking a vacation abroad right now. If you’ve got one planned, cancel it - and don’t book a trip for spring break. We need to hang on and hold tight for the next few months, and get through to the spring in the best shape possible.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 22, 2021
Trudeau said people need to quote “hunker down” to prevent a second wave of the virus.
Congressman Higgins said he's not worried Trudeau's comments will stop Biden's executive order to create a plan.
“Give us the opportunity to look a new at either expanding the category of who is an essential traveler or open the border all together, but that's our goal and we just have to keep trying,” said Higgins.
Republican Congressman Chris Jacobs also weighing in on the issue, sending this statement in response to the President’s order:
“Cross-border travel is a significant economic driver for our region and of immense personal significance for many Western New Yorkers. For close to a year, border closures have prevented many Americans from reuniting with their families or even simply checking on property they own in Canada. We know how to open safely, and we need to implement these solutions. I urge the Biden Administration to work with the Canadian government to correct inconsistent policies and to expand cross-border travel.”
For now the border restriction will remain in place until at least February 21st.