White House will open US land borders to vaccinated travelers

U.S. Customs officers stand beside a sign saying that the U.S. border is closed at the Canada border in Lansdowne, Ontario, on March 22, 2020. After more than a year of restrictions, the land borders are opening again starting in November. (Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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Caroline Simon CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The White House late Tuesday announced it will open U.S. land borders to fully vaccinated travelers in early November, ending more than a year of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

The requirements will apply to people crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders for nonessential purposes, such as visiting friends and family or tourism. The administration announced last month that air travelers to the U.S. will need to be fully vaccinated starting in November.

In a second phase of that plan, beginning January, all travelers — essential and nonessential — will need to show proof of vaccination to enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico.

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“These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” a senior administration official told reporters during a call late Tuesday.

The announcement follows months of advocacy from border communities and the lawmakers who represent them, who argued that travel restrictions were weakening tourism economies and straining border communities.

“We understand how valuable the cross-border travel from Canada and Mexico is to the economic activity of border communities, and to our broader economy,” said the administration official, who spoke on the condition they not be identified. “And we also know how meaningful the ability to travel is to maintain the personal ties between people living on either side of the northern and southern U.S. borders, who are often effectively members of one community.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who said she had “repeatedly urged” the administration to reopen the U.S.-Canada border, praised the announcement.

“The northern border is an indispensable economic partnership and ties our two nations together,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families, and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border.”

Administration officials stressed that the new requirements apply to travelers with the proper paperwork who often spend short periods of time at ports of entry. Migrants who attempt to cross the border illegally will still be subject to related restrictions, including potential expulsion under Title 42, a Trump-era public health directive used to turn away most people at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will manage enforcement of the policy at ports of entry, officials said.

The federal government has restricted cross-border travel between the U.S. and Canada since March 2020, allowing only “essential travel” over the northern land border. The restrictions were previously mutual, until Canada opened its side of the land border to vaccinated Americans in August.

Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas dodged questions about the criteria used to justify keeping the nation’s northern land border closed to fully vaccinated Canadians.

Testifying on “threats to the homeland” before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Mayorkas suggested the fate of the northern border may be tied to that of the strict asylum and entry restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border, which has seen record-high migration levels.

“We are taking it iteratively. We are looking at the situation, not only at the ports of entry at our northern border but also at our southern border,” Mayorkas said at the time.

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(Roll Call’s Suzanne Monyak contributed to this report.)
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