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U.S. upsets Canadians by extending border restrictions after Canada opened door to vaccinated Americans

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stop drivers reentering the United States from Canada on Aug. 9 in Detroit. (Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
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The United States announced Friday that it would extend its limitations on nonessential travel at the Canada and Mexico land and ferry borders until Sept. 21, sparking criticism from its northern neighbor, where rules for U.S. travelers were relaxed this month.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Twitter that the restrictions, which went into effect last year, are an effort to minimize the spread of the delta variant — amid surging infections and hospitalizations in the United States.

“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 agency said.

In response, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Friday that there has “always been a certain asymmetry in the arrangements,” adding that Canada and the United States “will work together as much as possible to coordinate, make sure things are going well, but every country gets to make its own decisions.”

As of Aug. 9, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to enter Canada without quarantining, as long as they show a negative coronavirus test result. The policy will be expanded to fully vaccinated people from elsewhere Sept. 7.

U.S. residents have been able to fly into Mexico throughout the pandemic, despite the restrictions on the shared land border. Canadians have also been able to fly to the United States for nonessential purposes, regardless of the border restrictions.

The impact on trade and cross-border workers has been limited, as most is considered essential travel. The restrictions on land and sea borders, however, have had an impact on communities that live nearby and hurt businesses that rely on tourism, according to local officials and industry groups.

Mark Agnew, senior vice president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, told Canada’s CBC News that he was “disappointed” in the U.S. decision.

“This creates confusion for travelers when all our members repeatedly tell us they are seeking predictability,” Agnew said. “This also distracts from the efforts that should be put into developing interoperable digital health credentials.”

After the DHS announcement, Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), co-chair of the congressional Northern Border Caucus, wrote on Twitter: “The failure to make opening the U.S.-Canada border the priority that it should be is a huge mistake. It is beyond disappointing; it is hurtful both at a human and economic level.”

Jaime Bonilla, the governor of Mexican state Baja California, said last month that there was no reason for a further extension of border restrictions and that he expected them to be lifted.

Bonilla told reporters that his state had “completed everything that was asked from them by the United States, including vaccinating more than 70 percent of the population against the coronavirus,” according to a July 21 article in Border Report.

European leaders have also grown frustrated, particularly as the Biden administration has kept in place a ban on all nonessential travel from Europe that was first imposed by President Donald Trump in March 2020.

With vaccination rates higher in Canada and parts of Europe than in the United States, critics argue nonessential travel represents a minor threat to the U.S. pandemic response.

In June, the United States announced it had formed interagency working groups with the European Union, Britain, Canada and Mexico to evaluate current travel and border restrictions and work toward lifting them.

In a public appearance this week, Ted Sobel, the Department of Homeland Security’s attache to Canada, had offered a partial explanation as to why the border measures imposed in March 2020 were not being lifted despite Ottawa’s decision to relax restrictions on U.S. travelers.

Saying that the delta variant “loomed large” in U.S. deliberations, Sobel said the aim was to not just “make the decisions, but make sure the decisions we make are sustainable. It doesn’t do anyone any good to announce one thing one month and then have to reverse it because the situation is changing really rapidly.”