The week including Canada Day, July 1, and Independence Day, July 4, typically tends to be one of the busiest times of the year for cross-border travel between the United States and Canada. However, this year the border remains closed to non-essential travel and federal and state leaders representing the border community that includes the Peace Bridge are frustrated by the lack of progress. Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) and New York State Assemblymember Jonathan D. Rivera are both pushing for action.
In a letter to Kirsten Hillman, Ambassador of Canada to the United States, Assemblymember Rivera writes, “Even more important than the significant economic impact of a continued border closure is the toll taken on families who have endured 15 months without seeing loved ones who happen to live on opposite ends of the boundary. These families have rightly expressed outrage and indignation at the reopening process, and continuing to leave them in the dark without a stated plan or timeline on reuniting them is bordering on the inhumane.”
In remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives this week, Congressman Higgins called out both governments for failing to act, “For 34 years my community of Buffalo, New York and our Canadian neighbors in Fort Erie, Ontario would mark the first week in July with the ‘Friendship Festival.’ …There will be no cross-border celebration this year on Canada Day and Independence Day. Not due to the pandemic but due to the failure of both countries to plan for a safe reopening of the border.”
The United States and Canada share 5,525 miles of border, the longest land boundary between two countries in the world. According to a pre-pandemic report, “Approximately 400,000 people and over $1.6 billion in goods cross the Northern Border daily through more than 120 POEs (Ports of Entry).”
Border crossing entry data made available by the U.S. Department of Transportation indicates in July of 2019 over 1.437 million people crossed at the Buffalo Niagara Falls Land Ports of Entry, which includes the Peace Bridge, Lewiston Bridge, Rainbow Bridge and Whirlpool Bridge. By comparison, due to border restrictions, which have been in place since March of 2020, just over 31,000 people crossed Buffalo Niagara international bridges during the month of July of 2020. Using that data, we can estimate, if travel restrictions remain in place, more than 1.4 million people will be prohibited from crossing through Buffalo Niagara land ports in July of 2021.
As of June 28, over 68% of Canada’s population has received one dose of the COVID vaccine and more than 28% are fully vaccinated. Similarly, close to 55% of people in the United States have received one dose and nearly 47% are fully vaccinated. Higgins and Rivera point to the success in vaccinating citizens on both sides of the border as the key that should open the door to cross-border travel.
Rivera writes, “…the necessity for such drastic measures has now expired. Vaccinated New Yorkers now have the capability of traveling to Europe, but are not able to drive a few miles across the Peace Bridge in order to visit their families, properties and businesses. We respectfully request that Canadian officials use the powers defined by their offices to end the border closure for good on July 21 and return our two great nations to a place of storied camaraderie.”
Higgins added, “For friends and families living along the Northern Border, crossing isn’t an annual event, it is a way of life. Vaccines provide the bridge that allows people to come together again. We need leadership to open those bridges and let us reunite.”
Assemblymember Rivera serves as Chair of the New York State Assembly’s Subcommittee on Regional Tourism Development. His Western New York district borders Lake Erie and Southern Ontario. He represents and resides near the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York.
Congressman Higgins is Co-Chair of both the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group and the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. Higgins’ Congressional district also borders Southern Ontario and includes several Land Ports of Entry in the Cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York.