Duluth News Tribune

By Korrie D. Wenzel 

Several of the region’s federal politicians this week penned separate letters to high-ranking members of the Biden administration, adding to a growing list of elected officials urging action on the nation’s closed border with Canada.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both of whom are Democrats, this week wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas expressing “deep disappointment” that the U.S. continues to keep the U.S.-Canada border closed to nonessential travel.

Also this week, Minnesota Reps. Michelle Fischbach, Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber — along with fellow Republicans North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong and New York Reps. Chris Jacobs and Elise Stefanik — wrote to Mayorkas. All of the representatives associated with the letter are Republicans.

“Cities, towns and tribes in northern Minnesota depend on cross-border travel to support their economies and way of life,” Smith and Klobuchar wrote in their letter, sent Monday, Sept. 27. “Due to the indefinite travel restrictions currently in place, border community businesses continue to struggle 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The letters are a continuation of efforts that have been made in recent months by officials across the nation, but mostly those representing border states. Many, representing both major political parties, have voiced displeasure at the continued closure, including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who released a statement of condemnation in his weekly newsletter.

The border has been closed to nonessential southbound travel since March 2020, being extended throughout that time in one-month increments. Canada, meanwhile, opened its border to vaccinated U.S. citizens on Aug. 9.

The latest extension from the U.S. government will last through at least Oct. 21. Meanwhile, Canadians traveling by air can enter the U.S.

“Again without an explanation from the White House, it’s impossible to know what’s driving this baffling decision to extend these unnecessary restrictions on land-based travelers from Canada — when Canada’s vaccination rate is substantially higher than the United States’ — while making accommodations for foreign visitors traveling by air to our country,” Burgum said in a statement. “We won’t relent in our efforts to press the Biden administration ... to lift these needless restrictions that continue to hurt communities and citizens on both sides of the border as well as our retail and tourism businesses that rely on Canadian travelers.”

The Klobuchar-Smith letter specifically noted the damages that the closed border has wrought on American Indian tribes in the region.

“Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, one of eleven Tribal Nations in Minnesota, heavily rely on tourism brought over by Canadians and have seen their revenues down 70-80% below average,” they wrote. “As you know, Tribal Nations do not have a tax base due to land-trust structure, and revenue from their enterprises is their lifeline. With the continued border closure, Grand Portage Band remains in an economic crisis. They have had to make untenable decisions to survive, including using their American Rescue Plan Act funds for stabilization instead of recovery. One more month of closures will further the crisis for Grand Portage Band.”

Klobuchar and Smith noted that 85.77% of eligible Canadians have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination and nearly 79% of that country’s population is fully vaccinated.

The letter from the Republican representatives expresses concerns not only about the continued closure, but also what they feel is a lack of a plan for “operationalizing new border procedures.”

“Customs and Border Protection does not appear to have a plan in place to execute a safe reopening without causing tremendous delays at land ports of entry,” the Republican representatives wrote. “This is a major problem for members of the commercial trade sector, who need to know whether (the Department of Homeland Security) will assign appropriate resources to maintain adequate levels of security and efficiency so all LPOEs can operate successfully.”

They say the issue affects all Americans, since it will involve business, trade of goods and tourism, as well as those Americans who “have been unable to visit friends, family and loved ones for far too long.”