Klobuchar: “It is a problem for the cross-border traffic. We want parity.”


WASHINGTON – At today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) raised the importance of having parity in coronavirus testing requirements along the northern border for vaccinated travelers to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. 

Klobuchar thanked Mayorkas for his work to reopen the land and ferry ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border for tourism and other nonessential travel, but noted that “We have parity that vaccinations are required, which is a good idea, but we don't have parity right now on testing...The Canadian visitors need to get an expensive test...when they return, and it can be $70, it can be $200, and of course that's stopping a lot of weekend visitors that might come to Minnesota, the day visitors that drive to Duluth.”

Last week, Klobuchar and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Mike Crapo (R-ID) sent a letter asking the Canadian government to help address challenges created by its border testing policy, specifically requesting parity in the testing requirements.

The full transcript of Senator Klobuchar’s opening remarks as given below and video available for TV download HERE and online viewing HERE.

Senator Klobuchar: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, Secretary. In the nine months since your confirmation as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, you faced a series of unprecedented challenges. From addressing the threats of domestic terrorism and cybercrime, to major domestic challenges, to challenges on our border during a global pandemic, to welcoming thousands of Afghan refugees and helping them find a home. I don't think anyone here believes that this is an easy portfolio. I remember President Obama saying that when he first got into office and was asked about a series of challenges that he confronted. So I want to thank you for your willingness to serve and the men and women of your department for the work that they do. 

I want to actually start with a positive topic, and that is the work that you and your crew have done in opening the land and air entry across our northern border for vaccinated visitors, an issue I've long been working on as head of the U.S.-Canadian Inter-Parliamentary group in the Senate. I can tell you there were a lot of people celebrating in my state when we finally opened the border -- not just for air, given that the Canadians were already open and you could fly from Montreal to Miami but you couldn't drive from Thunder Bay to Duluth -- so we're very pleased about this development. Could you talk about what implementation challenges the Department has had since opening the border last week? I have not heard a lot about lines or the like, and I thank you for that, but could you tell me how that has gone across the border? I'm only aware of my own state. 

Secretary Mayorkas: Thank you, Senator. We're very pleased with the way it has gone. We communicated in advance of November 8, the date on which we lifted the Title 19 restrictions on our land ports of entry, that people should be ready for increased wait times, which is natural when an operational change like this occurs, especially at ports of entry that are not modernized, but fortunately, with yesterday's historic infrastructure bill, we're going to really change that, thanks to President Biden's leadership. But we have not actually experienced the long lines that we would have expected. We really prepared for it, but they may come, and we’re continuing to communicate with the public to prepare for them.

Klobuchar: I appreciate that. So one of the issues we have, which actually the Canadians have been good to work with, they're our number one trading partner, and we are so grateful to them, but one of the things is that we have parity between our two countries now on land and air. We have parity that vaccinations are required, which is a good idea, but we don't have parity right now on testing. It's actually on the Canadian side. The Canadian visitors need to get an expensive test in addition to the vaccination when they return, and it can be $70, it can be $200, and of course that's stopping a lot of the weekend visitors that might come to Minnesota, the day visitors that drive to Duluth. And I led a letter with Senator Collins, Schumer and Crapo on this to the Canadian government, asking them to look at this, and I urge you to work with on this as well. It's not an American issue, it's on the Canadian side, and I've spoken to the Ambassador, but it is a problem for the cross-border traffic. We want parity.

Mayorkas: I will most certainly look at that, Senator. 

Klobuchar: Okay, thank you. I appreciate the work the Department is doing to identify them and transport Afghan refugees into the U.S. So many of these refugees, as you know, worked with us, served our country. Our state has welcomed these refugees with open arms, and I've been working with Senator Coons on legislation to provide a pathway to permanent legal status for Afghan refugees who were evacuated. Do you agree that Afghan refugees who are here on humanitarian status should be able to apply for permanent legal status? 

Mayorkas: Yes, I do, Senator, and I do hope that legislation passes. 

Klobuchar: Thank you. Earlier this month, I introduced a bill with Senators Coons and Murkowski to ask the Department of Labor to study the barriers that immigrants with advanced training, including refugees from Afghanistan, but not only refugees from Afghanistan, face in finding employment in the U.S., which is critical when you consider that 70 of America’s Fortune 500 companies were started by people born in other countries. We have, our country has always been stronger because people come here, and they start companies, and they do really well, and they employ tons of people. We also know in my state, especially in the tourism industries in northern Minnesota as well as in the ag industries, we don't have enough workers right now, something Senator Tillis, I know, cares a lot about, which leads us to look at a path to citizenship, or as what’s is considered right now in the bill in front of us, a work permit situation. How can Congress continue to support the Department's efforts to make sure that America can benefit from talents and expertise of immigrants? 

Mayorkas: Senator, thank you very much for your expression of value, the tremendous value and contributions that immigrants make to our nation's well-being. As Chairman Durbin articulated at the very outset, we all understand that our immigration system is broken, there is unanimity about that, and it is long past time that we pass legislation to fix it.

Klobuchar: Thank you. Last question here. Along with Senator Blunt, I co-chair the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Caucus. Many of the members on this committee are members. It's very bipartisan. Over in the House, it is Adam Smith and Representative Aderholt that chair the Commission, and that's why we've introduced the Adoptee Citizenship Act, to make citizenship automatic for all international adoptees who were legally adopted by U.S. citizens as kids, regardless of when their adoption was finalized. Since 2004, international adoptions have fallen nearly 93%, and I have always viewed this, and part of it, of course, is the pandemic, part of  it is things that Russia did, things that China did, but there’s a whole lot of kids in other countries as well that need a loving family, and there’s a whole lot of Americans that would like to adopt kids. We are proud that the domestic numbers have actually gone up during the last few administrations with foster kids getting adopted. That's all good. But international adoptions have actually been a part of the way that our country is connected to the rest of the world. Not to mention the humanitarian issues. Will you work with me to identify barriers and find ways to ease the citizenship process for foreign-born adoptees, and also in general as we're talking to the State Department, Senator Blunt and I, about this issue to work to get back to the situation where we were welcoming adopted kids into our country? 

Mayorkas: Senator, I would be privileged to do so. I was privileged to work with then-Senator Mary Landrieu on international adoptions as well as with Ranking Member Grassley on that valiant effort. 

Klobuchar: Alright, thank you very much.

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