U.S.-Canadian border could open as soon as mid-August

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that fully vaccinated U.S. travelers could be allowed to cross the Canadian border as early as mid-August.

On July 15, the prime minister’s office released a summary of Trudeau’s 33rd call with Canadian premiers regarding the country’s COVID-19 response. In it, Trudeau is quoted as saying, “If our current positive path of vaccination rate and public health conditions continue, Canada would be in a position to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September.” According to the summary, Trudeau noted the ongoing discussions with the U.S. on reopening plans and indicated that “we could expect to start allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents into Canada as of mid-August for non-essential travel.”

Canadian first ministers expressed their support of reopening plans and agreed on the importance of ensuring clarity and predictability as initial steps are taken. The prime minister indicated that ministers would share more details on the plans early next week. The premiers also discussed the importance of a proof of vaccination credential and prioritizing work to implement a system that would enable Canadians to travel internationally with confidence, according to the summary.

In June, Canadian and U.S. governments opted to keep the northern border closed to all non-essential travel, leading to an outcry from Americans and Canadians on both sides of the border.

Hours after the latest border closure extension, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer spoke with Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman, urging new guidelines for essential travelers — which includes individuals who have been vaccinated who have family, property, educational, commercial or medical interests in Canada. Schumer said that since March 2020, American and Canadian stakeholders on both sides of the border have grown frustrated with “the endless cycle of month-by-month closure extensions and the lack of transparency on which they’re decided.”

New York state in June achieved its goal of at least 70 percent of all residents receiving one vaccine, and the European Union declared Americans as safe to travel to and from as tourists. The U.S. also has sent 1 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Canada, further enabling its northern neighbor to up its own vaccination percentage.

“Once I heard the border closure would be extended yet again for another long 30 days, I immediately called the Canadian ambassador to see what we can do, on both sides, to finally reopen the border and truly get Upstate New York on the road to recovery,” Schumer said in a statement last week. “I explained to Ambassador Hillman how mindboggling it is that many New Yorkers are free to travel to Europe now, but even those fully vaccinated can’t even drive a few miles north to Canada to their homes, businesses, stores, families and properties. I urged her to coordinate with me and other U.S. officials ASAP to come up with a plan – based on science, data and common sense – that will allow for safe and steady border travel and reunite families and friends and jumpstart New York’s local economies. I won’t rest until the northern border is safely and effectively opened for all vaccinated New Yorkers.”

Trudeau in June said that as of 11:59 p.m. on July 5, there would be some exemptions for Canadians re-entering the country, who also meet specific conditions for fully vaccinated travelers. But the list of requirements to re-enter the country is lengthy and may discourage Canadian travelers from visiting the U.S.

Those requirements include:
• Pre-registration for a COVID-19 test upon arrival at the border;
• Within 72 hours prior to arrival at the border, have a negative COVID-19 test;
• Document vaccination history, 14-day travel plan and contact and travel information on ArriveCAN website;
• At the border, provide vaccination documentation, as well as receipt from ArriveCan;
• Receive COVID-19 test at the border, unless tests are unavailable, in which case individuals will be provided with a home test they must use and submit when they arrive at their destination.

If each of the requirements is met, and the individual does not test positive, he or she will be exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine and hotel stay previously required.

Both sides of the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls were full of protests in the days leading up to the announcement and afterward. Advocates for the border opening, many of whom have loved ones they have not seen in more than a year, were able to cross to the halfway point of the bridge but were not allowed to go any further.

Officials who are watching the border situation closely have said that it is possible that travel may resume when the July 21 deadline arrives. Trudeau had previously said he would not open the border until at least 75 percent of Canadians were vaccinated. In Thursday’s summary, the prime minister noted that Canada continues to lead G20 countries in vaccination rates with roughly 80 percent of eligible Canadians vaccinated with their first dose and more than 50 percent of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated.

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DHS lifts ban on New York’s Trusted Traveler Program; Schumer seeking investigation

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday said it will lift its ban on the Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) for New York residents, following the amendment of the Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. In response to the sudden backpedaling, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is asking the U.S. Inspector General for an investigation.

In February, DHS banned New Yorkers from the expedited border crossing service, which includes Global Entry, NEXUS and others, due to “state legislation that restricts CBP’s access to certain criminal history information maintained by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles.”

Mark Morgan
Mark Morgan

“Nothing is more important than the safety of the United States and our citizens, and the New York Green Light law makes us less safe and shields criminals,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan at the time. “We recognize that many New York residents and businesses will be negatively affected by this change, but we cannot compromise the safety and security of our homeland. When states take negative measures that hinder our ability to protect our great country, we must respond.”

In April, the Green Light Law was amended to allow some information sharing.

DHS officials on Thursday said that while New York had amended the law, allowing for information sharing of state Department of Motor Vehicle records “as necessary for an individual seeking acceptance into a trusted traveler program, or to facilitate vehicle imports and/or exports,” the state continues to withhold information from CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for other enforcement efforts.

Chad Wolf
Chad Wolf

“We appreciate the information sharing to CBP for the trusted travel program, which enables DHS to move forward and begin once again processing New York residents under the Trusted Travel Program. Nonetheless, local New York law continues to maintain provisions that undermine the security of the American people and purport to criminalize information sharing between law enforcement entities,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf in a statement.

DHS in Thursday’s statement also said that blocking federal law enforcement officers from accessing DMV records creates “a significant threat to both public safety and officer safety.” Officials evoked the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — after which the DHS was formed — stating that the data provided by state officials is vital to identify foreign terrorist connections and build criminal cases and identify criminal suspects including gang members, sex offenders, drug smugglers and others.

“The Green Light Law ultimately undermines the efforts of law enforcement officers, criminalizing their mission to secure the nation and the American people from threats and furthering the risk to their own lives,” Wolf said. “When jurisdictions like New York fail to cooperate with federal authorities, they operate more like refugees from criminal behavior, not sanctuary havens.”

Thursday’s decision may have been predicated on the Trump Administration’s belief that New York was alone in its policy limiting data sharing found in motor vehicle records. In fact, several states have similar policies.

In a court filing Thursday, attorneys for the federal government acknowledged that other states had similar laws, but those states were not targeted by the ban. Attorneys apologized for the error in Thursday’s court filing and asked permission to withdraw motions seeking dismissal of the lawsuit that New York Attorney General Letitia James filed against DHS and CBP in February.

“Defendants deeply regret the foregoing inaccurate or misleading statements and apologize to the Court and plaintiffs for the need to make these corrections at this late stage in the litigation,” Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss wrote in the filing. Wolf did not address the court filing in his statement.

In a statement Thursday, James applauded DHS’ decision to lift the ban.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James
New York State Attorney General Letitia James

“The Trump Administration backing down and restoring Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler Programs to New Yorkers is a victory for travelers, workers, commerce and our state’s economy,” James said in the statement. “This policy was political retribution, plain and simple, which is why we filed our lawsuit to stop the president from targeting and punishing New Yorkers in the first place. We will continue to defend New York’s right to pass its own laws and will fight to protect our state’s residents anytime they are bullied by the president because safety and fairness are not mutually exclusive under the law.”

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer asked U.S. Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to investigate why and how false statements were made by DHS officials to the Justice Department, the public and the court.

“Yesterday, in a filing in U.S. District Court in New York, the Justice Department was forced to make the extraordinary admission that officials at the Department of Homeland Security had made inaccurate or misleading statements to the court about the Department’s February 2020 decision to bar New Yorkers from several Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry and TSA PreCheck,” Schumer wrote in a letter to the Inspector General. “While it has always been obvious that the department’s action was taken in political retaliation against residents in my state, DHS had maintained – until now – the implausible explanation that New York’s policies were somehow a threat to national security.”

Schumer went on to say that lying to a federal court is a very serious matter and there must be accountability for the persons involved. He asked that the department conduct an investigation and provide answers to the following questions:

  • Did officials within DHS order, direct, encourage or suggest that these false statements be made to the Justice Department, the public or the court?
  • With whom outside DHS did officials discuss the false narrative, including officials at the White House, Justice Department and other agencies?
  • To what extent were discussions of the false narrative by DHS, Justice Department or White House officials conducted via electronic mail or messaging?
  • Did White House officials, up to and including the President, order, direct, encourage or suggest that DHS bar New Yorkers from the Trusted Traveler programs and use a false narrative to justify that decision?

“Given that the Administration’s actions in this case involve potential violations of criminal law, I urge you to treat this investigation urgently and report your findings as quickly as possible,” Schumer wrote.

CBP this week said the Trusted Traveler Programs enrollment centers will remain closed until at least Sept. 8, 2020. CBP said the enrollment centers would remain closed “to ensure the health and safety of program applicants and CBP personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The decision was made, CBP officials said, in consultation with agency health and safety experts who continue to watch “the increase in COVID-19 cases across the United States.”

In order to minimize the impact of the enrollment centers’ closure on Trusted Traveler Programs applicants, CBP has extended the period of time that applicants have to complete the enrollment process, the agency said. Every applicant now has 545 days from the date that CBP conditionally approves his or her application to complete the enrollment process. In addition, CBP will extend for up to 18 months the program benefits of members who apply for renewal before their current membership expires.

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