PLATTSBURGH — North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) and fellow House Northern Border Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Niagara Falls/Buffalo) are calling on the U.S. and Canadian governments to develop guidance for reopening the northern border.
In a letter addressed to acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair, the two called for the guidance to be "nuanced and particularized."
"We appreciate that the incidence of COVID-19 at communities along the border varies and we respect the public health imperative; yet, a one-size-fits-all approach toward allowing travel across the border has the impact of keeping communities apart," Stefanik and Higgins wrote.
"There must be bi-national coordination to develop a plan to safely allow for reasonable travel taking into account public health considerations but acknowledging our unique interconnected economies."
The North Country Chamber of Commerce applauded the caucus leaders' position.
"The current interruption of personal travel across our shared border is profoundly sad," Chamber President Garry Douglas said in a statement.
"It is increasingly tearing at a unique and special social fabric, and the longer it continues the more we will be at risk of having normalized the extremely abnormal."
Douglas said limiting travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been understandable, but posited that "the process of periodic extensions to date seems driven by fear and feelings, and calls out for enunciation of a process instead based on facts and with a clearer commitment to finding ways to eventual normalcy."
That may include agreed-upon metrics and/or phases, he added.
"The next anticipated extension cries out for more thought and context, and clearer valuing of the enormous damage we both need to minimize and ultimately end," Douglas continued.
"We welcome the strong statement by the Northern Border Caucus in Congress under the leadership of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Congressman Brian Higgins, and hope it will cause thought by the leaders in both countries."
The Congressmembers' letter came amidst recent reports that the border may remain closed to nonessential travel through late July.
The restrictions have been in place since March 21, and have been extended at least through June 21.
According to a press release from Stefanik's office, essential travel includes U.S. citizens returning to the U.S.; people traveling for medical purposes, to attend educational institutions or work, or for emergency or government response; those engaged in lawful cross-border trade; and members of the military.
Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents would be allowed to cross into Canada, and that they must observe a 14-day quarantine.