BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Leaving the United States by land for Americans for non-essential purposes hasn't been permitted for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Biden administration in Washington is looking to change that.
In his first few days in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the U.S. to collaborate with the Canadian and Mexican governments to develop a health and safety measure to reopen the borders.
“The relationship between Canada and the United States took a major hit over the past eleven months,” remarked Congressman Brian Higgins who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus.
Higgins said the order could finally create a solution to safely reopening the U.S.-Canada border.
The order calls on the U.S. Secretary of State, Defense Department and Homeland Security to start dialogue with the Canadian and Mexican governments.
“I think it's exciting and certainly we need to start having those conversations now,” declared Dottie Gallagher, president, Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
But Canadian Prime Minister suggested this week that if anything, he is looking to increase border restrictions.
"People should not be planning non-essential travel or vacation travel outside of the country, particularly because, as I said a few days ago, we could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning," Trudeau told Canadians thinking about returning to the country.
Many Western New Yorkers are blocked from traveling over the Peace Bridge to seasonal homes. On the Buffalo Niagara side of the border, Gallagher said so many businesses continue to feel the financial pain.
“35 percent of our members told us that their business was significantly impacted by the border closure, so while we think all essential travel was enough — really it is an incredible pain point in the region,” Gallagher noted.
But trucking has remained essential.
“For us the biggest challenge is to make sure — as an essential business — that we're able to have a free flow of essential goods between countries,” explained Robert Rich, Jr., president, Roar Logistics in Buffalo.
Rich said even with the border restrictions, truck transportation is running at about 75%.
"The biggest challenges we have is with the closing of businesses — the opening of businesses, so really the border itself is not a problem. The problem lies with the shutdowns and closings of warehouse and businesses as well as restaurants and other community based organizations,” Rich said.
But Trudeau said now is “not the time to travel” with a growing number of COVID-19 cases in Canada.
Trudeau said people need to “hunker down” to prevent a second wave of the virus.
Higgins said he's not worried Trudeau's comments will stop Biden's executive order to create a plan.
“Give us the opportunity to look a new at either expanding the category of who is an essential traveler or open the border all together, but that's our goal and we just have to keep trying,” said Higgins.
Meanwhile, it is unclear how Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will respond to Biden's executive order. Obrador and Biden talked on Friday, and the White House said that "recognized the importance of coordination to combat the COVID-19 pandemic" during the call.
Traveling to Mexico as restrictive as Canada, however, as vacationers can still fly to Mexico from the US.