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US Extends Restrictions on Travel from Canada and Mexico

A family visits across the U.S.-Canada border at the Peace Arch Historical State Park as a cyclist rides past on the Canadian side, Aug. 9, 2021, in Blaine, Wash.

The U.S. government on Friday once again extended a ban on nonessential travel across its land borders from Canada and Mexico, citing efforts to minimize the spread of the delta variant.

The ban limits border crossings by land or ferry, though flights between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico remain unrestricted.

The Department of Homeland Security has extended the travel restrictions on a monthly basis since the coronavirus pandemic began last year. The restrictions, set to end on August 21, have been extended through at least September 21.

"In coordination with public health and medical experts, DHS continues working closely with its partners across the United States and internationally to determine how to safely and sustainably resume normal travel," the department said on Twitter.

Nonessential travel restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, who have been permitted to enter Canada since August 9 upon presentation of proof of an approved vaccination. But the United States has not reciprocated for visitors from other countries.

Members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, have criticized the ongoing restrictions for separating binational families and hurting businesses reliant on cross-border tourism. Representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican, recently introduced legislation to loosen nonessential travel restrictions for families and businesses.

"The cost of President Biden's inaction is devastating to North Country families, businesses, and communities hopeful that the United States would restore travel across the border," Stefanik said in a Friday statement. "It is shameful that while the Canadian government has opened travel for fully vaccinated American travelers, President Biden would still deny northern border communities access to family, travel, and commerce."

Organizations such as Let Us Reunite have also been lobbying the federal government to loosen land border restrictions, pointing out discrepancies in the application of travel policies and citing a need to reconnect with family members across the border.

Founder Devon Weber said that the group has attracted over 3,000 members and has held meetings with dozens of congressional offices about loosening travel restrictions since its inception last year.

Weber, who has dual citizenship, moved from New York to Canada in February 2020. Because her French-Canadian husband doesn't have a U.S. passport and they can't afford multiple plane tickets, Weber has visited her family in New York only once during the pandemic.

She described the lack of air travel restrictions as "classist" and said Let Us Reunite hopes to make it easier for binational families to visit each other by car and boat.

"There's just sort of this hodgepodge of closures with no rhyme or reason to them and that is very frustrating to folks," Weber said. "It's bureaucratic paralysis. The border closure is rolling over every 30 days, and there is no comment from the White House and nothing more than a tweet from DHS the day of the closure."

The Biden administration has provided few details on when or how the restrictions will end. It may require all foreign nationals entering the U.S. to be fully vaccinated, according to Reuters, but no official plans have been announced.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise domestically since the more transmissible delta variant took hold in July. Over 70% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and infections are occurring primarily among the unvaccinated.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.