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North Country Interests Respond To Border Closure

U.S. Canada border crossing at Champlain-LaColle
WAMC/Pat Bradley
U.S. Canada border crossing at Champlain-LaColle

President Trump announced via Twitter Wednesday morning that the U.S.-Canada border will be closed to all except essential travel.  While the move was not unexpected by border interests in northern New York, they want clarification regarding some provisions.

President Trump tweeted Wednesday that the U.S and Canada:  “…will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected.” During a noontime press conference the president said he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and says both felt it is critical to restrict nonessential travel in order to prevent coronavirus spread.  “We don’t want people coming into contact because that’s the way we’re going to win this war. That is so important. And we both thought it was. Now it’s not affecting trade. It’s non-essential. It’s non-essential crossings. It won’t affect trade at all and it was just something we thought would be good for both countries. Yes please.”

Reporter: “How can you be sure that trade and everything that’s being shipped from one…”

President Trump:  “Well they’re doing it in a very careful manner. You can only be vigilant and very professional. But we’re not, it’s not pertaining at this moment to trade between the two countries.”

North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas says the prime minister suggested that this would happen several days ago. The chamber is actively reaching out for clarification on essential travel definitions.   “Last week when the Quebec government issued an advisory, which is all they can do they don’t actually operate the border, but they issued an advisory to Quebecers that they should not be crossing the border and should self-isolate if they do so and return to Quebec. There was a lot of angst after the Quebec announcement and we want those same clarifications in this case by the two governments to keep nerves calmed.”

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik initially released a statement questioning whether health care workers who daily cross the border to work at local hospitals would be exempted.  She told WAMC that she immediately spoke with Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and received assurance that workers on NAFTA visas would be able to continue to cross the border.   “I have hospitals across my district that have Canadian physicians, Canadian nurses and other health care providers who rely on those daily NAFTA visas as they cross the border. We also are working with the North Country Chamber of Commerce to ensure that the important truck drivers for example in our very unified supply chain with our manufacturing base that we’re able to come up with exemptions for them. But my initial conversation with (Department of Homeland Security Acting) Secretary (Chad) Wolf was focused specifically on the health care needs and answering that question immediately for North Country hospitals.”

Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman says the town relies on sales tax revenues, most of which comes from Canadian shoppers. The municipality has frozen all nonessential spending in anticipation of border restrictions.

Douglas says cross border traffic has been diminishing for some time.  “This began a couple weeks ago. It accelerated last week. On a voluntary basis this has already occurred. People are not traveling. They’re not staying in hotels. They’re not crossing the border for shopping. They aren’t shopping at home much. So this is a pretty universal impact.”

The duration of the border closure has not been determined.