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Delta variant extended border shutdown, Homeland Security chief says

Delta variant extended border shutdown, Homeland Security chief says

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APTOPIX US Afghanistan (copy)

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas updates reporters on the effort to resettle vulnerable Afghans in the United States, in Washington, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. 

WASHINGTON – The spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant has delayed plans to reopen the U.S. border to Canadians, but the border will open as soon as federal officials deem it safe, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday.

Responding to questions from The Buffalo News after delivering a speech at the National Press Club, Mayorkas offered the most detailed comments the Biden administration has offered to date about why the border remains closed to vaccinated Canadians when vaccinated Americans were admitted to Canada more than a month ago.

"We had hoped that by now, we would have opened up travel through the ports of entry, but regrettably because of the Delta variant, we've been delayed in doing so," Mayorkas said.

America's land borders with Canada and Mexico have been closed to nonessential travel since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Told that the continued closure posed serious concerns to residents of the Buffalo area, Mayorkas said: "So the concern that people in Buffalo have is actually not limited to the people of Buffalo because certainly we have heard of that concern along the northern border with respect to Canada and quite frankly along the southern border with respect to Mexico."

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Mayorkas also stressed that federal officials aren't taking those concerns lightly.

"We're hopeful that we can really open that land border as quickly as possible because we are very mindful of the impacts of not doing so: economic impact on the border communities, and as well as family unification," he said.

Asked what the harm would be in letting vaccinated Canadians into the U.S., Mayorkas said: "I think that we are watching the trajectory of the Delta variant here in the United States and are hopeful that we can open up that border as quickly as possible."

The border closure has been renewed at the 21st of the month every month since March 2020, but Mayorkas said it's possible that the border could be reopened before one of those 30-day extensions expires.

"When we renew the restriction every 30 days, we've added the language that because we've renewed it for 30 days, that does not necessarily mean that the restriction will last for another 30 days," he said. "We have the ability, of course, to ease it or eliminate it sooner if the data suggests we should."

Mayorkas addressed questions from reporters near the end of an hourlong session that began with a speech marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Mayorkas then provided a broad overview of issues his agency faces, ranging from terrorism to immigration to the resettlement of Afghan refugees into the U.S. His speech never mentioned the continued closure of the U.S. land borders to Canadians and Mexicans.

Shown a transcript of Mayorkas' comments on the border, Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who has been pushing for a full border reopening for months, seemed underwhelmed.

"He could have said that in two sentences as opposed to two paragraphs," Higgins said.

Higgins then restated the argument that he's been making for months: that vaccines against Covid-19 are so very effective that there is no reason to keep the border closed so long as travelers are vaccinated.

"This secretary needs to look at the science that they have admonished everybody else to follow," he said. "And when you do that, the conclusion is clear and compelling – and that is they should open the border."

Asked if he had anything else to add, Higgins said no.

But moments later, he sent The Buffalo News an email intended to drive home his point.

"Yes – one more thing – open the damn border to our Canadian neighbors who are fully vaccinated," he said in the email.

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