On March 21, 2020 the United States closed its borders to non-American citizens. Over a year and a half later, the border remain closed.
For Ogdensburg native and Canadian resident, Natalie Ward, the border closure has kept her husband, Joe Hachem, from seeing her family who resides in Ogdensburg since March of last year.
“The border has been closed for about a year and a half now,” said Ward. “Canada made an exception and they said that immediate and extended family members can enter Canada even if they’re not Canadian, but the U.S. has not made any exceptions for even immediate family.”
According to the U.S. Embassy & Consulates, the U.S. has temporarily limited inbound land border crossings from Canada and Mexico to essential travel which includes citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the U.S., individuals traveling for medical purposes, to attend educational institutions, for work, emergency and public health purposes, lawful cross-border trade, or military-related travel or operations until Sept. 21.
On Aug. 9, Canada opened its borders to vaccinated, COVID tested Americans but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. was following separate health guidance and had no reciprocal intention.
“I’m an American citizen and I live in Ottawa, but my husband is Canadian,” Ward added. “If immediate family members were allowed in the U.S. he could come with me, but the U.S. still does not allow immediate family of Americans to come over.”
Although Canada does allow Americans to cross the border, crossing would be difficult for her family due to her parent’s age and her brother who has both schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.
“My husband’s close with my brother who has a disability,” said Ward. “In other years, my husband has made it a point to be in Ogdensburg for my brother’s birthday but because of the land border closure, he hasn’t been able to be there for his birthday for the last two years. Facetime is great, but it doesn’t replace seeing friends and family in person.”
Hachem’s only option to enter the U.S. would be by air travel but is an unrealistic option for their circumstances.
“Canadians are allowed to fly into the U.S. but they can’t drive,” said Ward. “But, Ogdensburg is very remote. If he wants to fly into Ogdensburg he would have to do a full day of flying and it can cost up to $800 one way. It just doesn’t make sense to us.”
Ward and Hachem are not the only ones who are being affected by the border restrictions. In October 2020, Devon Weber founded of Let Us Reunite after moving to Montreal, Canada in February of 2020.
“I’m an American who has permanent residence in Canada and my husband is Canadian,” said Weber. “While my son and I are free to cross the border my husband isn’t. I watched the border closure rollover month after month and I saw there was a group here lobbying the Canadian government to change their policies but there wasn’t any group that was doing the same to the U.S. government.”
With Weber’s 15 year experience in politics, government, campaign and advocacy, she decided to use her skills to push for the U.S. to change its restrictions.
“I started a Facebook group in October to see if there were any other families that were in the same position as mine,” said Weber. “We got 800 members overnight and now we represent over 3,000 families in the U.S. and Canada that are affected by the border closure.”
Let Us Reunite has sent a memo to the Biden-Harris Transition Department of Homeland Security review team asking to allow immediate family to travel over the U.S. land border. They have not heard back.
“We’re asking for exemptions for families of Canadian citizens and legal residents to cross the land border so they can reunite with their families,” said Weber.
Let Us Reunite has also been working with congressional members and several others have contacted local politicians.
“I’ve called politicians and some have been visible and vocal but others I just leave messages and they don’t call back,” said Ward. “I ask that you urge border town residents, who may have Canadian friends and family and where a big part of the economy relies on Canadian shoppers, to call their state and local representatives to push for safely reopening the U.S. land border with Canada.”
More information about Let Us Reunite can be found at https://www.letusreunite.org.