Americans on the northern border are in crisis.
For more than a year, crossing the Canadian border has remained off limits for all but "essential" travel. But what began as a temporary restriction to slow the spread of COVID-19 has morphed into an indefinite closure, upending life in a region that relies on cross-border travel for everything from medical care to employment to tourism.
Nowhere have these prolonged restrictions been more difficult than in Minnesota's Northwest Angle, the only point in the contiguous United States located north of the 49th parallel. Surrounded by Manitoba on one side and Lake of the Woods on the other, the only way to reach the Angle by land is through a remote 40-mile stretch of Canadian highway.
At first, the border restrictions were an inconvenience, not dissimilar from mitigation efforts around the world as public health authorities learned more about the pandemic. And until very recently Angle residents could travel back-and-forth across the border, with proper identification, for essential trips.
But despite the widespread availability of multiple safe, highly effective vaccines and treatment options, the Canadian government has inexplicably continued to tighten the restrictions.
About a month ago, the Canada Border Services Agency announced that all individuals crossing into their country by road — regardless of circumstance or duration — are required to test negative for COVID-19. A rapid test will not do; individuals must present a negative result from a molecular test, which can take days to obtain.
The 200 or so residents of the Northwest Angle — fellow Americans — have been left reeling by the restrictions, feeling abandoned by their own government and increasingly losing hope for a solution.
Together with Rep. Pete Stauber, whose Eighth Congressional District also includes border communities, and with our counterparts in the Canadian House of Commons, I met with affected residents recently. We heard story after story of families separated, lives and livelihoods on hold, and generational businesses brought to the brink of bankruptcy.
In an economy that is largely tourism-based, the prolonged closure has been catastrophic for local businesses in the Northwest Angle. One resort owner said he collected a total of only $3 in sales tax last May, June and July — bringing his family-owned business near bankruptcy. Another Angle resident spoke of a neighbors who have not seen their spouses in more than a year. A third person spoke of the inability to perform basic tasks, such as buying groceries or receiving medical care, for fear of being left stranded away from home.
People are desperate, and I don't blame them.
With the eyes of the national media focused on the chaos at America's southern border, few have any idea this problem exists. To be sure, illegal border crossings at an all-time high, and the southern border crisis merits significant attention.
But the northern border is in crisis, too, and these are American citizens that need help from their government.
This is going to require a bilateral solution at the highest levels, but that will not happen until the Biden administration acknowledges the problem.
So far, there has been resounding silence.
Michelle Fischbach represents Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House.