Lawmakers press Ottawa, Washington to ease restrictions on isolated U.S. community

Lawmakers in Washington state are pressuring Washington and Ottawa to explain the decision-making behind border-crossing restrictions, as residents of one geographically isolated community continue to have problems accessing the U.S. mainland.

Four members of Congress wrote to acting U.S. Ambassador to Canada Richard Mills on Monday urging him to work with the Trudeau government "to provide more transparency" on how rules may be eased and to advocate for "a phased approach" to reopening.

The Washington Democrats also pressed the case of Point Roberts, Wash., an exclave that sits just below the 49th parallel at the tip of the Tsawwassen peninsula and borders British Columbia. The 1,300 residents must cross the Canadian border twice by car to access the rest of the state.

“We’re fundamentally under house arrest," said Christopher Carleton, fire chief of Whatcom County's District 5, which includes Point Roberts. "Some people are not able to leave our community.”

The issue: The Canada Border Services Agency "prevents non-essential travel of American citizens between Point Roberts and the mainland, which isolates that community from the rest of Washington and the country," said Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

DelBene, whose district includes Point Roberts, said the interpretation of rules is so restrictive that even when constituents are permitted to cross the border, they must do so alone, effectively prohibiting companions on medical visits or helping hands on essential errands.

Communities across the northern border have seen their economies tank since Canadians aren't traveling to the U.S. for gas, groceries and entertainment.

“Folks really want to make sure that there’s consistency and transparency so they’re able to move back and forth and do essential things in their lives," DelBene told POLITICO.

CBSA didn't immediately comment. U.S. Customs and Border Protection referred questions to the State Department, which has yet to respond.

Specific ideas: The lawmakers urged Mills to collaborate with the Canadian government on a solution that addresses public health and access concerns. U.S. travelers can safely travel between Point Roberts and the mainland since they can cross through both the Boundary Bay and Peace Arch border crossings without having to exit their vehicles, they wrote.

Point Roberts residents could produce driver's licenses or other documents proving residency to CBSA to allow them to cross, they added.

Point Roberts residents should be viewed by Ottawa and Washington as more in line with Canada, given its geography and lack of confirmed Covid cases, Carleton said.

What's next: The current limitations on nonessential travel over the U.S.-Canada land border expire Aug. 21. They're widely expected to be extended, at least in some capacity.

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