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US-Canada couple denied border exemption; business leaders urge reciprocity

7/26/21

The Detroit News 

By James David Dickson 

River Rouge — Karissa Baker saw it before she heard it: her boyfriend Jacob Temple was denied passage Monday morning into Detroit from Windsor.

Temple, 29, attempted to invoke a medical exemption when trying to cross the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel from Windsor to Detroit.

Temple doesn’t need a doctor himself, but wanted to be with Baker, 30, on Tuesday when she undergoes testing in Brighton to get answers on the gastrointestinal issues that have bothered her for the past two years.

Baker watched on her iPhone as her boyfriend’s location showed, briefly, that he crossed from Windsor to America. For 40 minutes, she watched the dot sit at the customs station and not move.

When the dot finally did move, it was headed in the wrong direction, back to Canada.

“People say ‘you know what you signed up for,'” Baker said. “But the border has never been closed like this. We didn’t sign up for a long-distance relationship.”

While vaccinated Americans will once again be permitted to cross into Canada for non-essential travel Aug. 9, non-essential travel from Canada to the U.S. remains banned through at least Aug. 21. American officials have given no word on when that ban will be lifted.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said Monday that she’s working with the advocacy group Let Us Reunite on a congressional letter to President Joe Biden urging him to “right this wrong” and allow for medically necessary travel and for family reunifications.

“At bare minimum, the U.S.-Canada land border must be open to vaccinated individuals or those with a recent negative COVID-19 test for family reunification and medically necessary travel,” Tlaib said in a Monday statement. “The current situation, in which people like Karissa and her family (Temple) remain separated, is too painful.

“The goal certainly is to get us to a place where vaccinated and COVID-19 negative individuals can cross the border with relative normalcy,” Tlaib added. “That determination must be made by public health experts.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said restrictions on non-essential travel at land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico were being extended to decrease spread of the virus, including the Delta variant. Essential travel, including the return of American citizens, has always been allowed.

“DHS is in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably,” the department said in a statement last week.

When his travels began Monday morning, Temple put himself at “50-50” odds of a successful crossing.

He called ahead the day prior and explained his situation. He brought along a note from Baker’s doctor, about why she’d need his help getting home after her appointment, during which she’d be sedated.

None of it mattered, he said. The answer was no. Temple was turned around and sent back to Windsor.

“We’re vaccinated, we wear masks, we’ve done our part,” Temple said. “But they’d rather me fly in a plane with people than drive across in a car, by myself.”

While the U.S. land border is closed to Canada except for “essential” travel, and some other exemptions, including medical, plane travel has been allowed throughout the pandemic.

Kris Grogan, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the lack of a familial tie is likely why such a trip would be considered non-essential, and outside of the exemption.