The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the lives and livelihoods of most in the United States. And while there has been a lot of political talk and news focused on border closings related to the pandemic, we hear relatively little about the almost 200 million people in the United States who live on a land border between either Canada or Mexico.
The border closing was unanimously decided by the three countries to curb the spread of COVID-19 on March 21st and has been extended each month since. The latest reopening date is set for November 21st but is likely to be extended further until at least early 2021 and some even say until the summer of 2021. The US, Canadian, and Mexican governments have maintained commercial trade and have mandated that essential travel is permitted between citizens of these countries, although travel for leisure is not. This has created hardships for border towns that depend on the economy of transient work as well as people who maintain personal relationships across the border.
The U.S/Canada border town of Blaine, Washington is one such example of a town whose economy depends on the border. While the U.S/Canada border crossing, denoted by the Peace Arch, is often seen as just a gateway to the bigger cities of Bellingham and Seattle, Blaine also provides a stopping place for Canadians that often cross the border just to shop in the small town. While this may seem strange, many goods such as gasoline and milk cost less in Blaine, Washington than they do just across the border in Surrey, British Columbia. Another way that Canadians often shop in the United States is through Amazon. Many Canadians get packages delivered to mailboxes they have set up in Blaine to avoid extra taxes on items that they buy from online U.S based retailers.
While this doesn’t sound like much, for a small town with a population of a little over 5,000 people that depends on businesses such as grocery stores and the dozens of shipping places, this loss is crippling the local economy. With fewer Canadians crossing the border, spending less money, and thus making every other local business lose profit, this can create a burden on the local economy. Similarly, the town opposite of Blaine on the Canadian side is facing the same set of issues from a lack of U.S citizens crossing the border. US citizens cross the border to visit Vancouver B.C., and they end up traveling through smaller towns such as Surrey.
This kind of economic hardship extends to other areas as well, for example I work in Blaine at a small dance studio. While we don’t work directly with the border, we have seen a dramatic decrease in student enrollment, likely at least in part due to economic hardships for the families in the community. This is happening in many small businesses, especially community focused businesses in Blaine and the surrounding areas.
Another facet of this border issue involves the people who live in border towns and are accustomed to crossing the border on a regular basis or even daily. Since March they have been unable to do this, which can be particularly difficult for friends, families, and couples separated by the border. Fortunately, there is one place that people can meet from both sides. The Peace Arch Park is a park at one of two border crossings in Blaine. Here citizens on both sides can come to the park and walk between both sides as long as they stay within the confines of the park. There are many places like this along the border that provide a pseudo solution to people divided by the border.
In spite of this economic and social issue on the border, in a poll done by Ipsos eighty-five percent of Canadians want the restrictions to stay in place believing it to be too much of a risk to travel outside of Canada. Furthermore, many people in my community in Blaine and Bellingham are wary of a border opening. Although, we want to go back to being able to cross the border for a quick trip to Vancouver or to see friends, we understand why Canadians don’t want the border open. COVID cases in the United States are on the rise, after never really slowing down, especially in states that share a border with Canada. Ultimately, people on both sides of the border want to see an open border but we don’t want to see it at the risk of another rise of infections on both sides. Unfortunately, it may be many months before people can freely cross the border again but hopefully when we can cross again we can try to rebuild the economies of these towns and reconnect with people across the border.