More than 100 people have been refused entry from Canada into the United States as a result of coronavirus-related travel restrictions, according to a senior U.S. official.
Those refusals stem from new U.S. rules banning entry to anyone recently in coronavirus-affected China and Iran.
The restrictions apply at land borders in addition to air travel — and more Canadian nationals than anyone have been affected by the land-border measure, said Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
That figure came out during a U.S. congressional hearing Thursday where he was being pressed by a border-state senator on the American response to coronavirus.
The news underscored the potential human and economic disruption from a virus that’s only recently arrived on this continent, but has already rocked markets, lowered interest rates and on Thursday left 235 Canadians quarantined on a cruise ship off the coast of California.
Unlike Canada, which is screening travellers and quarantining the most at-risk ones, the U.S. is systematically banning entry to travellers from certain places.
During Thursday’s hearing, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters noted his state houses several of the most active land crossings and he asked the administration official what precautions were being applied there.
The issue came up again later in the hearing, when Sen. Kamala Harris asked whether the administration was avoiding racially profiling Asian Americans amid coronavirus fears.
“Some people may find it ironic, but the largest excluded group are Canadians. It is Canadians who had traveled to China in the previous two weeks,” Cuccinelli said.
“The next largest group were Chinese nationals.”
U.S. border guards use two methods to screen passengers, he said: First, they examine travel data, and also ask questions about recent travel.
Another border-state senator warned that the U.S. cannot entirely seal off its border — because it would be devastating to the broader economy.
Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, the chair of the committee holding the hearing, concurred with Peters, a Michigan Democrat, that the goal of border restrictions is not to eliminate all threats — it’s to slow the rate of transmission and buy time for the development of a vaccine.
“Just trying to create realistic expectations,” Johnson said.
“If [the border] was hermetically sealed, we wouldn’t have trade at the border. Overreacting here would be unbelievably costly.”
In response to Harris’s question about racial profiling, Cuccinelli concurred that ethnicity does not matter.
“There is without question no difference that this virus shows whether you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic, anything else,” he said.
“[More] Canadians have been barred from the United States on the northern border than Chinese — 113 [Canadians] to 90 [Chinese] … because it was travel based. It wasn’t that, ‘You’re Chinese.’ It’s that you have been in the hot zone in the [last] 14 days.”
Canada’s public safety minister was in Washington discussing coronavirus measures with colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.
Canadian minister discusses issue in Washington
Bill Blair told CBC News that he discussed the border issue with his U.S. counterpart, Chad Wolf, the acting U.S. secretary of homeland security.
He said some people denied entry at the U.S. border will be Canadian citizens, and some are people with other nationalities passing through Canada.
Blair said Canada prefers a more targeted approach, questioning and quarantining the most at-risk travellers.
But he said the U.S. has every right to make its own decision about how to handle its coronavirus response.
“We do respect sovereign countries. And the United States has undertaken this measure for people who have travelled from those areas — that they’re just prohibiting their entry,” Blair said in an interview in Washington.
“Canadians who have recently been in the affected areas, within the past 14 days, before they would be allowed entry into the United States they would be screened and if in fact they’ve been in those affected areas they would be prohibited from entering into the United States.”