A tangled web of Covid-19 border restrictions has limited who can travel to the US. One of the rules bars migrants from seeking asylum. Others prevent foreigners from visiting family. And tourism from abroad has been effectively halted while the restrictions remain in place.
The stakes are high for Biden, who officials say is trying to avoid a situation where restrictions are lifted only to be put in place again in the future. Meanwhile, liberals and conservatives alike are scrutinizing the President’s immigration policies and the Trump-era restrictions that remain in place.
When questioned about the timing for reopening borders, the White House has pointed to interagency working groups that were formed last month. Overseen by the White House Covid-19 response team and the National Security Council, the groups include representatives from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with officials from the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Transportation.
The American officials were partnered with representatives from the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico and have met several times to discuss the reopening situation since the administration announced them at the start of Biden’s first foreign trip in June. There have also been multiple smaller group conversations in between those larger meetings to discuss specific issues, like the epidemiological situation, variants, surveillance, and vaccination efforts and plans for changing travel restrictions, a White House official told CNN.
But some people familiar with the working groups have questioned their effectiveness, as other countries begin to open to Americans with little clarity over whether the US will reciprocate. One source familiar with the discussions described “paralysis among agencies” over next steps.
“There are ongoing discussions between the working groups and, of course, updates and briefings with our health and medical experts about what it is safe to do,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday when asked about when the US might reopen its borders to travelers. “We will be guided by the science, and I don’t have any prediction of what the timeline looks like.”
Asked why Canada had reopened its borders while the US has not, she said: “We rely on the guidance of our health and medical experts, not on the actions of other countries.”
Last week, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressured him for answers on reopening travel during Oval Office talks, Biden said he’d have more to announce in the “next several days.”
The lack of answers is fueling frustration among members of Biden’s party, who are imploring the administration to ease restrictions.
“It is extremely frustrating that the United States government has failed to reciprocate current family exemptions already allowed by the Canadian government and failed to show