Federal government rejects Burgum’s request to restore border crossing times

BISMARCK, ND (AP) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not restore hours of operation to pre-pandemic levels at some North Dakota ports of entry, despite pressure from Governor Doug Burgum.

In a letter sent Friday to the agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Burgum said the reduced hours at several North Dakota port crossings along the U.S.-Canada border “caused significant hardship for the movement of citizens, goods and tourists between our two nations.”

In a statement to The Associated Press on Friday, federal agencies said longer hours of operation cannot be justified due to declining traffic volumes at border crossings — a decline that began even before the pandemic.

“For several years, prior to COVID, CBP documented reduced vehicular and pedestrian traffic along our northern border, and CBP’s obligation is to use all available resources responsibly to fulfill our mission to save the homeland,” the statement said.

North Dakota has 17 border crossings, and the Pembina crossing on Interstate 29 in the northeast part of the state is the busiest. In April 2020, hours of operation were reduced by several evening hours at 10 a.m. crossings. Hours have also been shortened at select ports of entry in Montana, Minnesota, Idaho and Washington, and will remain so, the agencies said.

The federal government said at the time that the reduction in hours would be temporary.

On April 1, 2022, the federal government canceled the requirement for fully vaccinated travelers to the United States to be tested for coronavirus.

Burgum said in his letter that the relaxed rule resulted in a 40% increase in the number of people entering the United States through North Dakota. But Burgum said the number of people crossing the border was still half pre-pandemic levels.

“North Dakotans and Canadians in these areas are forced to deal with hours that are not suited to the average person’s daily routine,” Burgum wrote. “A North Dakotan’s day does not begin at 9:00 a.m. or end at 5:00 p.m. Such limitations are unacceptable and cause significant difficulty for people wishing to cross the border beyond these limited hours.”

The Republican governor estimated North Dakota lost more than $283 million in Canadian visitor spending due to the pandemic.

“Spending by these Canadian visitors represents nearly 10% of annual spending by visitors to North Dakota, and the importance of these international dollars to our economy cannot be overstated,” Burgum wrote.

Burgum sent a similar letter to agencies earlier in the year, and he spoke with CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus in June to request overtime. Magnus, who reports to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, is a former Fargo police chief.

In the small town of Noonan, just 7 miles from the Canada-US border, Donna Fagerland said there has been a noticeable drop in the number of Canadians visiting her town of around 180 people.

“We were strangers in our own hometown,” said Fagerland, a 76-year-old former cafe owner in Noonan. “We’ve always had Canadians here, but not as many come.

Shorter hours at the port of entry, which opens at 9 a.m. but now closes at 5 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., have created hassles for people on both sides of the border, Fagerland said.

Most visitors come from Estevan, Saskatchewan, a town of about 14,000 about 20 miles from Noonan, she said.

Many come to North Dakota to hunt and fish, but Noonan’s biggest draw is its two bars and post office, Fagerland said. Several Canadians own homes in the city, and many have their mail and packages shipped to Noonan because postage rates are cheaper in the United States, she said.

“They like to pick up their mail and visit,” she said. “Drinks are also cheaper.”

Comments are closed.