COVID-Related Foreign-Travel Restrictions: Joe Biden Must End Them Now

President Joe Biden speaks during a briefing in Hillsborough Township, N.J., September 7, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

And do it now.

Mr. President, tear down this travel ban.

Seriously, tear it down. Nix it. End it. Bring it to a close. Relegate it to history. Send it six feet under. Arrange its termination. Dispatch it. Dispose of it. Eliminate it. Fit it with concrete shoes and send it to the bottom of the ocean.

And do it now — effective now.

Since March of last year, the federal government has barred pretty much everyone who isn’t an American from visiting the United States. It has now been half a year since the COVID vaccines were made universally available, and still the U.S. persists in this policy. No, this isn’t because America is more science-y than other nations; it’s because America is more inert. In the last few months, Canada has re-opened its border with the United States; Britain has dropped its restrictions on travelers from the United States; and the European Union has removed its restrictions on travelers from the United States only to reimpose them after the U.S. refused to respond in kind. Among the free nations of the Western world, America has become an outlier, and is at risk of becoming a pariah. And for what?

There was a point at which draconian restrictions on travel made a certain sense. But, as our closest allies have shown, that time passed long, long, long ago. The rules for Americans who wish to visit Britain are relatively straightforward: Vaccinated travelers are obliged to take a pair of tests while in the country but do not have to quarantine, while unvaccinated travelers are obliged to take a pre-arrival test, take tests while in the country, and quarantine for ten days. There is no good reason that the United States could not impose a similar set of rules on incoming Brits — or even require COVID vaccinations of them outright as it sometimes requires vaccinations for other viruses. Can it really be the case that we mistrust the British?

This issue is no mere abstraction. As a first-generation immigrant, I am among the millions of Americans who have close family-members in another country and who, for nearly two years now, have struggled to get together with those loved ones. My youngest child was a year old when he last saw his grandparents; now he goes to school. My five-year-old was three, and he has grown so much since then that he wore out the pajamas they got him for the trip we had to cancel. My parents are not elderly, but they are not young, either. We are wasting precious years.

When you became president, you said, “I know the past few years have strained and tested the transatlantic relationship. The United States is determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.” In June, you said, “I think we’ve made some progress in re-establishing American credibility among our closest friends.” Have you? Those closest friends are begging you to bring this folly to an end, and yet, despite insisting 18 months ago that “a wall will not stop the coronavirus. Banning all travel from Europe — or any other part of the world — will not stop it,” you won’t so much as comment on the ban on all travel from Europe that has been your de facto policy for every single day of your presidency. Last October, while campaigning, you promised America that you would “shut down the virus, not the country.” Well, the country is literally shut down. Have you failed?

Milton Friedman, whose political worldview you seem to be obsessed with tarring, famously wrote that “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” I daresay that the federal travel ban fits neatly into Friedman’s maxim. If it did not exist, there is no way in hell that it would be imposed now. But removing it takes effort, and, more importantly, involves staring down the most zealous among us, and so, to borrow from another great Anglo-American, Winston Churchill, your administration deems determined to “go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful for impotency.”

Build Back Better? You could start by opening the bloody gates.

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