BUFFALO, N.Y. — The U.S.-Canadian border has been closed in both directions to non-essential travel since March of last year.

However, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, said while at this time last year the United States was the global leader in COVID deaths, it's now the leader in vaccine manufacturing, distribution and administration.

"President Biden has said that we should be back to a semblance of normalcy by July 4, and we need a plan so as to give people something to look forward to as it relates to the opening of the U.S.-Canadian border," Higgins said.

With another deadline to extend or revise the border travel rules coming next Wednesday, Higgins is calling for the Department of Homeland Security to immediately advance a plan for phased reopening to its Canadian partners.

The Democrat called first for a May expansion of the definition of essential traveler to include people with property, business interests or family members in the neighboring country.

"Opening up the border to these categories of travelers becoming essential travelers can be done both safely and successfully," he said.

Higgins also believes a full reopening by July is feasible; on time for Canada Day and the U.S. Independence Day. He said masks, safe social distancing and vaccination should be a requirement.

"I think it is fair at a time of a public health crisis to require people that want to move between the United States and Canada, that they have to have a vaccine," he said. "It's intended to keep them safe, but also their family and our Canadian neighbors."

The congressman believes this can be done despite the fact Ontario is in the midst of a one-month stay at home order and Canada's vaccination rate is significantly behind the United States. He does believe it’s in the U.S.'s best interest to help its neighbor catch up.

"Certainly the president of the United States and the prime minister of Canada could ask the World Health Organization to assist the availability of vaccines and their distribution and administration in Canada," Higgins said.

Higgins believes a border reopening would actually provide incentive for more people to get vaccinated sooner.