Travel restrictions

Texas border communities welcome reopening after 20 months of travel restrictions

Ports of entry along the US borders with Mexico and Canada will reopen in November to “non-essential travel,” which includes sightseeing, shopping, and sightseeing to see friends and family.

The borders have been closed to Mexican and Canadian nationals for these activities since March 2020. In less than a month, they will open again to those who are. fully vaccinated.

For Texas, the reopening will mean a return to commerce and tourism for hundreds of thousands of daily border travelers across the 28 international bridges that connect the state to its number 1 trading partner: Mexico.

Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose district includes Laredo, the Rio Grande Valley and southern San Antonio, said on a press call Wednesday that the closure had had a huge impact on the lives of many residents border workers, including those in his hometown of Laredo.

“We spoke to some of the people over there who depended on 40, 50, even 60% of their business from Mexico. So you had a pandemic, and then you had the customers removed. So it’s a double whammy that has happened, ”Cuellar said.

In a letter to DHS in May, the Texas Border Coalition – made up of dozens of government and community leaders across the border region – predicted $ 19 billion in lost revenue per year due to restrictions in place over the past 20 month. The US-Mexico border is the busiest land border in the world, with more than a million people crossing it every day before the pandemic strikes.

JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ / REUTERS

People walk to the United States at the Paso del Norte International Border Bridge after the US Department of Homeland Security announced it will reopen its border soon in November via land ports of entry for those vaccinated against the disease in coronavirus (COVID-19) with vaccines authorized by the World Health Organization (WHO), in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on October 13, 2021. REUTERS / Jose Luis Gonzalez

The restrictions have also had a negative impact on small family businesses.

“We can’t wait for the bridge to open, and it’s been almost two years. We really need people, ”said Jacquelina Garcia, General Manager of Casa Bella, a home goods retail store overlooking the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

Garcia said that over the past year the company has barely survived. It has kept its doors open by offering rock-bottom wholesale prices.

“What has supported the company are the wholesale buyers. Either from here in the Rio Grande Valley, or from a few Americans who live in Reynosa and who come to buy here to sell to those who are still in Mexico, ”she explained.

Casa Bella housewares store in Hidalgo, Texas

Courtesy of Casa Bella

Casa Bella Home Goods Store in Hidalgo, Texas is located near the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

The lifting of travel restrictions will also mean the reunification of binational families separated for more than a year and a half across the two countries.

Throughout the pandemic, Cynthia Sakulenzki, CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce RGV, has received calls about the border reopening.

She said many people on both sides of the border have seen COVID afflict their loved ones and have no way of mourning over each other.

“There are so many people on this side of the border and on this side of the border who have family on either side and need to be able to feel the warmth, the handshake, the hugs of the members of the family. their family that they have ‘I have been able to see for months and months,’ said Sakulenzki.

Elizabeth, who asked TPR to use her first name due to her family’s citizenship status in the United States, has lived and worked in the Mexican border town of Camargo, just across from Rio Grande City, since the establishment travel restrictions. She was delighted to hear that travel restrictions would finally be lifted.

“We watched the ad on TV and on Facebook,” she added. “I am so moved, so happy, because I will finally be able to see my family after such a long time that the bridge has been closed.”

She said she had been separated from her family for 20 months and was already planning the first day they could meet again.

“We go to our favorite restaurant to see each other. It had been a long time since I had seen them.

The town square in Camargo, Tamaulipas, where Elizabeth has lived and worked since travel restrictions were put in place in March 2020.

The town square in Camargo, Tamaulipas, where Elizabeth has lived and worked since travel restrictions were put in place in March 2020.

Local authorities in the Rio Grande Valley also welcome the change.

Cameron County judge Eddie Treviño Jr. and chairman of the Austin-based Texas Border Coalition said he had been working since last year to reopen bridges connecting communities on both sides of the border.

“We are very, very happy with the announcement. This is something that we have been defending for almost a year now. And we are happy that this is finally happening, ”he said. “We would have liked this to happen much sooner. But at least, as they say, better late than never.

Treviño explained that the Cameron County bridge system operates three ports of entry, which have suffered a loss of just under $ 14 million since the travel restrictions were put in place. American Rescue Plan Act funds kept the system afloat.

“The reality is that we would prefer that we generate these funds through operations,” said Treviño, referring to ARPA funds. “And maybe use (ARPA) for a lot of other different projects.”

Authorities are also bracing for a change in protocol, as those seeking entry must provide full proof of vaccination from any vaccines approved by the United States or the World Health Organization.

This will include vaccines contracted by Mexico and provided by AstraZeneca / Oxford and CureVac, among others. With nine different vaccines in its portfolio, Mexico has the most emergency use authorizations in the world. In June, the United States sent Mexico 1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines specifically for use at the border. These doses were administered.

Essential travelers who have passed through land ports throughout the pandemic, such as truck drivers and students, will also be required to show proof of their full immunization status from January.

“We had vaccination campaigns in coordination with the maquila industry to get them and their employees vaccinated. We therefore hope that these investments will bear fruit, ”explained Treviño. “And if we are to continue to do so, we will explore the possibility of having vaccination centers or clinics available either at ports of entry or in some form or manner to coordinate with CBP.”

The non-essential travel restrictions were based on a part of the United States health code called Title 19, one of two health codes promulgated by the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic to stop the spread of COVID- 19. The Biden administration will continue to use another part of the health code, Title 42, to expel asylum-seeking migrants arriving at the border.


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