WESLACO, Texas – Numerous U.S.-Mexico border institutions and elected officials have written to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to urge the re-opening of land ports of entry to so-called non-essential travelers.
International bridges connecting the U.S. to Mexico and the U.S. to Canada have been closed to Mexican and Canadian visa holders who do not work in essential industries since March, 2020. They have been denied entry in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The letter, drafted by the Texas Border Coalition, follows remarks by Dr. Anthony Fauci to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar that there is no reason not to re-open border land ports of entry to visa holders. Fauci is an American immunologist and head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Cuellar writes to Mayorkas
Cuellar, himself, wrote to Secretary Mayorkas on April 16 to urge that border crossing points be reopened to visa holders. Here is the letter:
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
Department of Homeland Security
2707 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE
Washington, DC 20528-0525
Dear Secretary Mayorkas:
As the United States continues to combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, thousands of American small businesses are facing economic challenges presented by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) prohibition on “non-essential” cross-border travel. The yearlong halt to DHS discretionary travel at Land Ports of Entry has left local communities, across both the southern and northern U.S. borders, struggling to maintain their livelihoods and way of life. We must find a balance between the health of the individual and the health of the local economy.
After hearing from my constituents, local community leaders, and other Border Representatives in Congress, I believe that the U.S. can safely reopen its Land Ports of Entry to “non-essential” travel, on a localized basis. If a community feels that they can safely open their economy to “non-essential” travelers, then they can engage DHS through this proposal. If a community wishes to continue to restrict “non-essential” travel through local border crossings, then they have the option for DHS to maintain its current restrictions at that location. This is an ideal approach because it will allow local communities to maintain control over their public health decisions.
Therefore, I am respectfully requesting that DHS establish and implement a community-based program to partially lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for “non-essential” travelers at international Land Ports of Entry. In doing so, I ask that you:
(1) Consult with local community leaders and their medical personnel, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to determine criteria necessary to partially lift COVID-19 travel restrictions within border community jurisdictions that accommodate international Land Ports of Entry; and
(2) Partially lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions for “non-essential” travelers and safely resume all cross-border operations, at both the southern and northern U.S. borders, for those communities who meet the pre-determined criteria. This includes restoring “non-essential” traveler lanes and reinstating U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to oversee traffic in those lanes. Border communities will subsequently enforce their own jurisdictional COVID-19 public health orders.
This means that “non-essential” travelers will be screened twice when entering the U.S: first, through medical screenings by CBP officers, pursuant to federal protocols; and second, through community health screenings by local personnel.
Permitting border communities to help determine a safe and enforceable approach for partially lifting COVID-19 travel restrictions, on a localized basis, will establish a balance between the health of their residents and the health of their economies. Thank you for considering this request and remaining attentive to the needs of my constituents.
Member of Congress
28th District of Texas
Texas Border Coalition letter to Mayorkas
The Texas Border Coalition represents cities from Brownsville to El Paso. Its letter to Secretary Mayorkas included this paragraph:
“We believe it is time for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under your transformative leadership and in collaboration with the Biden-Harris Administration, to re-open our borders, and allow for cross-border travelers to enter our communities. Common-sense measures such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a negative COVID-19 test, and proof of vaccination can make cross-border travel safe for our citizens, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel, and travelers alike.”
The TBC letter to Mayorkas was also signed by officials with the Border Trade Alliance, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, International Bank of Commerce, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Mexican Business Council for Foreign Trade, Investment, and Technology, the Hispanic Chamber of E-Commerce, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce, the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership, the Texas-Mexico Trade Coalition, the Borderplex Alliance, TaxFree Shopping, Ltd., the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council, and the Laredo College Economic Development Center.
The elected officials who signed the letter are: Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., who chairs the TBC, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, Matamoros Mayor Mario Alberto López Hernández, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, Weslaco Mayor David Suarez, and Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez.
Copies of the letter were sent to Vice President Kamala Harris, Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Mexico Ambassador to the United States Esteban Moctezuma, the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Dr. Raul Ruiz and other members of CHC, Karinda Washington, acting assistant secretary in the Office of Partnership and Engagement at DHS, Charles L. Wollenhaupt, acting deputy assistant secretary, in the Private Sector Office at DHS, Felicia Escobar Carrillo, chief of staff at the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services within DHS, Victor De Leon, chief of intergovernmental affairs in the Office of the Commissioner at DHS, the Texas Border Congressional Caucus, and the Texas Border Legislative Delegation.
Here is a copy of the letter:
May 14, 2021
The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20395
RE: Request to re-open ports of entry and remove travel restrictions between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Dear Secretary Mayorkas,
As the United States has made tremendous progress in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe it is time for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under your transformative leadership and in collaboration with the Biden-Harris Administration, to re-open our borders, and allow for cross-border travelers to enter our communities. Common-sense measures such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a negative COVID-19 test, and proof of vaccination can make cross-border travel safe for our citizens, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel, and travelers alike.
In the past year, the global COVID-19 pandemic has caused physical, emotional, and economic suffering to millions of Americans. This includes tens of thousands of Texans living along the Texas-Mexico border. While Texas border leaders reluctantly accepted temporary limits on cross-border travel during the height of the pandemic, the “temporary” limits have now lasted for more than fourteen months. These restrictions have heavily paralyzed and devastated the economics of our border businesses and communities. In 2019, the Texas-Mexico border had an impact of more than $19 billion in economic activity, supported over 650,000 jobs, and increased infrastructure development along our international boundaries.
Before the pandemic, the economy of our border communities relied on the influx of daily travelers from Mexico who acquire goods and services in the United States. However, the current border travel restrictions have dramatically limited these travelers and the critical cross-border exchange of business and commerce, leaving local border economies shattered. The year-long exclusion of these customers is harming our local economies, especially our retail, dining, and hospitality sectors. Severely restricting cross-border travel in this way is not an effective long-term policy and causes disproportionate economic impact to border communities.
More than a year after the travel restrictions took effect, we believe the time has come for your Department to remove these restrictions between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Our southern border has been receiving a high influx of immigrants seeking asylum and processing into the United States. If these individuals are being allowed into our homeland, we should also allow visa holders who need to visit family and conduct essential commercial activities. Collectively, we request re-opening our Land Ports of Entry (LPOEs) with sufficient lanes and a full complement of CBP staff to maintain efficient traffic. Instituting efficient and safe operations at our land ports will ensure that international travelers are able to contribute to our border economy. We need international travelers conducting crucial commercial activities in our border region to revitalize our economy in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The Texas Border Coalition (TBC) acts as the collective voice of border communities on issues that affect Texas-Mexico border region’s quality of life, commerce, and public policy. The TBC is comprised of mayors, city council members, county judges, county executives, businesses, corporations, and community leaders. Collectively, we represent more than 2.5 million people who reside along the more than 1,250 miles of the Texas-Mexico border, from Brownsville to El Paso, Texas. We believe in the economic vibrancy of our border region, its potential to re-vitalize is dependent on cross-border travelers.
Your Department and the Biden-Harris Administration should also take every action possible to safeguard the health and safety of CBP personnel who protect our homeland and citizens. The TBC requests that CBP ensure that its personnel are vaccinated and adequately outfitted with PPE to protect the health of our officers, their families, our border communities, and all individuals seeking to cross our borders.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important request. We look forward to a positive response on this matter, which has a severe economic impact on many communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out any of our border leaders whose names and signatures appear as collaborating advocacy partners on this critical issue below.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Andrew P. Carey, executive director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership.
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