LAREDO, Texas – Border leaders have accepted the decision of the U.S. and Mexican governments to suspend travel at international bridges that is deemed non-essential.
Mexico is the United States’ top trading partner. It ranked No. 1 in total trade value in 2019 with a total of $614.5 billion. The new policy allows commerce between the United States and Mexico to continue.
Essential travel will also be permitted under the new policy. This includes travel for work, education or healthcare. Non-essential travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.
The new policy went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, March 21. It will last for a period of 30 days and is subject to extension.
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz’s perspective
In a statement, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz Saenz (pictured above) noted that commercial trade operations will not be affected. Laredo is the No. 1 land port for trade in North America.
“In light of the current grip and other unknown potential pandemic challenges of COVID-19 on our nation and the local community, restricting international travel, including border crossings, to only essential travel seems logical,” Saenz said.
“Essential travel would be medical and educational travel, and emergency response. Tourism and recreational travel would not be considered essential.”
Saenz said all citizens must do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“While this may be a temporary inconvenience for many of us, we must all do our part in combating this viral threat to human life and our economic well-being,” Saenz said.
“I ask everyone to please fully cooperate with the mandatory social distancing and best hygiene guidelines as have been promulgated by the City of Laredo. Together, we will kill and defeat this silent enemy by simply starving it.”
INDEX is the trade association for the maquiladora industry. Following meetings with customs officials, the group’s board of directors issued guidelines for its members. Here are the guidelines:
- North and Southbound Cargo will not be affected.
- Working Hours on the bridges will not change for Cargo.
- U.S. Citizens and Lawful U.S. Residents will be allowed to cross back to the U.S. freely, regardless of employment.
- LED Lane indicators will be set up for U.S. Citizens and Residents. Do not transport a foreign national in your vehicle.
Brokers and Trade Related Employees:
- For Non-U.S. maquila employees who need to cross on company related business, it is recommended to have their purpose for travel on company letterhead from the Mexican and U.S. entities, and also travel with company i.d.
- Non U.S. Citizens will be assigned to cross in assigned lanes where their purpose for crossing will be scrutinized. We were cautioned specifically to not take this exception lightly.
- SENTRI Lanes and hours will remain in effect for both U.S. citizens, residents and trade related employees.
- Bridge Hours will remain the same.
- The rules stated above for vehicles will also apply to pedestrian lanes.
“Everyone, no matter of status, could be subject to COVID-19 related screening,” the INDEX board of directors said in a statement.
“We prefer to focus on the new crossing rules as they relate to our industry. However, this change will obviously have an impact on our employees personal lives and families. “Crossing to shop, tourism, recreation, visiting family and friends will be prohibited. Without a technical purpose for entering the U.S., they will be returned to Mexico immediately.”
The INDEX statement added: “Let us hope that spread of the COVID-19 virus is contained quickly and our border can return to normal operations.”
Texas Border Coalition’s perspective
The Texas Border Coalition represents cities and counties from Brownsville to El Paso. Its chairman is Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. On behalf of TBC, Treviño acknowledged the decision to restrict non-essential travel across the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to avoid the spread of COVID-19. But he also noted some concerns.
“The Texas Border Coalition acknowledges the public health necessity of the decision announced today by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to close the U.S.-Mexico border to non-essential travel, effective at midnight tonight. It is our highest priority to keep border communities – and all communities – safe during this unprecedented public health emergency and be an active partner in helping flatten the curve of COVID-19 globally,” Treviño said.
“We have concerns about how this decision will be carried out in practice, and how it will affect legitimate international trade, commerce, and the border’s workforce who depend on our ports to sustain their individual economic stability. We need to ensure that trade and commerce are minimally impacted.
“We urge leaders in both the U.S. and Mexican governments to collaborate during the implementation of this border travel restriction in a way that keeps people of both our countries safe and economically stable. Furthermore, we must ensure that we keep the necessary flow of goods that come from Mexico and contribute to the U.S. supply chain. Mexico and Texas trade more than $65 billion in goods each year, and we must safeguard this economic impact during this international pandemic.
“Elected officials and members of the Texas Border Coalition stand ready to work with government officials as these restriction are put into place. We urge border communities to remain vigilant and aware as together we strive to contain COVID-19 along the more than 1,250 miles of U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.”
Texas Public Policy Foundation’s perspective
Unlike President Trump, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, was critical of Mexico’s response to the coronavirus. In a statement about the new travel restrictions, TPPF Executive Director Kevin Roberts said:
“In the face of the Chinese coronavirus, the health and safety of American citizens must be paramount. This is a prudent measure that limits the negative impact on our economy as much as possible. We encourage the Administration and policymakers to explore expanding border-travel restrictions as appropriate — especially in light of the Mexican federal government’s slow response to this crisis.”
Roberts noted that one in five jobs in Texas is supported by trade, and at the port of Laredo alone 14,000 18-wheelers cross the border each day with $1 billion in trade.
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez’s perspective
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen issued this statement following the Trump administration’s decision to close the U.S.-Mexico border to non-essential travel:
“The U.S. and Mexican governments have deemed non-essential travel to and from Mexico necessary to protect the health and safety of the American and Mexican people. Commerce and essential travel will be allowed,” Gonzalez said.
“Mexico is an invaluable trade partner and friend, and I look forward to the day we can lift these restrictions. My office is open to help those Americans who may be stuck in Mexico or have questions regarding these new travel restrictions.”
Congressman Henry Cuellar’s perspective
Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo also spoke about President Trump’s announcement that the U.S.-Mexico border will close to non-essential travel to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Cuellar noted that Mexico ranked No. 1 in total trade value in 2019 with a total of $614.5 billion, while Canada ranked No. 2 in total trade value in 2019 with a total of $612.12 billion.
“It is critical that we preserve trade and commerce between the United States and Mexico while also helping protect the health and safety of our citizens,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said he has been working closely with both Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan and Mexican officials to ensure that “any disruption to trade at the U.S.-Mexico border will be minimized during efforts to prevent the spread of Coronavirus and maintain public health of our citizens.”
Cuellar added: “I will continue to work with CBP and Mexico, our economic partner, friend, and neighbor, to ensure our economies are strong and our people are safe. I want to thank the men and women of CBP who are on the front lines every day keeping our country safe and making our country more prosperous.”
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling’s perspective
In an abundance of caution, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is currently under self quarantine to ensure he does not pass on the coronavirus. Darling participated in a McAllen Cable Network video about the new land ports of entry restrictions. However, the video did not really make clear that non-essential travel across U.S.-Mexico international bridges was being curtailed.
In the video, Darling said McAllen officials have been in constant contact with the Department of Homeland Security.
“With one qualification I can say the bridges are open. That is primarily for commercial business. All the maquilas, the maquila workers, the workers that have proper visas here that are working here. All of that is open with one exception. They are going to make sure you are healthy,” Darling said.
“So, they are going to ask questions, No. 1. No. 2, take a visual look at the person. If they are not healthy they will take them aside and do whatever actions they need.”
Darling stressed that commercials operations at the bridges are all open.
“Nothing should change. Right now we need that, goods coming in from Mexico, vegetables and fruits coming from Mexico, we need to have, not only for our Valley but for the whole country. Make sure that the bridges operate. And we operate economically between Mexico and the United States.”
Darling said if a traveler has the proper documentation they will be free to go.
“You need to be careful any place you go. Not only Mexico. If you can avoid going out and being around a bunch of people, certainly do that. But businesses have to stay open. People still have to go to work, to that extent.”
Darling added that trade is vital to the economy.
“They are going to do everything they can to make sure that stays open. But safely. Obviously, shopping in McAllen, the stores are open but they are not. The mall is closed and many of the smaller stores are closed. Before you go, call.”