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LAREDO, Texas – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar says he and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn have asked Customs and Border Protection to report on the financial impact of border bridges being closed to “non-essential” travel.

Shoppers, tourists and even those who simply want to see their family have been blocked from crossing land ports of entry between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada since late March, 2019. Such travel is deemed “non-essential.” All trade and commerce between the three countries is considered “essential.”

The thinking by the U.S., Mexico, and Canada was that blocking “non-essential” travel would stop the spread of COVID-19.

The ban on such travel has hurt border economies and Cuellar and Cornyn want to know by how much.

“Senator Cornyn and I added language to have Homeland (Security) look at the financial impact of keeping the border closed to communities, to businesses, to families on the border. I am talking about the border restrictions,” Cuellar said, on a conference call with reporters on Monday.

“It is very specific language. We will send that over to you. I certainly want to thank the senator for working with me. I did talk to the commissioner, Mark Morgan today, on a different issue but I will send his this language so we can get it ready for the new administration.”

Mark Morgan is the acting commissioner for Customs and Border Protection.

Here is the language that was added to the recent omnibus appropriations bill:

Assessing Impact of Travel Restrictions on Border Communities:

Businesses in states that depend on travel across the border to obtain essential supplies are particularly impacted by travel restrictions at land and sea ports of entry (POEs). CBP is directed to consider the impact of travel restrictions on families, businesses, and communities and provide for reasonable exemptions to travel restrictions mandated by federal, state, and local authorities. CBP is urged to maintain regular communication with impacted stakeholders as travel restrictions change or are updated.”

Asked by a Rio Grande Guardian reporter when land ports of entry will be re-opened to non-essential travel, Cuellar said:

“I have talked to the commissioner (Morgan) and he said they are ready to open up. They have to get the okay. But you know where that okay has to come from? The White House. So, I think that between now and the 20th, it is not going to happen. But everything is in place to open up on a case by case basis.”

The 20th of January is when President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office.

Asked by a Laredo Morning Times reporter if he knows what the Biden administration’s strategy will be for reopening the land ports of entry to all travel, Cuellar said:

“No, but we did add this language. We have been talking to some of the policy folks. There is still no indication on how they are going to address this. They are fighting off this (election) contest that the Trump administration does not want to give up (power). And some of his Republican colleagues. We will be talking to them about opening up the border.”

During the conference call, Cuellar spoke about a news story he had read about activity on the U.S.-Canadian border. 

“It is pretty innovative, expensive but innovative. As you know, border (COVID-19) restrictions only apply to land. But, if you have the resources to fly there are no restrictions,” Cuellar said.

“So, what the Canadians are doing now is, they have some helicopter companies that are flying people from Canada over to the U.S. They cannot be stopped and some of them are snowbirds that go off to California. So they will ship their cars over to the U.S. side. So, they will fly in by helicopter and they are able to avoid the land border restrictions.”

Cuellar wondered aloud if some enterprising helicopter firm on the U.S.-Mexico border might offer a similar service.

“I will be interested if the Mexicanos… if someone will come up with that idea to start getting people from Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Matamoros, Monterrey and other places. They just fly over the river via a helicopter,” Cuellar said.

“So, if there are any entrepreneurs there, there is a little business idea that the Americans and the Canadians are using at this time to avoid the land border restrictions.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez was on the conference call. He joked that on the South Texas-Mexico border they have kites rather than helicopters.

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