LAREDO, Texas – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar is predicting a great Christmas for border communities now that the land ports of entry are being re-opened to Mexican visa holders.

Mexican nationals who do not work in so-called “essential” industries have been prevented from crossing via land ports into the United States since March 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, however, the international bridges between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada will be open to “non-essential” travelers from Nov. 8, provided they can prove they have been fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by the World Health Organization. This decision was announced by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas last week.

“Whether it is downtown Laredo or downtown in any part of the border, this basically means that they will get their shoppers back. Which means this will be a very good Christmas,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar, D-Laredo, made his remarks in a webinar he hosted immediately following DHS’s reopening the bridges announcement.

“First of all, I got a call from the White House last night. I got a call from the secretary of homeland security, Mayorkas, early this morning. I have a call with the acting commissioner, Troy Miller, about some of the details. But I can tell you the details are being worked out right now,” Cuellar said in his introduction to the webinar.

Troy Miller is the acting commissioner for Customs and Border Protection.

Cuellar said there are two aspects to the DHS decision or reopening the bridges. The first impacts so-called non-essential travelers from Mexico.

“If they have proof of the (Covid-19) vaccine they will be able to come into the United States. That means tourism, family members can see their family members or come shop. That will open up,” Cuellar said.

The second aspect of the new ruling kicks in in January, Cuellar said.

“Anybody coming in to the U.S., any foreigner, which means, of course, Canadians, but for us, Mexicans, essential and non-essential, will have to show proof of (Covid-19) vaccines,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said the DHS decision is a huge boost for border communities.

“What does this mean for us? It means (good news) on two fronts, economics and family. Before the pandemic we were getting 18 million Mexicans that would come in and spend $19 billion.”

Later, when Mayorkas announced the exact date the border bridges would reopen, Cuellar issued this statement:

“November 8will be the day when fully vaccinated non-essential travelers will be allowed to enter the U.S. through our land and ferry ports. I want to thank the White House for their thoughtfulness in this decision. I have been fighting for this for months and now we finally have an exact date on which our border businesses will once again receive Mexican consumers and families will be reunited after 19 months. I am currently working with local authorities on both sides of the border to ensure that when that day comes, we have the resources necessary to ensure the safety of all American citizens.”

Cuellar added: On November 8, our local economies will be reinvigorated and our path back to normality will be set. With the date fast approaching, I will work tirelessly with the relevant federal, state, and local entities so that we are prepared to receive foreign nationals through our land POEs from a personnel, equipment, and technology standpoint. I will continue to promote and facilitate vaccination campaigns on both the U.S. and Mexican sides.”

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz was on the webinar. He said he was “ecstatic” about the DHS announcement.

“It is really great news for the border area,” Saenz said. “So many businesses have been impacted heavily, in the downtown area specifically. They depend so heavily on the Mexican shoppers. So, we are ecstatic and are hopeful that… we are just waiting for that date so we can see those tourists and shoppers come to our city.”

Saenz said 30 to 40 percent of Laredo’s sales tax comes from Mexican shoppers. “And the families (have been affected). Laredo and Nuevo Laredo and the region are so closely connected, family-wise. It is going to mean lots of hugs and kisses and a lot of celebrations locally.”

Gabriela Morales

Laredo Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board Michael Marasco, and incoming President and CEO Gabriela Morales issued the following statement:

“According to a statement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, fully vaccinated travelers from Canada and Mexico will be allowed to enter the United States for non-essential purposes including to visit friends and family or for tourism.

“The Laredo Chamber of Commerce applauds the decision to reopen the border and welcomes back those who have been long awaiting to fulfill their consumer needs. As a border city, the importance of this announcement and its economic impact is clear as it has been businesses in border cities across Texas who have felt the brunt of the global pandemic’s financial wrath. Reports show that retail sales in border cities across Texas have dropped 60% since the closing of the border. This week’s announcement by Secretary Mayorkas will bring us one step closer to being able to build back better.

“However, while this week’s announcement brings increased optimism, what it does not bring is the guaranteed prospect of increased consumerism. Governments can open the doors of nations to travelers in, but it is incumbent upon us as business owners to bring those travelers through the doors of our businesses. We cannot afford to assume that commerce will flow to us by default. It is up to us as retailers and providers of goods and services that we capitalize on this moment. We must make every outreach and promotional effort to ensure those consumers do choose Laredo over any other city.

“Over the coming weeks we invite businesses and the entire community to think about how, together, we can take advantage of this opportunity to rebuild and reshape the economy of our city. Let’s also think about inventories and how we can prepare for the upcoming holiday season. And lastly, let’s partner up with each other, ensuring that collaboration and unification will lead us to the economic recovery results we have been desperately seeking for the last nineteen months. The Chamber is here to support members and non-members alike.”

Marasco and Morales said businesses can request a meeting with a Laredo Chamber of Commerce representative by calling (956) 722-9895.

Editor’s Note: The attached podcast includes comments made during the webinar by Congressman Henry Cuellar, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, Rio Grande City public relations specialist Angelina Villarreal, and Starr-Camargo International Bridge owner Sam Vale.

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