MCALLEN, Texas – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling does not think U.S.-Mexico ports of entry will be reopened to “non-essential” travel until the Biden Administration comes into office.
On Thursday, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, confirmed that travel restrictions that have been in place since mid-March will be extended for another month, until Dec. 21. The travel ban was imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“In order to continue to prevent the spread of COVID, the US, Mexico, and Canada will extend the restrictions on non-essential travel through Dec 21. We are working closely with Mexico and Canada to keep essential trade and travel open while also protecting our citizens from the virus,” Wolf said, via Twitter on Thursday.
Darling gave his assessment at a virtual board meeting of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, also on Thursday. However, his remarks came before Wolf’s announcement.
“We have been trying to get the non-essential travel lifted from the bridge, the prohibition lifted. We have been contact with the health department,” Darling said.
Darling made the point that there has not been any outbreaks of COVID-19 as a result of essential workers crossing into the United States from Mexico. Essential travel consists of commerce and truck traffic. Non-essential is defined as shoppers, tourists and those crossing into the United States to visit family.
“We do not see any particular outbreaks of essential travelers between Mexico and the United States having COVID. We never had any particular problems even with the huge spread in Hidalgo County,” Darling said
“We think it is a political solution. We have been talking to our consultants in Washington. It does not look like the lift is going to happen in December and probably won’t be lifted until January and the new administration.”
The Biden Administration will take office on Jan. 20, 2021.
Juan Olaguibel, superintendent of bridges for the City of McAllen, also spoke at the McAllen EDC board meeting. Olaguibel said the ban on “non-essential” travel has led to a big slump in Mexican visitors.
“Travel across the bridges is down over 60 percent. And travelers using the bridges today are U.S. citizens and resident aliens,” Olaguibel said.
“As Mayor Darling stated, travel restrictions, although there is nothing official yet, due to the spoke of COVID cases in United States, the restrictions are probably going to be extended another 30 days. That would put us through Dec. 21. We will hear more officially about that tomorrow.”
Olaguibel’s prediction proved correct. However, the announcement that the travel ban was being extended came from Wolf on Thursday, not Friday.
Olaguibel pointed out that Tamaulipas health workers are no longer conducting temperature checks on U.S. visitors crossing into Mexico.
The announcement that the travel ban has been extended another month will likely anger U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar. The Laredo Democrat had a plan in place that would have allowed Mexican shoppers and tourists to cross into the United States if they successfully negotiated health screenings at the ports of entry. Cuellar said the plan had the blessing of Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan.
“The commissioner and I worked out the language. It is already in place to go. Every community says yes or no. If you feel COVID is pretty high, then you do not have to open up. I can tell you, there are cities like Laredo that have been ready, months ago,” Cuellar said, at a recent town hall meeting in Mission.
“Just like here, they (Laredo) have got businesses that depend 50 to 75 percent from these people from Mexico. Washington calls them non-essential, I call them very essential.”
Cuellar pointed out that before the coronavirus pandemic struck, the U.S. would get over 18 million Mexican visitors.
“They would come into the U.S. and go and spend money in hotels, restaurants, etc. That was over $19 billion spent. All you have to do is go from the middle of March and just count all the months.”
Cuellar reiterated that he had a health screening plan ready to go in land ports of entry.
“We are ready to go. The commissioner and the secretary told me, we are waiting for somebody up here and I said, God? They said, no, the White House. Oh, okay. They are just waiting for the White House.”
McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez asked Cuellar what position the Biden Administration will take on reopening the international bridges to “non-essential” travel.
Cuellar responded: “Hopefully he will not have to take a position. Hopefully it will be open before that.”
Cuellar predicted that many businesses along the border will go bust as a result of the travel ban.
“There are some businesses that are not going to make it. I am telling you. I have seen some businesses where all the employees are gone and it is just the family holding on. You cannot survive on a few sales. We (Congress) can do the PPP (paycheck protection program) but what they need is customers,” Cuellar said.
“I have always said this, we are the United States of America. Are you telling me we cannot open a darn border in a safe manner? Of course we can. CBP, we have talked to them. They are ready to go. They just need somebody to say yes.”
Cuellar said Morgan, the acting CBP commissioner, was in Laredo a few weeks ago.
“He said, we are hoping to do it (open the bridges) in November. We had everything in writing. We are hoping.”
Cuellar’s remarks on the issue followed a series of questions from Carlos Talancon, a former secretary in Gov. Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca’s administration in Tamaulipas.
Responding a question from Talancon, Cuellar said he had met recently with Mexico Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard. “Marcelo, was very positive. I think Mexico is waiting for the U.S. If the US says yes (open the bridges), Mexico will say yes. Canada might be different.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. He spoke at a virtual meeting of McAllen Economic Development Corporation on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
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