MCALLEN, Texas – The City of McAllen has suffered a huge drop in Mexican shoppers and tourists as a result of the federal government’s travel ban on the southern border.

The ban on “non-essential” travel has been in place since late March and shows no sign of being lifted. Ostensibly, the ban was imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling believes politics is at play.

“Our bridge traffic is really down. We are 80 percent down, vehicular. Pedestrians, 90 percent down. Primarily because of the federal government’s restriction,” Darling said, during a board meeting of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

Darling said he and other Rio Grande Valley leaders have tried to get the federal government re-open land ports of entry to “non-essential” travel.

“We have been trying to change it. But that is not going to happen. We think it is ridiculous that you can fly into Austin or fly into Washington, D.C., and not be an essential traveler from Mexico but you cannot cross a bridge. You go explain that to me. I just don’t understand it.”

Darling said Valley leaders had proposed an alternative to having the international bridges closed.

“We made an attempt to say that the checkpoint at Falfurrias should be the new border. If they don’t want people coming across they should let them come across (into the Rio Grande Valley) for commerce,” Darling explained.

“From a health standpoint there is no indication that people coming from Mexico were causing problems, from the health standpoint.”

Darling said another alternative to blocking tourists and shoppers is to screen them as they cross an international bridge.

“CBP do a good job on the bridge in screening people. In fact they have turned people back, even essential service people that don’t look healthy,” Cuellar said.

“So, there is no reason for it except politics. And because of that we don’t anticipate that being lifted until at least after the election.”

Darling pointed out that the federal government has been extending the travel ban on a monthly basis, usually around the 21st of each month.

“They just keep extending it for 30 days. We don’t think that is going to change so we think bridge traffic will continue to be disrupted.”

Juan Olaguibel

Juan Olaguibel, superintendent of bridges for the City of McAllen, also spoke at the McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting.

“To add to what the mayor said, since the travel restrictions were imposed back in March we have experienced a decrease in vehicular traffic,” Olaguibel said.

“Approximately, 800,000 less cars than last year. And a decrease in pedestrian traffic of approximately 484,000 less pedestrians than last year.”

Olaguibel said McAllen has been informed by CBP that the border travel restrictions were put in place in order to slow the spread of COVID.

“We have been working with other bridges along the U.S. (southern) border and through the Border Trade Alliance and this is to get Homeland Security to provide us with a plan of action to reopen the southern border,” Olaguibel said. 

“Our argument is the State of Texas did it (its reopening of the economy) in phases and we made ourselves available to collaborate, working on a plan of action to reopen the southern border (in phases also), if given the opportunity.”

Olaguibel said he did have some good news to share.

“On a good note, there is a project at Anzalduas that adds two additional vehicular lanes to the Anzalduas port of entry. It is at the final stages and we should be fully operational within the next 30 days,” Olaguibel said.

“What this will do is, it is going to add two additional vehicular lanes to the port of entry, so it is going to go from four to six. And, on top of that, CBP has gotten hold of some of the latest NII, non-intrusive technology, that is meant to have cars processed through the bridge a lot faster than at other ports.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

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