MISSION, Texas – State Sen. Juan Hinojosa says Gov. Greg Abbott can and is helping to get the international bridges fully open in South Texas so the border economy can rebound.

Land ports of entry on the northern and southern borders have been closed to “non-essential” travel since late March. The U.S., Mexico and Canada governments have argues that this has stopped the spread of COVID-19. But the travel ban has hurt the South Texas border economy, with shoppers and tourists unable to cross from Mexico to frequent local shops, restaurants and hotels.

Hinojosa, D-McAllen, spoke about the travel ban during a news conference with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar last week. Cuellar, D-Laredo, has been promoting a plan to let local communities decide whether they want their international bridges re-opened.

“I think Governor Abbott works very well with President Trump in terms of the needs that we have along the border,” Hinojosa said, in response to a question from a reporter.

“What we would like to see is people coming across, back from Mexico, to be taking their temperature, asking questions, making sure they have not had a fever, ask if have they had any contact with somebody else that may have been infected. So, there are different ways and protocols that can be set in place. Working with the federal government to try to protect and minimize any person coming across the bridge.”

Despite the travel ban, undocumented immigrants are still crossing the Rio Grande, only not via the land ports of entry, the senator explained.

“Right now we have people coming across from Mexico that are undocumented, coming across the river. So, we have a lot of challenges. But, I think, quite frankly we need to start to have a focus on how to manage some of those challenges we have. Otherwise, our economy will continue to not function the way it should be.”

Asked if Abbott is engaged on getting the land ports re-opened to so-called “non-essential” travel, Hinojosa said:

“I think he is involved. Governor Abbott is a very active governor, he gets involved on issues across the board, and certainly he pays a lot of attention to us on the border, He has visited the Valley more than any other governor in history of Texas. He is very focused on the needs that we have in the Valley.”

Cuellar: We can protect lives and livelihoods

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

Rep. Cuellar, D-Laredo, also spoke about the travel ban at the news conference. He was hoping the Trump administration would relax the rules in October. His plan involves both Customs and Border Protection and local cities or counties installing health screening operations as visitors crossed the land ports. 

“Although I wish they would open up today, keep in mind, look at the tweet, it says we are working on the safety criteria, No.1,” Cuellar said, referencing a tweet from the Department of Homeland Security.

“No. 2. We want to support our border communities so I see some light at the end of the tunnel. And remember, every local community could say yes or no. Remember, two checks, CBP will do their own internal protocols inside the bridge and a city can do whatever it wants to do.”

Cuellar said officials in his home city are already preparing two install health screening operations at their land ports.

“In Laredo, I have already mentioned, they are going to do the temperatures, give the orders in Spanish, make sure they have masks, and they are going to do sample random testing, rapid testing,” Cuellar said.

“Every community does what it wants to, and the CARES Act can be used for some of that also. And as we do a second (COVID-19 reliefs package) one there should be some monies available.”

Cuellar noted that the travel ban has not extended to “non-essential” travel between the United States, Mexico and Canada via air. He said this makes no sense.

“Though I would have preferred that the Department of Homeland Security partially ease the restrictions on non-essential travel on October 21, I am grateful to see that for the first time, DHS is now working closely with Mexico and Canada to identify safe critter to ease the restrictions in the future and support our border communities,” Cuellar said, in a statement.

“I thank Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan and their team for recognizing the dynamics at the border.”

Cuellar said: “I m encouraged that DHS was currently working in partnership with local governments along the border to establish and implement a community-based program to partially ease COVID-19 travel restrictions for “non-essential” travelers at land ports of entry.”

Cuellar said his office is working with DHS to develop a plan that balances the health of  individuals and the health of the border economy.”

“I am hopeful that DHS will continue to engage with us so we can develop a community-backed strategy that focuses on our shared interest in protecting the lives and livelihoods of border communities.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows state Sen. Juan Hinojosa at a news conference held Oct. 20, 2020, at the Center for Education & Economic Development in Mission, Texas.

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