WASHINGTON, D.C. – The travel ban on so-called non-essential travel between the U.S. and Mexico has been “devastating” for many businesses on the border. 

This is the assessment of Hector Cerna, IBC Bank’s president for the Eagle Pass market.

“All along the Texas-Mexico border, hundreds of small businesses have shuttered and that is because they were deprived of their customer base, resulting from the so-called non-essential travel ban,” Cerna said.

“We believe it is completely arbitrary and very disappointing. Many small businesses will not reopen. They are gone for good. It is sad to tour our border and central business district because the retail and the commercial sectors have less than 50 percent occupancies.”

Cerna made his remarks during a panel discussion at last week’s 7th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border, hosted by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

The travel ban for people who are not deemed to work in essential services was imposed in March 2020. It was implemented by both the U.s. and Mexican governments to stop the spread of Covid-19 in border communities. However, since then the Texas economy has been fully reopened, leaving the border region the only part of the state with travel restrictions. 

“The restrictions have extended now for 17 consecutive months and the frustration levels have exploded,” said Cerna. The bank president argued that uncertainty over when land ports of entry will be reopened to Mexican visa holders is hampering investment.

“In many cases, 60, 70, percent of our economic base is on the Mexican side. Perhaps challenging is not the right word. It was devastating. It was devastating to our local economy,” Cerna said.

The IBC executive said it is incredible that the Biden Administration has not announced the metrics to be used to determine when land ports of entry can be reopened to Mexican visa holders.

“After so many months the administration hasn’t announced a plan. How can businesses operate with the uncertainty when you know that a significant portion of your business isn’t allowed to reach your place of business?” Cerna asked.

“The reality is we need to open the border, reopen the U.S.-Mexico border, it is killing our economies here. We rely heavily on Mexican shoppers and consumers.”

Cerna would like the Biden Administration to listen to and work with the private sector as it develops the metrics for re-opening border bridges.

“We understand what it is like to live and work on the U.S.-Mexico border. The government creates the mess. We have to deal with it. We ought to be able to sit at the table,” he said. 

Cerna said he and his IBC colleagues like to say that living on the U.S.-Mexico border is truly unique. 

“We live in communities that happen to be in two different countries. We say one city, two countries. Our social, our cultural, and economic ties are intertwined and it is quite common for people to live in one country and work in the other and yet we live in the same community. It is common for siblings to work and shop and worship in different countries yet we live in the same community. One city, two countries,” Cerna said.

U.S. policies towards security and health and safety at the border are not consistent, Cerna argued. 

“It is completely incongruent for the administration to allow travelers from Mexico and other countries to fly into the United States, into U.S. airports, yet not allow folks to enter the U.S. via land ports. What is the difference?”  Cerna asked.

Cerna said double standards were being applied to Mexican visa holders, as compared to those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from other parts of the world.

“Quite frankly (look at) the irony, given the surge of migrants crossing the border illegally. And it is driven by the U.S. asylum laws (which) allow those migrants to seek safety once they have touched U.S. soil. At that point they are legal asylum seekers and are issued a permit to stay. Yet, those who have been vetted by our government and have entry visas and live in these communities are precluded from entering,” Cerna said.

“So, I believe we can agree that our immigration system is broken and in reality, the problem isn’t the southern border it is really Washington. Congressman Cuellar mentioned this yesterday. We must thoroughly modernize the U.S. immigration and asylum laws and really adequately address the workforce needs of our economy, immediately.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo delivered the keynote address on day one of the virtual conference.

Cerna added: “The border travel restrictions that were talked about earlier for so-called non-essential travel have created significant challenges for everyday life on the border communities.”

Editor’s Note: To watch the two-day 7th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border conference hosted by the Mexico Institute and sponsored by the Border Trade Alliance, click here.

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