LAREDO, Texas – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar have been urged to help get U.S.-Mexico international bridges re-opened to so-called “non-essential” travel.

The calls came at a meeting the pair held at Texas A&M International University in Laredo last Friday. The meeting was called to discuss a surge in asylum-seekers arriving at the southwest border. 

Non-essential travel is classified as non-business related. Such travel at land ports of entry has been suspended since March 17, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Non-business travel between the U.S. and Mexico via air has continued throughout the pandemic.

Supporters of re-opening land ports of entry to visa holders from Mexico argue that such visitors can be tested as they enter the United States. 

“I will say that we have taken an official position in terms non-essential travel and (we are) looking to have that suspension lifted,” said Cliffe Killam, chairman of Laredo Chamber of Commerce and a partner of Killam Development, Ltd.

“The business community believes it is very important to have folks from Mexico be here, spending money. There are also many folks that are business people that need to be here who are not considered, quote, unquote, essential. I would appreciate your support to move that forward,” Killam told Cornyn and Cuellar. “It has a huge impact on Laredo and the other border communities.”

Like Killam, Henry Sauvignet, vice president of International Bank of Commerce, was also asked to speak at the Cornyn-Cuellar event.

“If we can work with processing the people on the border, for asylum purposes, and humanitarian purposes, we also need to help the communities open up in terms of the non-essential crosses,” Sauvignet said. 

“This is the lifeline of many of our border cities in terms of business and how things work. I think we can do both at the same time. In fact, we have to multi-task. That is very important.”

Mayor of Eagle Pass Luis C. Sifuentes was one of two mayors to speak at the Cornyn-Cuellar event. He said keeping land ports of entry closed to visa holders from Mexico was hurting the border economy.

 “Right now, what is really hurting us… I do not understand how you can catch and release and you can’t let our neighbors across the border come and help us with our economy, our commerce. That is what is hurting our community more than anything else right now,” Sifuentes said. 

“I know it is happening here in Laredo and all across the border. Before they start catch and release, they need to let our neighbors come over and do a little spending so our economy can get back on track.”

The other mayor to speak at the Cornyn-Cuellar event was Laredo’s Pete Saenz.

In the audience at the Cornyn-Cuellar event was veteran broadcaster and public policy advocate Ron Whitlock. He told the Rio Grande Guardian that Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent proclamation that Texas is “100 percent open for business” is not the case along the border.

“As Governor Abbott is now confident Texas no longer needs statewide mandates on face masks, distancing and restaurant capacities to deter the spread of COVID, it is clearly time to reopen our bridges,” Whitlock said.

“It has been a year. A year where our retail stores and hotels have lost the custom of our friends and neighbors from Mexico. A year where our families have been split. Enough already. We have a plan to test visitors for COVID as they cross our bridges. So, now is the time to put an end to this sorry chapter in Texas-Mexico border history.”

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