LAREDO, Texas – South Texas Congressmen Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez have given their opinions on when the U.S.-Mexico land ports to entry will be reopened to so-called “non-essential” travel.

Gonzalez said he believes the bridges will be reopened to tourists and shoppers within the first quarter of 2021. The McAllen Democrat said he has been working on a plan to reopen with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Cuellar said a plan he developed with Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner Mark Morgan is in place which would see pedestrians and those in passenger vehicles screened for the coronavirus as they cross into the United States. The Laredo Democrat said they are just waiting for an “OK” from the White House.

Tourists and shoppers have been blocked from crossing the border since March 21 in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. All trade is considered essential so trucks have moved across the international bridges uninterrupted throughout the pandemic.

Gonzalez and Cuellar gave their views in separate webinars. 

Asked by McAllen Chamber of Commerce Vice President Gerry Garcia when shoppers from Mexico might be able to revisit the Rio Grande Valley, Gonzalez said:

“We are expecting that to happen in the first quarter of next year. We have created a plan with Senator Cornyn’s office on how to start the opening. I discussed this with the chamber the other day. We are probably going to be taking temperatures. We have kicked around the idea of having them tested at credible labs that we know of in Mexico where they show up with their recently taken coronavirus exam that they can show customs officers,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he was taking an optimistic view.

“I think vaccinations are getting around our country and getting around Mexico so you are going to see more mass vaccinations across the border and I think eventually the population being inoculated (it will be) easier to travel and just socialize. So, I am optimistic that in the first quarter of next year we are going to start seeing non-essential travel coming back across the border. It is not going to be flip of the switch, it is going to be in phases but I anticipate that by the end of the first quarter they (the bridges) will hopefully be open.”

In a separate webinar, Cuellar was asked about the reopening of the bridges to “non-essential” travel by WOAI San Antonio reporter Mike Board. Cuellar does not the like the term “non-essential.” He argues shoppers and tourists from Mexico are essential to the South Texas border economy.

“I am in constant contact with CBP commissioner Mark Morgan. In fact, I talked to him a couple of days ago about it again. And, as you know, he and I worked out language on how we can open up the border, city by city, and everything is in place,” Cuellar said.

“What we are seeing is the administration just… they say, we are almost there, we are almost there, but I think it is not going to happen until after the 20th of January when there is a new president. And then we can start talking to the new one.”

Cuellar noted that San Antonio has been negatively impacted by the closure of the in international bridges in South Texas.

“I have talked to a lot of folks up there and you guys get a lot of folks from Mexico. I spoke to the commissioner (Morgan) just a few days ago to wish him a Merry Christmas and he said, we are ready to go but we are waiting to get an okay.”

The other factor that needs to be considered, Cuellar said, is Mexico’s stance.

“Mexico still has to give the okay. Mayor Saenz was with me when we spoke to Marcelo Ebrard and he said, yes, we can move on this idea,” Cuellar said, speaking about the coronavirus testing plan he has developed with CBP’s Morgan and referring to Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz and Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.

Cuellar then offered his own opinion on why Mexico keeps saying ‘no’ to reopening the border. 

“This is my own opinion: Mexico is hurting so I don’t think they want their people, when their own economy is hurting, I don’t think they want their own people to go outside of Mexico and spend money in the U.S. They would rather have them spend it inside. So, there is self-interest in different areas.”

Cuellar added: “As the commissioner said, we have the plan to open this up. It is all a matter of getting somebody to say ‘yes’ in the White House. Until they get that ‘yes’ from the White House… I really think it is going to be after the 20th of January and we certainly want to talk to the new (Biden) administration about it, but everything is in place to open it in a safe way that will work.”

Laredo City Manager Robert A. Eads was on the webinar with Cuellar. 

“We have been working for months with our partners, with CBP and other stakeholders, to get the bridge open when feasible and when it makes sense,” Eads said.

“Operationally, we have been working hand in hand (with CBP). We would do certain things as they would be crossing by foot as pedestrians, or even some sort of check system as they are coming through in their vehicles.”

Eads said Laredo has seen a drop in business at the international bridges of 40-plus percentage points. 

“We have put in proposed mitigation efforts that CBP had agreed to, doing checks with individuals coming in, temperature checks, all these visual, operational, things so we would be able to provide more information,” Eads said.

“It s a concern for us all, economically. We have seen a big impact, at least ten million dollars. We are ready to go. We have been planning for this. As soon as we get the green light.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows pedestrians crossing the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge before the bridge was closed to tourists and shoppers.

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