BROWNSVILLE, Texas – The Texas Border Coalition is taking a different stance to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar when it comes to re-opening the Texas-Mexico border to Mexican visa holders.

While Cuellar favors merely a modification to the current restricted travel orders, the TBC wants the Trump administration to let them fully expire on June 22.

TBC represents cities, counties, economic development groups and private organizations from El Paso to Brownsville. It is chaired by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr. 

In a news release, TBC said it is urging federal officials to allow current restrictions on non-essential travel between the U.S., Mexico and Canada to expire on June 22, 2020, “now that federal and state governments have begun to ease COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders.”

Cameron County Judge and Texas Border Coalition Chairman Eddie Treviño, Jr.

In a letter sent to to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, Treviño wrote: “As the United States and state governments work toward easing stay-at-home restrictions, foreign travel suspensions limiting entry to the U.S. have not seen a similar easing. We must protect minority-owned small businesses, cross border trade, and the influence of daily travelers between our countries who invest in binational commerce through the goods and services they acquire. The pandemic has put a halt to this critical exchange of business and has left border cities economically paralyzed.”

Treviño pointed out that the temporary travel restrictions were put in place in March by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) based on a health risk designation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“These temporary restrictions apply to individuals traveling by land from Mexico or Canada whose travel is not essential. The orders permit essential travel (U.S. citizens and permanent residents returning to the U.S., medical travel, work-related travel, school-related travel, and travel by those engaged in cross-border trade) that recognizes the strong economic importance of travel and commerce among the U.S., Mexico and Canada,” the TBC news release states.

TBC noted that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been reopening Texas for over a month in a multi-phased manner. “The state stay-home order expired on April 30 and Texas has been gradually allowing business operations to restart. In the current Phase III of reopening, which began on June 3, Abbott’s orders provide for reopening a wide range of commercial and tourist activities including offices, manufacturing, retail stores, restaurants, museums, malls, movie theaters, food courts, zoos, rodeos, and water and amusement parks.”

Treviño noted that Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced on June 1 Mexico’s return to a new normal, as the nation began to ease restrictions, including nationwide social distancing limitations. Mexican officials announced that more than 5,000 companies have implemented protocols that would allow them to reopen critical operations.

“As Texas and Mexico lift restrictions based on improved health results, the basis for the orders restricting non-essential cross-border travel appear ripe for expiration,” Treviño said. ”If they are further implemented, these will cause border communities and businesses to suffer economically, more than they already have due to the COVID-19 crisis.”

U. S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo

TBC suggests re-opening land ports of entry with sufficient lanes to maintain traffic flow and a full complement of CBP staff that are adequately outfitted with personal protective equipment.

“The sound and expeditious operations at our land ports will ensure that individuals are able to contribute to our binational economy in a rapid manner,” Treviño said. “We need people conducting crucial commercial activities, not waiting in line at the international ports of entry.”

Cuellar, D-Laredo, gave his views on re-opening the border at a “virtual” news conference held recently in Palmview. 

“I certainly want to take into account what our experts say on both sides. We used to have, before all this hit, there were about 18 million Mexicanos that would come over as tourists a year and they would spend over $19 billion dollars a year. Whether it was a hotel, a restaurant or a mall, or whatever, it was a lot of money. And I know I have a lot of folks along the border that have asked me, when are we going to lift this because their businesses are hurting, unless you are in the essential trade aspect of it,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said the U.S. and Mexican governments will have to take a close look at the health situation as June 22 gets closer.

“We can extend it to July 22, another month, or we look at some sort of modification to this (current) border crossing restriction. If the health experts tell us we can do some modification, I think we can do that because, they will not allow the tourists in but they could go to the stores or restaurants. We are starting to open up our restaurants, our stores, they might be at 25 percent capacity. This is my personal opinion.”

Cuellar added: “I am willing to tell the CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan that we need to start looking at that possibility but again we have got to make sure we work it with our Mexican friends when we talk about the health. The balance between the health of the individual and the health of the economy is pretty difficult. It is a delicate balance. But, in my opinion, I think we need to look at making a modification to this border restriction crossing that will come up on June 22. Just my personal opinion.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Mexican health workers checking the health condition of U.S. visitors as they cross into Mexico.

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