BROWNSVILLE, Texas – The new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico says he will ask the White House to get behind efforts to provide Covid-19 vaccines to Mexican nationals at the Roma, Rio Grande City and Brownsville land ports of entry.

Ken Salazar, a former U.S. secretary of the interior under President Obama and U.S. Senator for Colorado, was in the Rio Grande Valley this week on a fact-finding mission. He visited the Border Patrol’s operations at the Donna International Bridge, and talked to local leaders in Brownsville and Matamoros.

Salazar gave his commitment to help vaccine disbursement pilot programs in Starr and Cameron counties in response to a question by Valley public policy advocate and broadcaster Ron Whitlock.

Leaders in Starr and Cameron counties want to give Covid-19 vaccines to Mexican nationals at their land ports of entry so they can cross into the U.S. and shop once the international bridges are reopened on Nov. 9. The bridges have been closed to so-called “non-essential” travelers since March 2020 in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Ron Whitlock
Ron Whitlock

Asked by Whitlock if he would support pilot programs at the land ports of entry in Brownsville, Rio Grande City and Roma, Salazar said: “We need to move forward with those kinds of programs, understanding the reality of the pandemic and what we are trying to do with vaccinations. There is no doubt that President Biden’s heart and mind… he carries in his heart the fact that 700,000 plus Americans have dies because of this pandemic. That is a number that should not escape anybody’s mind and heart.”

Salazar said Covid-19 vaccines “have been doing a great job to stem the deaths that are occurring or have occurred.” Salazar said Biden was doing everything within his power to push the vaccine within the United States.

“In Mexico, we the United States have been very proud to have assisted with the vaccination effort. The United States has delivered now over ten million vaccines into Mexico and we coordinate closely with the Mexican government on the vaccinations,” Salazar said.

“And the statistics on the number of people on the Mexican side along the border who have received the vaccine is high.”

Salazar said he did not have the exact percentages to hand on how many residents on Mexico’s northern border have been vaccinated. He said he would get these numbers to Whitlock.

“It is a high rate of vaccination. I will give you one statistic that is to me, telling. Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the entire world, has achieved a vaccination rate now of over 90 percent,” Salazar told Whitlock. “So, both governments understand the importance of vaccinations. I will ask my staff to take back your specific idea because it is operational and see if whether there is a way in which we can help.”

Whitlock has been working hard to get the Brownsville pilot program up and running. He envisions Matamoros residents who possess a visa to cross in the United States but have not been vaccinated being allowed to cross into the U.S. via the Gateway Bridge, be given a wristband and asked to get vaccinated at the old HEB store in downtown Brownsville. 

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

Whitlock provided an impressive list of big name supporters for the pilot program in Brownsville. The list included U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez, former Cameron County Judge and now Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, Majestic Theater owner and real estate agent Larry Jokl, IBC Bank President Dennis Nixon, Dr. Belinda Reininger of UT-Houston Health Science Center in Brownsville, Cameron County Judge and Texas Border Coalition President Eddie Treviño, former governor of Rotary Club International Andy Hagen, Brownsville Fire Chief Jarrett Sheldon, and Brownsville Public Health Director, Dr. Arturo Rodríguez.

In addition to Ambassador Salazar, the latest supporter of the pilot program is U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen Gonzalez is running for election in the Brownsville-anchored Congressional District 34.

“We need to do it (vaccinate Mexican border residents) in general. We cannot fully inoculate ourselves until we inoculate them,” Gonzalez told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service. “That will make opening up our bridges even safer. We need our friends and neighbors and families to the south to be just as safe as we are. We have been talking about using the vaccine for diplomacy. We need to start with our neighbors.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar with Matamoros radio broadcaster Eduardo Gallegos. The photo was taken by Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Brownsville.

Editor’s Note: An article about the efforts of key groups in Starr County to get a Covid-19 vaccination pilot program up and running at the Roma and Rio Grande City land ports of entry will be included in our next edition. 

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