At a recent news conference at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez took umbrage at a question I asked about reopening our international bridges.

I asked whether denying Mexican visa holders the opportunity to come and shop in the Rio Grande Valley was political. After all, these visa holders have been allowed to come into the United States unhindered via air. But, those wishing to cross using our international bridges have been denied entry for a whole year.

Gonzalez said it was not political. That it was still to do with COVID-19. That such visitors might bring the coronavirus with them. However, as McAllen Mayor Jim Darling pointed out in a recent interview, migrants currently crossing the Rio Grande have a lower percentage rate of COVID than the statewide average in Texas. There is no reason to think Mexican nationals would be any different. 

Indeed, Mayor Darling also speculated that the reason Mexican shoppers and tourists are still being denied entry is down to politics. Here is what he told me:

“Our bridge traffic is down more than50 percent. One of the reasons is because it is supposed to be based on health, on COVID. But if you look at the people that the federal government is letting go across, from Central America, and you look at their COVID rates, which we have to do because we are the ones testing them, they are running about two or three percent. That rate is not any more significant than the statewide rate or the county rate for testing. Some people say, they are only testing symptomatic people. That is not true. I think the rate is pretty close. So, there is no rational basis for health purposes, not to let non-essential Mexican shoppers and tourists come and travel in our area. 

“They (the federal government) does not give us an analysis of why they keep extending the ban. It would be nice to know what exactly it is. It is supposed to be due to health and I do not see the statistics to back this up. I don’t think they have the statistics, to tell you the truth.”

Mayor Darling believes it is patently unfair to let Mexican visa holders come into the United States via air yet deny them this opportunity over our land ports. 

“The Monterrey shoppers are flying in, they are flying in all over the country. Why is that okay and yet you cannot let people come across the bridge? The only thing I can think of is it is a political thing. The Biden Administration is not afraid of undoing a lot of Trump’s policies. This is another one they ought to undo,” Mayor Darling said.

I asked a number of other leaders in the Rio Grande Valley for their view on our bridges remaining closed. South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty was as forthright as ever. “It is insane,” he said. 

Lydia Caballero, a new member on the South Padre Island city council, said she felt sorry for the Mexican nationals that own property on the island.

“Governor Abbott opened up the state of Texas and we are all getting vaccinated. So it is time to open up the border,” Caballero said. “I would like to point out that Mexican nationals that own property on South Padre Island have not been able to utilize their property for over a year. So, they are paying taxes but being denied the use of their property. To me, this is very concerning. If I were a Mexican national I would say, well, let me go find someplace else where I can buy property and enjoy.”

Like Darling, Caballero said it is unjust that Mexican visitors who can afford to fly into the United States have been able to do so, but pedestrians and those coming by car have not. “That is not fair,” she said.

Former Cameron County Judge and Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos agreed.

“Keeping our bridges closed makes absolutely no sense. It continues to impact the economy of every single border community,” Cascos told me.

“To suggest that keeping our bridges closed is somehow curbing the spread of COVID 19, while allowing thousands of undocumented immigrants to cross and be taken to other parts of our state is ludicrous.”

The biggest hospitality provider in the Rio Grande Valley is hotel owner Barry Patel. He, too, cannot understand why the international bridges of South Texas are not open.

“The cross-border economy is huge for the Rio Grande Valley. We didn’t close the borders after 9/11 but imposed new procedures. We should do the same with this pandemic. Open the border with Mexico but have COVID testing and help with vaccines,” Patel said.

“Texas’ biggest trading partner is Mexico and we cannot sustain a shutdown of the border for too long.”

Former McAllen City Commissioner John Ingram recently returned from Mexico. His experience was illuminating.

“Two weeks ago, on our our way back from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we were required to spend $140 on a COVID test before ostensibly re-entering the U.S., even though we were fully vaccinated with proof from the CDC,” Ingram, an attorney, said.

“It is the epitome of hypocrisy to have wide open borders to those with no credentials whatsoever and no medical testing during a pandemic while those with every right to enter, like passport holding American citizens, and Mexicans with visas cannot.”

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by veteran South Texas broadcaster and public affairs advocate Ron Whitlock. The column appears in The Rio Grande Valley with the permission of the author. Whitlock can be reached by email via: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows pedestrians crossing from Mexico to Texas at the Hidalgo International Bridge, on Friday, March 20, 2020, in Hidalgo, Texas. This was the day President Donald Trump announced the U.S.-Mexico border will be closed to nonessential travel to further help stem the spread of the coronavirus. The bridges have not been open to Mexican visa holders since. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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