McAllen Mayor Jim Darling recently made a suggestion in advocating for fully reopening international bridges.
The border, he said, could have a temporary move to the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint near Falfurrias. Darling made the suggestion somewhat in jest and out of frustration that he and other Rio Grande Valley leaders have been unable to open the crossings to non-essential travel.
“It didn’t go over too well with some folks,” Darling said with a chuckle.
The point Darling was trying to make is that he has seen no conclusive evidence that tourists and visitors from Mexico add to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. He also sees a glaring inconsistency in how travelers deemed as non-essential are allowed to enter under restrictions since March.
“No one has been able to explain to me how someone can fly from Mexico to Austin or Washington D.C., and that be considered non-essential but acceptable, but that same traveler would not be able to cross a bridge,” the mayor said.
Debate and discussion are ongoing since the government’s declaration of limiting the crossing of travelers across its border with Mexico. Only essential traffic, which is deemed as largely being commercial and business, would be allowed to cross.
The restrictions have led to steep declines in vehicular and pedestrian crossings. With it comes drops in retail sales in cities like McAllen and Laredo. Accompanying this is the erosion of sales tax revenues. Political leaders in the Valley and Laredo have generally led the call to at least gradually reopen the bridges to more traffic. El Paso, meanwhile, has not seen the number of COVID-19 cases dramatically increase in recent weeks.
In Darling’s view, this disagreement among border leaders provides further justification for U.S. political leadership in limiting bridge crossings. It has not yet completely stopped some elected officials from trying to revise the traveler restrictions across the bridges.
Congressman Proposes Plan
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, whose district includes part of the Valley, fashioned a proposal this fall that would fully reopen the bridges on a localized basis. The plan would allow local municipalities in conjunction with U.S. Customs & Border Protection to conduct health screenings at bridges. Visitors not displaying COVID symptoms would be allowed to enter the country.
Each municipality would also decide if it wanted to reopen its land ports. Cuellar’s plan appeared to be gaining some momentum in October before running into the bad timing of a U.S. presidential election and a surge in coronavirus cases in Texas. Added to these factors are Mexican government concerns on developments in the United States and possible impacts on its citizens.
“We met with customs officials from Mexico in October and we felt very positive about it,” said Teclo Garcia, a veteran of business recruiting in the Valley and who is currently the director of economic development for the city of Laredo. “When push came to shove, they didn’t want restrictions lifted.
“They don’t want Mexicans going into the U.S. and bringing back COVID,” he said. “Mexico has a higher morbidity rate than we do.”
Darling, meanwhile, said it will take a few more months, at the very least, to see any changes in travel across international bridges.
“I don’t think we’ll see anything change until next year,” the McAllen mayor said. “We’re in a holding pattern.”