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Border & Immigration

Families and communities are reunited as US-Mexico border reopens

U.S. reopens borders to Mexico after closure due to COVID-19 pandemic
JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ/REUTERS
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Lorena Hernandez hugs her daughter Oralia Perez, for the first time since March 2020, after the U.S. reopens its border for people inoculated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), in El Paso, Texas, U.S. November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Ports along the world's busiest land border between the U.S. and Mexico reopened Monday to “non-essential travel” for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

In March 2020, then president Donald Trump restricted travel through U.S. border ports deemed "non-essential" — including tourism, shopping, and visits to see friends and family.

“I felt chills walking across the bridge,” said Gerardo Rosas Reyes, a resident of Ciudad Juarez. All of his siblings live on the U.S. side of the border. “I’ve been crossing the bridge for 45 years,” he said.

Rosas was on the way to visit one of his sisters in El Paso Monday when he stopped to browse a sidewalk rack near the bridge filled with sweatshirts with team logos. He said $12 was a big bargain compared to what he pays in Ciudad Juarez.

Alfredo Lopez, an employee at the store, said he was “happy to see all the movement" now that shoppers from Mexico are back.

“The sun is starting to shine again,” Lopez said.

Janet Moreno brought her three-year-old niece Chelsey shopping for Christmas toys on the first day the border reopened. She had two bags full of toys, including a Barbie doll.

“Honesty, I missed everything. I really needed to get back here,” Moreno said.

Berenice Trevizo rolled a large pink large suitcase with wheels across the border. She was on her way to catch a bus to Colorado Springs to visit her older sister after getting her 1-94 tourist visa.

“I really missed her a lot,” said Trevizo.

In the Rio Grande Valley, Rosaura Cadena waited at a shopping center next to the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge for her friend to pick her up to do some shopping. Cadena hadn't been to the U.S. in almost two years, and she looked forward to buying a laptop for her son.

"Right now, my son needs a laptop for school because, you see, schooling has changed, and in Mexico it’s a bit more expensive," she explained.

She said a laptop in Reynosa could cost her almost double what it costs in the U.S., and the quality of goods in the United States is better than in Mexico.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection was prepared for heavy volume Monday. It said the process of checking both immigration documents and vaccination cards was going smoothly on the first day travel restrictions were lifted.

“Today marks a significant day for this community’s road to economic revitalization," said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez. "With the opening of our international ports of entry to our neighbors for non-essential purposes we begin the process of reuniting families and providing a welcome jolt of economic activity to our businesses. We have been calling for this day to happen for months and I am happy that it is finally here.”

Congressman Henry Cuellar worked with the federal government on a plan to reopen the border for six months.

"We're here for two reasons. One: its economics. Two: its family," Cuellar said at a press conference Monday in front of the Gateway of the Americas International Bridge in Laredo. "We understand here on the border that the Rio Grande — or the Rio Bravo as the Mexicans call it — doesn't divide us but actually unites us. We want to make sure Mexicans come over here and spend money. Before the pandemic, they were spending over $19 billion. So if you do the math, we've lost over $30 billion."

At the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Amalia Lopez was excited to be able to visit once again after 20 months of COVID restrictions.

“I’m going straight to go drink a coffee at Whataburger, which I used to love," she said. "And then I’m going shopping before heading back.”

Lopez said she plans to return over the weekend to visit relatives in Texas.

U.S. reopens borders to Mexico after closure due to COVID-19 pandemic
JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ/REUTERS
Jazmin Lozano and her family queue to enter the U.S. through the Paso del Norte International Bridge as the U.S. reopens its border for people inoculated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), in El Paso, Texas, U.S. November 7, 2021. Picture taken November 7, 2021.
Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Border and Immigration News Desk, including the Catena Foundation and Texas Mutual Insurance Company.

The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, broadcast the plan to reopen since mid October, but some border residents who waited for the travel restrictions to end are just now finding out.

Maricela De Leon has two brothers who are not yet citizens like she is, but have been in Mexico since last year — unable to use the border crossing cards that allowed them to visit her in the US before the pandemic.

For her, finding out about the end of travel restrictions was welcome news.

“We knew of course that we couldn’t cross. But we didn’t know they’re about to open,” she said in Spanish. “Thank God! How wonderful! That’s very good news, yes.”

Other residents in the region prepared since the day DHS announced the change.

Josefina Martinez, a resident of Reynosa just south of the largest international bridge in Hidalgo County, said she’s been the only individual in her family with the proper documentation to cross both ways between the two countries during the pandemic.

In the past two years, she’s acted as a go-between as her family endured the loss of three lives from COVID on both sides of the border.

“I’ve been running back and forth to help take care of my niece whose mother died from COVID in the United States,” she said in Spanish. “In my family in Reynosa, people died as well. Two brothers. Three family members died one after the other, month by month.”

But Monday, her family’s situation changed dramatically. Several of her relatives will be able to visit the U.S. using a border crossing card.

U.S. reopens borders to Mexico after closure due to COVID-19 pandemic
JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ/REUTERS
Jazmin Lozano shows her vaccination card at the Paso del Norte International Bridge as the U.S. reopens its border for people inoculated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico November 7, 2021. Picture taken November 7, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

“My mother hasn’t been able to see her grandchildren in all this time,” Martinez said. “For her, this is great news because she’ll finally be able to be with them after the loss of their mother. She feels they have been alone.”

Martinez said her relatives in Mexico sought vaccinations since the day of the DHS announcement and are eagerly waiting to cross.

The non-essential travel restrictions were based on a part of the U.S. Health Code called Title 19, one of two health codes enacted by the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration continues its use of another part of the health code, Title 42, to expel asylum-seeking migrants arriving at the border.

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