Border officials said they were “devastated” this week when they discovered the federal government had extended a COVID-19 ban on non-essential crossings for another month, potentially hampering business there.
“The ban is an outrageous and exaggerated response right now to the pandemic,” said Andy Carey, executive director of the US-Mexico border charity project. “It resets every month for another month, lasts about a year and a half, and it’s time to end the ban.”
The ban was first imposed in March 2020 on non-essential travel, especially tourists or family visitors, between the United States, Mexico and Canada in response to the first wave of COVID-19. It has been regularly extended, but was due to expire on Monday.
Customs and Border Protection said the situation has improved in Canada and Mexico, with more vaccinations and fewer infections. But he announced on Wednesday that things are still very uncertain, especially given the emergence of new variants, of lifting restrictions. who spread It’s 11:59 p.m. on July 21.
CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But the leaders of the border communities, who expected the ban to end this week, were not happy.
The mayor of Nogales, Arturo Garino, said his city lost billions of dollars in settlements with a ban that “should have been lifted months ago.”
“You know it’s going to hurt when 65% of our sales tax comes from Sonoran residents who come here and shop,” Garino said. “This money keeps us afloat.”
Officials in Yuma and San Ysidro, Calif., echoed his comments, saying border communities are suffering from travel bans that have “exceeded purpose.”
“I represent about 800 companies and we’ll generate $895 million in retail sales in a typical year,” said Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. “We estimate that from March 2020 to March 2021 the number will be around $250 million. That is a loss of about 72%.”
Only in the Nogales area, according to University of Arizona data, the number of crossing people The limits were reduced from about 2 million in January 2020 to 552,827 in April of the same year, before returning to 1.25 million in March 2021.
Jaime Chamberlain, president of the Port Authority of Grand Nogales Santa Cruz County, said his community is sorely missing Mexican shoppers and visitors and that “stores are closing left and right.”
He said the travel ban dealt “a terrible blow to our economy, not just to the city, but to the economy of our state…. Prior to the pandemic, Hispanic consumers were spending more than $9.5 million a day in Arizona.”
The authorities have complained that they have repeatedly contacted the Biden administration to lift the ban on non-essential travel, but so far has not received a response.
“I wrote two letters to Vice President Kamala Harris, one in April and one earlier this month, asking her to come to Nogales and visit our port to better understand the economic impact, and I didn’t get a response from her office or any of them. Not by email or phone. Garino said.
Wells said he’s also close, with no luck, and that until the ban is lifted, frontier businesses will continue to suffer.
Local leaders said the ban was illogical. The movement of goods and travel across borders for education, health care, employment or government business, among other exceptions, is permitted and applies only to land ports, not airports.
“Thousands and thousands continue to cross the border every day,” said Kimberly Cale, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce. “We are not preventing the spread of COVID-19, all we are doing is preventing people from crossing borders and providing care to visiting businesses or family members.”
Carey asked about the health protections being offered if “you can travel to Mexico City, you can travel to Cancun, but you can’t cross the border.”
Chamberlain said the travel ban served a purpose when vaccines were not available and cases of COVID-19 were on the rise. But Santa Cruz County now has an “84% vaccination rate, which is the best county in Arizona,” he said.
“We’ve worked hard and are proud of the work we’ve done,” he said of the site. vaccination efforts.
Garino said it was time to lift restrictions.
“Using the COVID-19 pandemic to continue closing our borders and banning trade is devastating,” he said. The Biden administration needs to end this and it needs to open the borders.