HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — A bipartisan delegation of senators and congressional representatives from Southwest border states have sent a strongly-worded letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf urging him to ease travel restrictions on the Southwest border so “normal” travel may resume between the United States and Mexico.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, and U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, both Democrats from South Texas, along with Republican U.S. Reps. Will Hurd, of West Texas, and Michael McCaul, of Central Texas, and Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Arizona, on Wednesday sent the letter to Wolf urging the Trump administration to reopen “the southwest border to return to normal operations,” and to communicate its plan to do so soon.

The Southwest border has been closed since March 20 to all non-essential travel due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the lawmakers say this has had a disproportionate effect on border economies and border communities, such as the Rio Grande Valley, by hindering residents from crossing back and forth for retail, medical and other social services.

“DHS has provided little public insight into how it weighed the costs and benefits of these extended travel restrictions,” the letter reads. “Furthermore, DHS has not publicly articulated a plan for returning to normal operations, or set forth any benchmarks that must be reached before the travel restrictions can be partially relaxed or completely lifted.”

Travel restrictions at land ports of entry, such as at the Anzalduas International Bridge, are having a staggering effect on border economies, lawmakers say. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

The McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, for instance, has lost $2 million in revenue as of July 31, “and additional revenue losses are expected,” the letter states.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is chairman of the McAllen-Hidalgo and Anzalduas International Bridge Boards. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

On Friday, pedestrian and vehicular traffic at this bridge, which connects to Reynosa, Mexico, was practically at a trickle. Before the pandemic, this area used to be packed with traffic.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who is chairman of the McAllen-Hidalgo and Anzalduas International Bridge Boards, told Border Report on Friday that he appreciates the letter having been sent, saying: “We don’t understand the government’s policy of letting Mexican nationals fly into any city, but they cannot cross the bridge.”

We don’t understand the government’s policy of letting Mexican nationals fly into any city, but they cannot cross the bridge.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

Also impacted are daycare providers and medical, dental and other social services on the Mexican side of the border, the letter says.

The letter is the most forceful on this issue, to date. And the lawmaker authors collectively carry the most bipartisan political weight of any who have spoken out since the border restrictions were implemented.

The group acknowledges “the difficult balance that DHS must strike between protecting its officers and the public against COVID-19, and facilitating the economic and social needs of border communities,” but basically is requesting a firm timeline for reopening the borders. They also have requested:

  • A detailed cost-benefit analysis on travel restrictions
  • Data used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine peak “non-essential” travel days.
  • Develop a detailed plan “including benchmarks that must be reached” for reopening land ports “to return to normal operations.”
  • Develop a strategy to communicate travel restriction changes to all local stakeholders.

Cornyn was the lead letter writer and sent it just days after a campaign stop Saturday in the South Texas town of Edinburg, where he met with local leaders and reportedly discussed travel restrictions with local mayors and officials.

The day before the bipartisan delegation sent the letter, Cuellar also sent a letter to congressional leaders urging that those restrictions be lifted at land ports.

Earlier in the month, Cuellar also had called for “enhanced screenings” for travelers to safely allow more to cross into the United States during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com