McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Travel restrictions between the United States, Mexico and Canada to control the spread of COVID-19 will remain in effect until May 21, the Biden administration announced to the “disappointment” of at least one South Texas congressman.

This means that only those deemed “essential travelers” or workers are allowed to cross into land ports. These are the same restrictions that have been in place since March 2020 under the Trump administration.

“The restrictions outlined in the Notifications are temporary in nature and shall remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 21, 2021 unless otherwise rescinded by the Department of Homeland Security,” according to a notice posted late Monday on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

No media release has been sent out regarding the travel ban extension, and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, says he’s “frustrated” with the administration for not trying to at least open some pilot land ports of entry.

“It’s just amazing. They just don’t get it, I really don’t think. I’m just frustrated with them and disappointed with them,” Cuellar told Border Report via phone on Tuesday morning from Washington, D.C.

Here it’s just: ‘Nope. Extended. Extended.'”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX

“When you want to stop a problem you say ‘Hey how about this’ and offer solutions,” Cuellar said. “Here it’s just: ‘Nope. Extended. Extended.'”

Cuellar and other border community leaders say the travel ban restrictions are unfair because Mexican travelers who fly into U.S. ports are allowed to do so — as long as they show proof that they are COVID-19-free. But, those trying to walk or drive across land ports, perhaps to come to shop, are not allowed, and they say this is devastating local economies.

Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said he has asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas how DHS officials can admit undocumented migrants across the Southwest border into the United States without testing the migrants for the coronavirus, but won’t allow visa-holders from Mexico to come and shop or visit families or friends north of the border.

“He said ‘It’s a health issue.’ I said, ‘What do you think is happening with the migrants coming in? That’s not a health concern to you but legal visa holders are a health concern to you?'” Cuellar told Border Report.

Prior to the pandemic, 18 million Mexican nationals crossed per year and spent about $19 billion in the United States, a majority of which occurred in border communities. And while commercial and trade traffic is back to near-normal levels, Cuellar said border retail sales are still down. That includes dips of 40 to 50% in his hometown of Laredo, Texas.

According to DHS, essential travelers are those who are:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States.
  • Traveling for medical purposes.
  • Traveling to attend educational institutions.
  • Traveling to work in the United States.
  • Traveling for emergency response and public health purposes, such as government officials or emergency responders entering the United States to support federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial government efforts to respond to COVID-19 or other emergencies. 
  • Engaged in lawful cross-border trade.
  • Engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel; 
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the United States and those engaged in military-related travel or operations.