Los Angeles Times
Business leaders, officials celebrate border reopenings
Move comes in time for holidays, a needed boost for commerce near ports of entry.
SAN DIEGO — Elected officials and business leaders in San Diego and Mexico are celebrating the Biden administration’s announcement of the lifting of land border restrictions on nonessential travel.
“The U.S. government informs us that the reopening of the border to non-essential activities will take place as of November 8,” Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard tweeted Friday. “It will apply to vaccinated persons.”
The restrictions were imposed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For far too long, the restrictions at our border separated families and devastated businesses that rely on cross-border commerce,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said at a news conference.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed that travel restrictions at the Mexican and Canadian land borders will ease in November, allowing fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country for activities such as tourism and family visits.
“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy. We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement.
Many said the decision to reopen could not have come at a better time.
“This announcement will allow the businesses in the area to seize upon the opportunities presented by holiday shopping as well as holiday travel,” Gloria said.
Businesses in San Diego’s San Ysidro district, where there is a port of entry, lost about $644 million in sales and about 1,900 jobs from March 2020 to March 2021, according to the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. Nearly 80% of the businesses there rely on cross-border customers, most of whom have tourist visas.
More than 60% of San Ysidro businesses make most of their profits during the holiday shopping season from mid-November to early January, said Jason Wells, director of the Chamber of Commerce. He was relieved that the border reopening has been set for next month.
“Most of the businesses that are still open would not have survived without another holiday season,” he said.
Carlos Guerrero, owner of Elite Tactical, which sells tactical gear and apparel, moved his store from Chula Vista to San Ysidro more than a month ago in hopes that he would capitalize once the border reopens.
Guerrero’s tactical gear has typically been bought by police officers from Mexico.
“Now, I expect sales to go up quite a bit with our regular customers from Mexico, and to add new ones now that we are located closer to the border,” he said.
Earlier this week, San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas introduced a resolution to urge the federal government to provide economic opportunities for border businesses and communities that have been affected by travel restrictions.
“We have an urgent need to identify full economic stimulus relief for these families, communities and businesses,” Vargas said in a statement.
“I urge the federal government to take a closer look and create emergency economic sustainability zones to directly revive our border communities. It is time to give us an equitable chance at full economic recovery,” she said.
Wells welcomed the effort by Vargas and said he remains confident there will be a speedy recovery for local businesses, as long as crossing the border doesn’t mean hours in line.
“Wait times are already too long,” Gloria said Wednesday, noting that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have said the agency’s workforce is still limited by the pandemic. He added that he will continue to advocate for sufficient staffing at ports of entry.
Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) also reacted to the announcement.
“This gradual reopening is long overdue. As we continue on our road to recovery, I look forward to seeing business activity increase and loved ones being reunited,” he said in statement.
U.S. authorities have said they will start to ease restrictions at borders in two phases.
In November, the Department of Homeland Security will begin allowing travelers from Mexico or Canada who show proof of full vaccination to cross at land and ferry ports of entry for nonessential purposes. In January, the department will apply the vaccination requirement to all inbound foreign travelers.
“This approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers, students and healthcare workers to get vaccinated,” Homeland Security said in a news release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the U.S.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador opened his daily news conference Wednesday by praising the announcement by the U.S. government.
“The opening of the northern border has been achieved,” he said. “We are going to have normality in our northern border.”