EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Border residents let out a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday, after learning the U.S. and Mexico plan to roll back non-essential land border travel restrictions next month.
Fully COVID-19-vaccinated Mexicans will be able to come to the U.S. sometime in November. The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t specified the exact day yet. Americans with their shots can also start driving over to Mexico again, though so far few have been stopped south of the border.
The travel ban deprived downtown El Paso merchants of most of their customers from Mexico and kept families with members in Juarez separated for 19 months. Those shoppers will start trickling back soon, provided they can prove to U.S. Customs and Border Protection they are fully vaccinated. Family members will be able to see each other again as well.
“The people of Juarez are the food of Paso and vice versa,” said long-time El Paso resident Everardo Yoshida, who is fully vaccinated and was out shopping Wednesday in downtown El Paso. “We are each other’s economic well-being, but we have to take care of each other because (the pandemic) is not over.”
South El Paso merchants whose stores are within walking distance of Mexico say they lost between 50% and 90% of their clients during the pandemic. They say the rollback of restrictions comes just in time for the Christmas shopping season, although they don’t foresee their customers coming back all at once.
“November is great because you get all the shopping in November and December. Those two months are very strong for us,” said Samuel Lara, manger of a cellular telephone store on South El Paso Street.
Lara said his sales went down 80% when the restrictions began in March 2020. The store has survived thanks to an increasing number of Central El Paso and Southern New Mexico residents who are keeping Downtown shops alive.
“It’s been pretty rough, not only for me but for all the businesspeople here. We’ve been waiting all year for this,” Lara said.
He and other merchants lamented the closing of many clothing, electronics, jewelry and dollar-item shops during the pandemic. The rollback of non-essential travel restrictions came too late for them, their peers said.
John, a South El Paso Street business owner who declined to give his last name, said Mexicans with valid visas and vaccination cards no doubt will cross the border to do Christmas shopping as before. But he doubts they will do so in as high a number as before.
“A lot of people’s visas expired during the pandemic and they have not renewed them,” the owner of a women’s clothing and lingerie store said. “And people in Mexico did not get stimulus checks like we did in the U.S.; they’re hurting (economically). There’s also inflation … things are going to cost more over here than the last time they came shopping.”
Ashley Garcia, a U.S.-born resident of Juarez who is exempt from travel restrictions, said it’s been sad to see friends and acquaintances in Mexico unable to visit relatives in the United States.
“As soon as they reopen the border, people are going to come. They are anxious to see their loved ones, to shop or just get to see the other side of the border again,” she said.
Juarez resident Elisa Baylon says “the whole city” is anxious to resume its lifetime relationship with El Paso, Texas.
“We are desperate. We want to see our relatives,” Baylon said. “If they open the bridges again, yes, a lot of people will be going.”