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Expansion of travel restrictions at Mexican border leaves merchants, residents fearful

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border merchants braced for another month of slim pickings, as the U.S. extended travel restrictions with Mexico until at least late June.

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were extending Title 42 public health restrictions at the Canadian and Mexican borders until he determines the danger from COVID-19 has ceased.

“This order has been one of the most critical tools the department has used to prevent the further spread of the virus and to protect the American people, DHS frontline officers, and those in their care and custody from COVID-19,” Wolf said in a statement released late Tuesday.

The restrictions pretty much limits admission into the United States to American citizens and legal permanent residents and exclude people from countries were the coronavirus remains active.

Unlike the previous orders, which lasted a month, the latest extension doesn’t have an expiration date.

“(It) shall remain in effect until … the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered aliens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health.” (See the full text here)

However, CDC will review the most current information on the COVID-19 pandemic and associated health risks every 30 days to ensure it remains necessary, the agency said.

Border cities like El Paso have seen business tumble by as much as 90 percent since the international travel restrictions, as well as local stay-at-home orders, went into effect.

Border crossings have plummeted in El Paso since both Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico issued stay-at-home orders and the U.S. restricted travel with Mexico. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Downtown El Paso, in particular, was heavily dependent on Mexican shoppers who used to come across the border with so-called “laser visas.” They’ve been ineligible to come across since March 20 and the local economy has felt the impact.

Phil Porter, who runs American Taxi Cab Company in South El Paso, has seen the effects of the travel restrictions in the area.

“What they have affected is the stores in Downtown El Paso. People with laser visas sustain the economy of Downtown and they’re not coming,” he said, adding that residents from well-to-do neighborhoods don’t shop the area. “Yes, some stores near the (Paso del Norte) bridge are open, but past Fourth Street they’re closed because of simple economics: you can’t pay your workers when there’s no customers.”

Alexis, a resident of Sunland Park, New Mexico, said he feels sorry for the workers who’ve been sent home or laid off due to store closings in Downtown. However, he agrees with the restrictions.

“If it’s for people’s protection, they should keep them,” he said as he held his daughter on a bench in South El Paso Street.

Alexis, a resident of Sunland Park, said he agrees with the travel restrictions for the sake of his family’s health. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

However, David Morales of South El Paso said if businesses were allowed to open, people from Mexico should be allowed to come across and shop, otherwise the stores will go broke and people will lose their jobs.

“I think they should do away with them now,” he said.

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