DENVER, Colo. — The U.S. will soon reopen the northern and southern borders to fully vaccinated travelers. Border towns say the economy, health and border relations have taken a hit during the closure.
Now, they are preparing for an influx of much-needed travelers.
“The closure to non-essential travel was devasting to businesses along the border of our region,” said Jon Barela, the CEO of the Borderplex Alliance in El Paso Texas.
El Paso shares a border with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
It's one of many border towns that was hit hard by the pandemic.
“We know just in downtown El Paso there was something like 45 retail businesses close,” Barela said. “It had a really bad impact on businesses.”
“From the state of Texas, they estimate the impact on the economy in the U.S. is about $2.5 billion from crossings from Juarez to El Paso in the region,” said David Coronado with the International Bridge and Economic Development in El Paso.
Land borders will reopen to all vaccinated travelers starting Nov. 8 — both the northern border with Canada and the southern border of Mexico.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in El Paso in 2020, there were 3 million pedestrian crossings. That was a 60% drop from the year before.
Barela said the economy is dependent on the relationship between the two cities and people being able to cross over to do business.
“It’s been estimated that between 15-30% of the retail trade that’s transacted on the U.S. side of the border comes from Mexican nationals,” Barela said.
“It is very important because it will resume normal border activity in a place like this,” said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de León Consul General of Mexico in El Paso.
To keep the borders open, international bridge and economic development are increasing operations, and even including pop-up vaccine clinics for those crossing over.
“We do intend to resume our program with CBP. That means adding an additional 1000 hours of overtime at the ports of entry to reduce wait times to open more lanes,” Coronado said. “We do also expect to add additional officers within city streets to manage the conditions we see for southbound trips.”
Dr. Hector Ocaranza with the El Paso Health Department said healthcare between the two cities was impacted as well. He said the reopening will resume health care procedures across the border.
“There’s healthcare that is also cheaper on the other side of the border,” Ocaranza said. “Medications are a fraction of the cost on this side. Our city has a larger population of people who are uninsured and being uninsured poses a challenge because people cannot control their chronic conditions if they don’t have the medication. And many people use to go across the border to get their medication. Having those chronic conditions poorly controlled makes them a high risk of complications for covid that would put a higher strain on our very limited resources.”
According to the Mexico Consulate in El Paso, to keep the borders open, it is crucial that both cities work together to keep vaccination rates high.
“Ciudad Juarez has a vaccination rate of over 80 percent which is the same level that El Paso has,” Ibarra said. “So, it’s important to have the same level -- it’s the same community. It’s important to have the same level of protection so we can continue relating with each other.”