Business owners who work across Arizona and Mexico are hoping the Biden administration will reconsider a recent decision to keep the border closed to tourists from Mexico for at least another month. They say the closure, which has been in place since March 2020, has destroyed their way of life.
“There used to be a huge amount of people circulating here, the stores looked like a carnival. Everything is closed now, full of dust, the windows are dirty,” expressed Luis Felix.
It’s been more than a year since the closure of the U.S-Mexico border (land), Felix is hoping the restrictions will be lifted soon.
Felix owns a shuttle company; he provides transportation for Mexican tourists from Nogales to Tucson and Phoenix. But with border closures, there are no more Mexican citizens coming, for Felix that means no business.
“Drivers ended up unemployed, owners had to sell their shuttles for very little money,” said Felix.
Back in March of 2020, the federal government announced travel restrictions to non-essential travel due to the pandemic, it was an agreement by both the U.S. and Mexico.
“This was back in March of 2020, we didn’t really know what the effect of the virus was, we didn’t know how it was transmitted, there were just a lot of questions,” stated Christopher Landau, former U.S ambassador to Mexico.
Landau was the U.S. ambassador to Mexico when the decisions about travel restrictions were first made last year.
“I thought this was going to be a fairly short-term drastic solution, but one that was necessary to meet the public health imperatives.”
But with more people vaccinated, he says, extending travel restrictions at the border is unacceptable and unfair as the restrictions are only for Mexican citizens with tourist visas.
“Let’s just remember who we’re talking about here, we’re talking about people who have been authorized to enter the United States, who have all the necessary paperwork and who have entered the United States routinely for many years, to help us, to buy at our stores, to eat at our restaurants,” said Landau.
The only solution he says is having Washington listen to border town residents.
“I think if the capital of the United States were in Phoenix or Tucson, this would not be happening now, the people making these decisions are thousands of miles away. I don’t think they have a clue what life is like at the border, I don't think they have a clue about how families live on one side of the border, they may work on the other side, they shop on the other side.”
But Felix says, in more than a year, no one from the federal or state government has ever visited his business.
“We voted for them, we elected them, and it looks like they have a limit to how far they can visit,” added Felix.
The travel restrictions have been extended until July 21, 2020. In a tweet, the Department of Homeland Security said they’re working “to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably.”
ABC15 reached out to Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s and Senator Mark Kelly’s offices.
Sen. Kelly's office said their staff meets regularly with a wide range of Santa Cruz County and Nogales leaders on issues from the border to the local economy.
“Senator Mark Kelly understands that Arizona’s border communities have faced unique challenges during this pandemic and has taken a number of steps to ensure that they are not left behind as our economy recovers. In Senator Kelly’s first 100 days, he introduced a bipartisan bill, the Border Business COVID–19 Rescue Act, which would save jobs and help small businesses along the border recover. The SBA has also launched Senator Kelly’s Community Navigator program, which includes assistance for Spanish-speaking businesses to get them the relief they need to keep their doors open and workers on payroll. Kelly’s office continues to assist small business owners in Santa Cruz County and across the state.”
Sen. Sinema’s office said in May, she sent a letter to DHS asking for guidance on the plans regarding non-essential travel restrictions.
“Sinema’s office has also been working with the Fresh Produce Association and border communities, including Nogales and Santa Cruz County, regarding cross border trade and travel and the effects of current border closures.”
“Additionally, Sinema’s casework team has been providing assistance to Arizona small businesses with coronavirus relief concerns and needs.”