City, CBP talk about re-starting partnership to keep additional inspection lanes open at international bridges
EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Cross-border traffic is trending up in El Paso, and the city anticipates further spikes once the federal government rolls back non-essential travel restrictions.
That’s why city officials say they’re talking with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to re-start a program that reimburses overtime incurred by border officers keeping additional lanes open at area ports of entry. That was the Private Public Partnership program, or P3, which in 2019 reimbursed CBP for 53,000 overtime hours, according to city records.
“We did see a spike in crossings last March – a substantial increase – and we expect we had the same numbers in April, though we haven’t seen them yet,” said David Coronado, director of the city’s International Bridges Department.
Coronado attributes the increases to high vaccination rates in El Paso and residents believing themselves at less risk of catching the coronavirus traveling to Mexico on personal business. As of Wednesday, 69.4 percent of El Paso residents 12 and older had received at least one COVID-19 shot and 55.3 percent were fully vaccinated.
“They feel more confident going to Juarez, going to grocery stores there, visiting family and friends, going to doctors and dentists — all those things that were a normal part of living in El Paso and Juarez,” he said.
The increase is being recorded primarily in personal vehicle crossings going to and coming back from Mexico. International pedestrian traffic is still down because of the travel restrictions.
“The pedestrian side hasn’t recovered quite as nicely yet. We are at about a 60 percent decline from pre-COVID levels […] and we believe that’s mainly due to the fact that the folks that walk that bridge are Mexican citizens with tourist visas whose trips are still restricted,” he said. “As soon as the restrictions are lifted, we expect to see a really sharp increase in crossings. There is a lot of pent up demand for those crossings. We expect a surge shortly after if not the same days those restrictions are lifted.”
There’s no definitive word on when the non-essential travel restrictions will be rolled back. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrad said last month his country would like to see an easing of restrictions by June 22. El Paso merchants, who’ve lost a chunk of their sales due to the absence of Mexican shoppers, also cling to that hope.
“I’m very hopeful that it’ll happen this month,” said Jose Quinonez, president of the El Paso Trade and Manufacturing Council. “Not just here in El Paso but across the nation the vaccination rate is very high and the positivity rate is coming down tremendously. On the Mexican side even though they’re behind compared to us, they’re now getting there.”
Whether it’s on June 22 or a month later, El Paso city officials are bracing for increased border traffic once the land travel restrictions are lifted.
“We want to get ahead of that, so we are talking to them right now (CBP) to get that P3 program restarted,” Coronado said.
Despite the preparations, some Americans feel the restrictions should stay in place.
“I think they should wait a little. This is still not under control. Trade is necessary, but health comes first,” said Guadalupe Gamez, a Central El Paso resident. “We will get more infections if they open this too soon.”