Rep. Cuellar perplexed by apparent extension of non-essential travel limits

Following indications that federal officials would extend restrictions to non-essential travel into the U.S. through land ports of entry for another month, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said he was perplexed by the continued limits which he said negatively affected the local economy.

“Our Mexican friends are asking for this to be extended then we probably will see the U.S. do the same thing here,” Cuellar, D-Laredo, said during a news conference Tuesday morning, referring to a statement posted by the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores de Mexico, or the Mexican secretary of foreign affairs. “It’s a shame that we cannot figure this out because this is the United States of America.”

(Read: DHS: Restricted travel to continue at least another month(Opens in a new browser tab))

Citing U.S. officials, the SRE stated Tuesday on social media that restrictions on non-essential travel were extended until 11:59 p.m. on June 21. However, a notice posted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday announcing that extension had been removed Tuesday.

Emails to multiple CBP spokespersons seeking clarity on the issue went unreturned Tuesday.

The restrictions, which were first imposed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, suspend entry into the U.S. via land border, ferry crossing, rail, or through coastal ports of entry from Canada and Mexico for travel not deemed essential.

Cuellar appeared disappointed about the apparent extension, stressing the impact of Mexican shoppers to the local economy.

“I think the best relief we can provide our small businesses are customers,” Cuellar said.

Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials and business leaders along the Texas-Mexico border, issued a letter May 14 to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging for the roll back of those restrictions, writing that they had “heavily paralyzed and devastated” the local economy of border communities.

“If you notice, what the Mexicans do, they welcome Americans who fly into Cancun, Cabo and other places because they got money that goes … they spend money there,” Cuellar said. “They’re not telling those Americans, ‘don’t fly in’ or telling any tourists, so when it’s money coming in, they’re OK but in this case, they’re probably seeing some of those Mexicans that instead of spending the money in their country, they’re coming over to the U.S. to spend over here.”

But Cuellar added that it wasn’t just about the economy, it was also about the inability of people from Mexico to visit their family in the U.S.

“So just on the more human side of families seeing families, is something that should be considered,” the congressman said.

In arguing for the reopening, both Cuellar and the Texas Border Coalition pointed to the high number of asylum seekers being encountered at the border, some of whom have been released into the U.S.

Cuellar also called it unfair that Mexican nationals were allowed to travel into the U.S. through air travel, a more expensive option that favors Mexicans of higher income.

If the restrictions were a matter of public health, Cuellar added that he did not understand why they couldn’t impose the same safety protocols implemented for air travelers at the land ports of entry.

“If we can do it at airports, why can we not do it at land bridges on a case by case basis?” Cuellar asked. “We can do that.”

“It just baffles me, the lack of understanding of the border,” he said.