During a Friday press conference hosted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Veterans International Bridge in Brownsville, Port Director Tater Ortiz announced that as of Nov. 8 non-essential travel by non-U.S. citizens into the United States via land ports-of-entry and ferry terminals will again be allowed for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and can show proof of their vaccination status.

The vaccination requirement applies only to those 18 and older, he said.

The Department of Homeland Security imposed restrictions on non-essential travel at the country’s northern and southern borders in March 2020 in response to the pandemic.

Unvaccinated travelers may continue to cross the border into the United States on essential business, such as legal trade, emergency response and public health purposes, until January 2022, when all inbound foreign travelers must be fully vaccinated and able to show proof, Ortiz said.

Bridge hours will also return to normal on Nov. 8, he said. Los Indios International Bridge, for example, will again be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., while B&M International Bridge will return to 24-hour operation, Ortiz said. Despite the lifting of the restriction on nonessential travel, “our borders are not open and people should not make the dangerous trip,” he said.

Any non-citizen attempting to enter illegally or without vaccine documentation will be subject to expulsion, Ortiz said, adding that DHS continues to expel migrants under Title 42, which allows CBP to deny entry to those deemed a potential health risk.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., who also spoke at the press conference, said he’s glad the restriction is finally being lifted and never considered so-called nonessential travelers to be nonessential.

“This is something that we’ve been advocating for on many different levels,” he said.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. speaks to the press about the upcoming reopening of land ports of entry Friday during a media briefing ahead of the official reopening of land ports of entry for nonessential travel by the fully vaccinated on Nov. 8 with U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Veterans International Bridge. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

While the measures were necessary when the pandemic was in full swing, it wasn’t fair that economic activity generated by border crossings continued to be impeded even as the rest of the country was allowed to reopen for business, Trevino said.

“That’s the lifeblood of our economies on both sides of the river, so we’re excited about what next week means,” he said. “I think the border region, and I’m talking here all the way to San Diego, has suffered much more from an economic trade standpoint than the rest of the country has.”

Trevino said the pandemic and the border restriction has been tough on businesses and that he hopes business owners who were forced to close are able to rebound now that the restriction is being lifted.

As for the immigration issue, Trevino, who also serves as chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, said it’s something Democratic and Republican administrations and members of Congress have punted on for decades, and implored both parties in Washington to set aside partisan differences and come up with solutions that recognize the importance of legal cross-border trade while also taking into consideration the humanitarian aspect of immigration.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Brownsville Port of Entry Port Director, Tater Ortiz take questions from the media Friday during a media briefing ahead of the reopening of the land border ports of entry to nonessential travel on Nov. 8 with U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Veterans International Bridge. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Trevino said he had the opportunity to express those concerns in person to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and recently, to the new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar.

Ortiz said CBP in Brownsville is staffed up for the anticipated surge in vehicle and pedestrian traffic starting Nov. 8, but said lines will move faster if people have their vaccine documentation ready.

“It’ll be a lot quicker,” he said. “ We do anticipate some increase in traffic but we are prepared for that increase.”

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