Everyone thought that when the US border reopened to tourists, people in Juárez would line up at ports of entry as if it were Black Friday.
But less than a dozen Mexican nationals with a border pass showed up before 10 p.m. reopening on November 7 at the Downtown bridge. The next day, the flow of traffic and pedestrians at the international bridges in the El Paso area was shorter and faster than usual.
People crossing the border from both sides were amazed at all the empty sidewalks.
Cross-border traffic has picked up from that weak start, keeping hopes alive for a stronger holiday shopping season at El Paso stores. However, economists say there are obstacles preventing Mexican shoppers from flocking north of the border.
The weak Mexican peso is making dollar-denominated goods more expensive. Middle-class household incomes fell in Juárez during the pandemic, meaning household budgets were tighter than usual. And price inflation has hit both sides of the border hard.
The group of people in Juárez who can cross the border under current rules has also shrunk.
Tens of thousands of people have watched their cross-border card visas expire during the pandemic and either failed to renew their cards or were unable to because the US Consulate in Juárez reduced services. Mexican public school teachers were also excluded: They were among the first to get the vaccine in Juárez, but the Mexican government gave them a dose of Cansino, a vaccine not on the list of approved brands. received from the United States.
According to Ray Provencio, Director of CBP El Paso Ports, in the days since the US lifted restrictions on non-essential travel for fully vaccinated foreign nationals, Customs and Protection The US border has seen a steady increase in traffic at El Paso area intersections.
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Passenger car traffic increased by 10% in the week after restrictions were lifted from the previous week, while pedestrian traffic increased by about 25%, he said.
Tom Fullerton, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Texas at El Paso, said the Mexican clientele “is slowly growing”.
Aside from the economic setbacks, Fullerton said, the border has been closed to Mexican tourists long enough for people to develop different shopping habits. He estimates that El Paso has lost up to $300 million in sales, as shoppers in northern Mexico buy locally and online from retailers including Amazon, Alibaba and Mercado Libre.
“In 19 months, many of these customers figured out how to get their goods without El Paso, and they simply had other ingrained habits,” he said. “They’re slowly incorporating trips to El Paso into their schedule.”
The spending power of the peso is weak
The peso touched $25 at the end of March 2020, plummeting as the global pandemic shut down economic activity and curtailed expectations about demand for crude oil, the cornerstone of the Mexican economy.
In recent months, the peso has been floating near US$20. That remains historically weak for the currency. Most recently in 2016, 15 pesos would buy 1 dollar.
On the morning after U.S. ports of entry reopened to Mexican tourists, a Juárez police officer watched traffic on a street corner near the Paso del Norte international bridge and mused about the influx of people. The expected border crossing did not materialize. He pointed to an answer across the street: A currency exchanger sells dollars for 20 pesos and change.
“The dollar is very expensive,” he said, adding that most workers have not received their so-called holiday bonuses. Aguinaldo.
Goods are also more expensive.
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Fullerton noted that household incomes in Juárez also fell, even as goods became more expensive. The returns for business service professionals such as bookkeepers, lawyers and other office workers “have been quite substantial.”
“Many middle classes don’t have enough disposable income for them to be able to visit El Paso as often as they did before the pandemic,” he said.
From a few weeks ‘wait to’ 679 days’
Mexican nationals in Juárez cross the border on a so-called “cross-border pass” visa, a type of B1/B2 tourist visa usually valid for 10 years and intended for qualified Mexicans living in the border area. gender.
The coveted cards look like driver’s licenses but carry biometric information and allow owners to cross the border and travel up to 25 miles into Texas and 55 miles into New Mexico.
The US Consulate in Juárez in fiscal year 2011 issued approximately 125,000 B1/B2 combined visas and cross-border passes. With a 10-year expiration date, that’s the amount of time that will expire in fiscal year 2021, but the US Consulate has issued less than 22,000 in the 12 months through September – indicating that tens of thousands of people can often pass now can not .
State Department statistics do not distinguish between renewals and new applications. But the sharp drop in the number of cards issued can partly be attributed to people waiting for the border gate to reopen before reapplying and the consulate operating with minimal staff and hours during the day. during the pandemic.
“We are looking at appointments for May,” said Fernando Aguirre, location manager for Grupo Francie in Ciudad Juárez, a third-party business that helps people apply for tourist visas with the US Consulate. March 2023. “People, obviously, want to start renewing their visas. And despite having to wait until 2023, they’re still saying, ‘Let’s get started.'”
For a process that used to take weeks, the US Consulate in Juárez has now listed standby time 679 days apply for a visit visa.
‘Hopefully another chance’
Left behind at the reopened border because their vaccine was not on the approved list, public school teachers in Juárez were among the thousands who showed up for a dose of AstraZeneca last week.
Nallely Saestado, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, spent six hours in a vaccination line that wrapped around the Indios baseball stadium several times. With extremely limited access to vaccines in Juárez, she said, tensions have been running high.
“I was there on the first day, fighting with everyone,” she said. “Nine other teachers from my school are also lining up. We’re just hoping for another chance.”
US regulations require foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated and present proof. Sancedo and other teachers receiving the first AstraZeneca injection will have to wait for the Mexican government to announce another clinic. She expected it could be several months.
“The truth is I’m very upset,” she said. “The government is not thinking about the impact (Cansino vaccine) will have on our teachers at the border.”
Is different JuneOnelens could have given up on El Paso, for now.
The US closed its land border to Mexican visa holders without restricting air travel – disproportionate impact on communities at the border. Ports remained closed for months after the economies of both sides had fully reopened.
“A lot of times, workers and households, if they are mistreated, they harbor resentment for a long time,” says Fullerton. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people feel like they’re being treated like criminals and aren’t allowed to visit the US” and skip trips to El Paso.
A meme circulated on Facebook in the days after the border reopened, when traffic across the border was unusually sparse.
It stitched together a photograph of an empty bridge of the Americas tagged with the Spanish phrase “You can cross it” next to a picture of a figure, possibly Antonio López de Santa Anna , arms crossed, a disdainful look and the phrase “No no.“
“Eventually that kind of resentment will subside for most people,” says Fullerton.
Waiting for autumn, ‘avanza bien’
What probably won’t affect traffic is the waiting time for the bridge.
President Trump has been particularly tough on people who frequently cross the border, as the administration has withdrawn CBP officers from their positions to facilitate commerce and legal travel in support of the Team. Border patrol prevents people from crossing the border illegally. With thin staffing at demand points, wait times skyrocketed in 2019 to an average of nearly two hours.
Waiting times spiked again amid the pandemic, as CBP voted to crack down on US citizens deemed “essential” under border restrictions but may have crossed the border for various reasons. job, school or medical emergency. Family visits, so important to Borderland residents, are not considered essential under the rules.
Since the border reopened, CBP has maintained a high staffing rate during peak hours and reports indicate generally stable wait times for passenger and pedestrian vehicles. between 30 minutes and an hour.
There have been separate reports of wait times plus three hours in recent weeks.
“I am very pleased with the wait time and the impact on our regional and national economies and even the global economy,” said Provencio, acting port manager. “There’s public research that talks about the effects if there’s a wait time there. In the time we’re in right now, with the current economy, I think CBP has an important role to play in helping to recover. revive our economy.”
CBP continues to advise the public that wait times may increase around public holidays, as traffic volumes increase and the agency administers other core responsibilities, including drug prevention. illegal drugs.
More than 260,000 people belong to a Facebook group that serves as a platform to solicit wait times for the El Paso-Juárez bridge. Although members occasionally post photos of long lines of vehicles and pedestrians, many have given positive feedback.
“The universe is on your side when you’re happy and you don’t complain in line,” said one user last week with a half-joking emoji and a timestamp of 11:57 a.m., just a stone’s throw away. intersect five cars.
Lauren Villagran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.