Bipartisan lawmakers to Biden: Don't reopen the border to non-essential traffic without a plan in place

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

A bipartisan group of lawmakers made a trip to the Texas-Mexico border on Wednesday to demand a plan be in place from the Biden administration before Title 42 is lifted. The restriction on non-essential travel across the border due to the public health threat caused by the coronavirus pandemic will expire. The lawmakers are voicing concern that lifting the ban on nonessential traffic will further exploit the crisis on the border.

The border crisis is both a humanitarian and a public health crisis. Migrants crossing the border have not been vaccinated. It is impossible to test the flood of illegal migrants given the lack of resources and personnel dealing with the day-to-day deluge. A bipartisan group of lawmakers who represent border states banded together to work on solutions to the crisis that the Biden administration refuses to address. On Wednesday Senators John Cornyn and Kyrsten Sinema, along with Representatives Tony Gonzales and Henry Cuellar toured the Rio Grande Valley. Cornyn and Gonzales are Republicans from Texas, Cuellar is a Texas Democrat, and Sinema is from Arizona.

Their trip to the RGV was not their first and won’t be the last. It came just days after they sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting a “timeline for removing the restrictions to non-essential traffic through” land ports of entry. Title 42, very rarely used, was enacted by President Trump and is one of the successful tools used to limit traffic crossing the southern border and squashing the spread of the pandemic. The concern now is that Team Biden will simply let Title 42 expire without a plan in place. It’s easy to think that, given how Biden has governed so far – he uses executive orders and actions to do away with successful immigration policies in order to own Trump without having alternative actions in place. The truth is that border security isn’t much of a concern for Status Quo Joe. He has thrown in with the open borders crowd for political expediency and has no intentions of utilizing successful policies if they were implemented by the bad Orange Man. The letter reminds the Biden administration that their request for a transition plan has been in place since October 2020 (during the Trump administration) and they still have not received an answer.

With continued success in containing the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States, we are writing to inquire about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) plans regarding travel restrictions at U.S. land ports of entry (LPOEs). Non-essential travel restrictions have been in effect since March 2020, and border communities in our states are looking to DHS to communicate and collaborate with local stakeholders on a plan for returning to normal operations.

Since DHS first limited non-essential cross-border travel at LPOEs, these restrictions have been renewed on a monthly basis for the past 15 months. On October 1, 2020, we requested then Secretary Chad Wolf to develop and publicly articulate a detailed plan, including benchmarks for LPOEs to return to full operations. We have yet to receive a response to that letter. In light of the substantial progress the United States has made in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, we request DHS commit to a plan, benchmarks, and timeline for removing the restrictions to non-essential traffic through LPOEs.

We appreciate the hard work DHS has undertaken to protect Americans’ health and safety during these challenging times. We remain committed to ensuring DHS and Customs and Border
Protection have the necessary resources to secure our borders and protect the health of the public, as well as the Department’s staff and officers. We look forward to continuing to work with you
as we adjust to the changing conditions with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Border communities are eager for the ban to be lifted so that their economies can begin to get back to normal. The problem is that while vaccinations are plentiful in the United States and a majority of Americans are getting vaccinated, the same cannot be said for the situation in Mexico. There is a lack of vaccines in Mexico and the government is moving slowly in getting shots in arms. It isn’t any better for others in Northern Triangle countries. The public health threat to personnel working on the border and to Americans in general is still present.

City officials in El Paso are preparing for the travel ban to be lifted. El Paso officials and the border patrol are re-starting a public-private partnership to keep additional inspection lanes open at international bridges. There has been an increase in vehicles crossing the border in March and it continues according to David Coronado, director of the city’s International Bridges Department. The city also wants to make sure that law enforcement is paid according to overtime agreements to keep additional lanes open at ports of entry. Walking traffic remains restricted by Title 42.

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 lawmakers visited the border just one day after Governor Abbott issued a disaster declaration at the Texas-Mexico border. It is important that a transition plan is in place to avoid further illegal trafficking of both human beings and drugs at the border. The Rio Grande Valley remains the epicenter of the migrant surge, a self-inflicted crisis due to Joe Biden’s open borders rhetoric and actions.

“Some people want to call it a crisis. Some people call it a disaster. The fact is our local border communities are overwhelmed,” Cornyn said as the group held a news conference on Wednesday afternoon at the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

“The worst thing to happen would be for Title 42 to expire and no transition plan in place,” Cornyn said. “That would completely disarm the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection of the massive humanity that’s sure to come.”

None in the group thinks that the time is right to remove travel restrictions. They touted a bill they introduced to offer solutions and a way forward for border crossings. It is called The Bipartisan Border Solutions Act. According to the press release, “the bill would improve both the Department of Homeland Security’s and the Department of Justice’s capacity to manage migration influxes and adjudicate asylum claims in a timely manner, protect unaccompanied migrant children, reduce impact on local communities, ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely, and ultimately deter those who do not have realistic asylum claims from placing themselves in danger by making the treacherous journey to our southern border.”

There is probably little hope that the Biden administration will take them up on their ideas. So far, the administration chooses to ignore the crisis and deny it exists. Until then, it is imperative that lawmakers continue with their treks to the southern border and shining a light on Biden’s border crisis.