EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Luis Urias leaned against the wall of an empty Downtown building staring toward the nearby Mexican border crossing.
“We have family over there with (visas) and they cannot cross, neither can tourists. I don’t agree with this,” the Central El Paso resident said upon learning that the U.S. is extending non-essential border travel restrictions through Aug. 20.
Only U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are allowed to come over from Mexico. Foreigners with visas are being turned back unless their travel is deemed essential. Mexico has also banned tourism and “cultural” travel.
The rules meant to stop COVID-19 from crossing the border are not only separating residents of the U.S., from loved ones in Mexico, and vice versa, but also Downtown El Paso merchants.
“Last year we had 100 to 200 customers a day. Now, we’re down to 50, sometimes less,” said the manager of a Korean-owned clothing store on South El Paso Street. She declined to give her name.
“It’s hard because people from El Paso don’t shop here. […] maybe just some Latinos. Our customers come from Mexico and right now they can’t come,” the shopkeeper said.
Still, she and others have mixed feelings about asking the U.S. government to fully reopen the border. “It’s scary,” she said about the possibility of even greater levels of COVID-19 spread.
On Thursday, El Paso reported 14 coronavirus-related fatalities — the highest number to date. The city has tallied 10,638 cases and 173 fatalities since the pandemic began.
The COVID-19 toll is even greater in Juarez, with 599 deaths and 3,478 cases. The number of infections is probably much higher — at least three to four times higher — Juarez health officials admit, due to limited testing.
“It used to be full before, but no more. If they continue, things will get worse. I don’t know when they will reopen,” said “Tony,” an attendant at a women’s clothing store.
Another shopkeeper told Border Report he’s noticed the presence of “pasadores,” U.S. residents who are buying merchandise in bulk on behalf of people in Juarez.
“They’re starting to come here more often. People are getting (desperate) because they can’t come across,” the merchant said.
Officials from El Paso’s Central Business Association earlier said that business went down 90% after the travel restrictions began on March 21.
Since then, the merchants have been observing social distancing, facemask and occupancy limits not only to comply with local health regulations but also to encourage El Pasoans to rediscover their Downtown.