After almost 2 years of separation, El Paso and Juárez prepare to reunite

Along the border, residents and businesses are counting the days until travel restrictions linked to the pandemic are lifted, allowing all fully vaccinated visitors to cross the United States on November 8.

“We’re all so excited that they are opening the decks because it’s the perfect time of year,” said Samuel Lara, an employee of Simple Mobile, a South El Paso store about half a block away. from the international bridge.

“Eighty percent of our customers are from Mexico,” he said. “We have wasted hours. We have lost money.

Samuel Lara works at Simple Moba, a mobile phone store in southern El Paso which expects to benefit from the reopening of the border. (Angela Kocherga / El Paso Matters)

Many, like Lara, are hoping the holiday season will help them recoup losses suffered since March 2020, when global concerns over the rapid spread of COVID-19 led to a ban on all but essential travel. People were allowed to cross the border for work, school or medical reasons. But the authorities did not consider it essential to go shopping and visit relatives.

This ruling mainly prevented Mexican citizens with border crossing cards or visas from visiting, as US citizens and legal residents who entered Mexico could not be prevented from returning home if they were to visit Ciudad. Juárez.

The result: Businesses that depend on Mexican customers suffered losses long after the Texas economy reopened, as the border remained closed to non-essential travel.

“Pedestrian traffic on the bridge has decreased by about two-thirds,” said Joe Gudenrath, executive director of the downtown management district of El Paso. The economic organization includes 110 downtown blocks south of the 1-10 to the border.

In El Paso alone, cross-border buyers from Ciudad Juárez and other parts of northern Mexico have an estimated turnover of $ 1.3 billion per year, according to Borderplex Business Barometer, a publication of economists from the University of Texas at El Paso.

“We have had closures as everyone would expect,” Gudenrath said.

South El Paso has long been known for some of the bulkier retail space. There are currently five empty storefronts in southern El Paso, according to Gudenrath.

“For those who remained open, it was through absolute determination and aggressive efforts to attract El Pasoan customers to the stores,” said Gudenrath.

Stores just steps from the Paso del Norte Bridge struggled during the pandemic when the United States and Mexico imposed travel restrictions. (Angela Kocherga / El Paso Matters)

Some businesses have moved. In a vacant store, a small printed sign stuck to the window informed customers “moved to the Cielo Vista mall”.

The pandemic has highlighted disparities in the way health policy designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 has been carried out. The border remained closed but air travel resumed. Ciudad Juárez’s fully vaccinated grandmothers couldn’t cross an international bridge, but American tourists were hopping on planes to enjoy vacations in Mexico.

Mexican citizens of border states that could no longer cross international bridges also had to purchase plane tickets to cities like El Paso, Laredo, and McAllen. Some families could not afford this option.

Economic and family ties extend on both sides of the border.

“Decisions that are made on one side have a direct impact on the other,” said Eva Moya, associate professor in the department of social work at the University of Texas at El Paso. She researches cross-border health issues in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. “And so, you must be able to understand that, yes, for a lot of us, we have one leg in one country and the other leg in the other country”

The social cost is measured in missed birthdays, graduation ceremonies, quinceaneras and funerals.

“You cannot replace a hug, an abrazo, a beso, a humano contacto, the essence of being close to your loved ones,” Moya explained.

“And what’s fascinating is who is considered essential and who isn’t because at the end of the day I kind of look at the essential people and essential workers and I think, ‘wow, c are the majority of us. “”

Maria Patricia Miter Carlos, a grandmother living in Ciudad Juárez, is among those who missed family steps during the partial closure.

“They baptized my granddaughter and I couldn’t be there to see her either,” she said.

Maria Patricia Miter Carlos, a grandmother living in Ciudad Juárez, is among those who missed family milestones during the partial border closure. She kept in touch via video chat with her children and grandchildren in El Paso. (Photo courtesy of the Miter family)

Miter said her son had tried to wait, but the baby was growing into a toddler and travel restrictions at the border were being extended month after month.

The last time Miter set foot in the United States was in February 2020, just before the United States and Mexico closed the border to non-essential travel.

“We are losing this beautiful experience that we grandmothers have with our grandchildren,” Miter said.

Working parents have also lost the helping hand of grandmothers caring for children, which Miter has done for his now 9-year-old grandson since he was a baby. She was the one who came to pick him up every day after school. She says authorities who decided what is essential when they closed the border must experience being cut off from loved ones.

“For the people who I think are making these decisions to understand, they don’t need to live with their families, to experience what we have,” she said.

Photos of family members living in El Paso comforted Maria Patricia Miter Carlos, a grandmother living in Ciudad Juárez. The last time she visited El Paso was in February 2020 (Photo courtesy of the Miter family)

Photojournalist Heriberto Perez, 23, a recent college graduate, like many, grew up enjoying a binational life.

“I really like living here because it’s a unique experience to be here in this Borderland,” he said.

Perez is an American citizen and has traveled back and forth to work. But many of his friends and relatives in Ciudad Juárez were unable to make it to El Paso.

“It could be from someone who wants to be here at the Sun Bowl watching the football team or watching their favorite band at a concert or just people who just want to come here to visit their family,” did he declare.

These shared experiences bind border communities together, Perez said. His family and friends in Ciudad Juárez are anxiously awaiting the reopening of the border so that they can enjoy the big events but also the little things in El Paso, “to taste this Whataburger here again,” he said. .

Cover photo: The Paso del Norte bridge seen from The Presidencia Municipal de Ciudad Juárez, with New Mexico’s Mount Cristo Rey in the background. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Mattuh)

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Corina C. Butler

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