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U.S. to open borders to fully vaccinated travelers from Canada and Mexico

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The United States is planning to reopen its land borders to fully vaccinated travelers. This is supposed to happen in November, which will make it easier for people to get here from Mexico or from Canada. U.S. officials say they're also working on lifting restrictions for air travelers sometime soon. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat who represents a border district in El Paso, Texas, is on the line. Good morning.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at a map. And there's El Paso right on the Rio Grande, right across from this other big city in Mexico, Ciudad Juarez. How have the restrictions affected life in that district?

ESCOBAR: They've been really devastating, Steve. As you know, El Paso and other Latino communities were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We were seeing Latinos getting sick and dying at higher rates. And so we were devastated during 2020. The number of deaths that we suffered was incredible and tragic. And the economic devastation has been really tough as well, especially for border communities like mine. As other parts of the country have been trying to get back to normal, those port closures have really hampered our ability to do the same.

INSKEEP: Was it also just very difficult for people to get across that border for business or for work?

ESCOBAR: It was, even for essential travel. What CBP decided to do at one point - and I'm not sure if it was El Paso-specific or if it was along the entire southern border. But they shut down some lanes as a way to ensure that they, you know - that basically they send a message to communities that it was only - ports were only opened for essential travel. But what that did was that created really long lines on the other side for essential travelers. It's just been - it's been a miserable situation. And then, on the El Paso side, we've seen local businesses, especially those adjacent to the ports of entry, really struggle as well. And unfortunately, now we have a lot of shuttered downtown storefronts.

INSKEEP: Does that mean that this reopening comes too late for a lot of people?

ESCOBAR: No, it's definitely not too late. I mean, you know, there - this has been almost two years of this kind of misery for certain. There's been families that have lost loved ones who haven't been able to reunite. There have been businesses that may not be able to ever again reopen. But I will tell you, this news is being welcomed in my community - and I would be willing to bet all across the southern border - being welcomed with joy and excitement, especially in advance of the holidays. So the fact that families are going to get to be together, loved ones will get to be together for the holidays - the fact that shoppers will be able to come across and spend their money in advance of Christmas, all of that is fantastic news.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned the aspect of families getting back together because you're in a region, are you not, where there are a lot of families that cross that border?

ESCOBAR: It really is. You know, if folks would think about their - if folks from other parts of the country would think about a large metroplex, a large community, where suddenly, a line is drawn through it and half of it can't see the other half. That is, in many ways, what many families in the region are feeling. It's the same thing all along the U.S.-Mexico border. There's a lot of families separated by that line, by that border. And it's not just families and loved ones, but it's, you know, a lot of folks who want to just come over and shop, whose routines were disrupted and whose lack of access to the other side of that border really caused economic hardship.

INSKEEP: You are in a state, we should mention, where the governor, Greg Abbott, has raised a lot of concerns about COVID being brought across the border. Do you have any serious concerns in your mind about outbreaks as a result of this change in policy?

ESCOBAR: You know, we should always be very concerned about what's happening during a global pandemic. But El Paso and other southern, especially southern Latino communities, have had extraordinary vaccination rates. In El Paso, we've already achieved herd immunity. We're collaborating and helping Ciudad Juarez to raise their rates, doing everything we can to be safe. You go to the community, people are always wearing masks. That's not to say that we can't experience another outbreak. But we're excited about this news, Steve.

INSKEEP: Representative Veronica Escobar represents El Paso and areas near it in Texas. Thanks so much.

ESCOBAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.