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Day of celebration in Eagle Pass as bridge reopens to international travel

For nearly two years, the ban on non-essential travel, like people coming to shop, tourism or visit family transformed many border communities into ghost towns.

EAGLE PASS, Texas — A historic day at the International Bridge in Eagle Pass as the U.S. Mexico Border reopens to international travelers who show proof of vaccination.

For nearly two years, the ban on non-essential travel, like people coming to shop, tourism or visit family transformed many border communities into ghost towns.

“There was so much economic losses that took place in downtown Eagle Pass, inn Del Rio,” said Texas Representative, Eddie Morales Jr.

Morales’s district 74 includes eight border counties, and the Eagle Pass native said the economic impact was devastating as many businesses that thrive on shoppers from Mexico had to close their doors and lay off employees.

Eagle Pass Port Director, Paul Del Rincon said vehicle traffic went from over 10,000 a day to less than 1,000 during the pandemic shut down.

“All the foreign nationals that typically we dealt with every single day here, that cross through here had been unable to cross, unless it was for something essential such a school, maybe medical purposes or anything commercial related,” said Del Rincon.

All that changed on Monday when new policy went into effect.  All foreign nationals who show proof of vaccine are able to enter the U.S.

This was the case for Diana Elsa Garcia, who crossed into the United States for the first time on Monday, hadn't seen family in 18 months.

“We were stressed and everything,” she said in Spanish.

Garcia told KENS 5 she had to show her visa and the vaccination certificate to enter the country.

“Really happy, can you imagine? I was telling her [pointing to her daughter], ‘I want it to be morning already so we can cross,’” she said.

Shopping on either side of the border is big business for both countries.

And while Americans have been able to go to Mexico, businesses on the U.S. side have missed the spending by non-citizens.

Elizabeth, who only shared her first name with KENS 5, is about to rectify that. She said she owned a business in Reynosa and was finally able to cross for shopping in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We have to restock because it’s expensive [over there],” she said.

“This this is a big deal,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, who’s been a long-time advocate to open land border crossings. “This brings us back to hopefully normal situations that we’ve enjoyed for centuries.”

The COVID “normal” already looks different with vaccination requirements and phases of opening the borders. The opening for non-essential travel is just a start.

“We are very happy that the border is opening for non-essential travel,” said McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos. “And we keep on reminding people make sure that you vaccinate, so that you can come and we make sure that we tell the essential workers that they have to be vaccinated by January or the wise then they will not going to be able to come.”

Right now, January may seem far away. What is immediately felt on the border, at least in the Rio Grande Valley is happiness.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection told KENS 5, the day was fairly uneventful in terms of traffic. The agency saw a two-hour wait at Donna International Bridge early Monday morning.

But the line dissipated by 930.

You can see the wait times here.

The Mayor Villalobos told KENS5, he expected the border crossings to be slow in the beginning, with larger crowds showing up over the weekend.

“I don’t think will ever see a border closure and, or an opening again like we did, so many people have been very very grateful,” said Del Rincon.

Nereyda Gomez said she got up early Monday morning to come across, and is thankful she was able to visit after 19 months.

By noon Monday, the streets of downtown Eagle Pass were bustling again, a sign business could soon be booming again here in the near future.

“I mean the sky's the limit, not only for the state of Texas but also for the United States and how well we work with Mexico,” said Morales.

Local officials met with dignitaries from Mexico on Monday, holding a ceremony in the middle of the International Bridge.

The Governor of Coahuila and Secretary of Economy shook hands with the Mayor of Eagle Pass and Maverick County Judge --- a meeting along the line that divides two nations.

But, for people in this area, it’s a symbol of two countries, united as one community.

“That shows the significance of how Mexico and Texas are intertwined, and we need to continue to work together,” said Morales.