Arizona, border towns open arms to returning visitors from Mexico, Canada

Nov 8, 2021, 12:45 PM
Outbound vehicle traffic at the Port of Nogales' DeConcini Crossing on March 31, 2020. (U.S. Custom...
Outbound vehicle traffic at the Port of Nogales' DeConcini Crossing on March 31, 2020. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo)
(U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo)

PHOENIX – The wait is over for border towns in Arizona, as the United States lifted pandemic nonessential land travel restrictions from Mexico on Monday.

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino said cars and people on foot began lining up at the DeConcini Port of Entry to visit his town Sunday in anticipation of the midnight reopening after 19 months.

“It’s been a long time,” Garino told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News. He and other officials were there when the first visitor was welcomed.

“It was a gentleman and his family. He showed us his vaccination papers, showed us all his documents. He was very happy that he was coming to Arizona to do some shopping. That’s what we want to see,” Garino said.

The rules that went into effect Monday allow those legally crossing land borders from Mexico or Canada if the person has proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

“When you look at that pent-up demand that’s clear we’re about to see a nice immediate boon to the economy,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Danny Seiden told Arizona’s Morning News in a separate interview.

“It’s estimated Mexican nationals spend up to $7 million per day in Arizona,” he said.

At the other end of North America, Canadians spend about $1.5 billion in Arizona annually, Seiden said.

He added the Arizona Office of Tourism said nearly 1 million Canadian tourists accounted for $1 billion in speding in 2019.

“That plunged all the way down to 257,000 Canadians who spent $325 million last year,” Seiden said.

Malls, restaurants and Main Street shops in U.S. border towns have been devastated by the lack of visitors from Mexico.

“So we’re about to see a lot of that money hopefully coming back to Arizona. We’re excited. We have great relationships with north and south of the border,” he said.

Garino said the next few months are the ones his city relies on the most.

“The months between October and January are very important. Finances and comparison reports that we expect in February is what we use to project our budget for the following year,” he said.

“We missed a month but we [still] expect a lot of people to come through. So many people are waiting to come across.”

Nogales, which has a population of about 22,000, doesn’t have a property tax, he said.

“We make do with our sales tax. We depend on shoppers, we depend on that cross-border travel,” Garino said.

The city had help from the federal government’s CARES Act, “but that’s not the way we want to manage our city.”

Garino said between 10,000 and 20,000 people come across the border daily to shop in Nogales.

“And not just Nogales, but all the way up to Tucson,” Garino said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona, border towns open arms to returning visitors from Mexico, Canada