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The temporary division of the ‘two Laredos’ ends and reopens the border | US-Mexico Border News

Laredo, Texas – For nearly 20 months, Lilia Brava had not seen her elderly mother living far from the US-Mexico border, who had been banned by U.S. authorities from making unnecessary trips in March 2020 at the start of COVID-19. plague.

Brava, a restless housekeeper in Laredo, Texas, will not be allowed to return if he has crossed into Mexico to visit his family across the river. Even after his brother died of COVID-19 in Nuevo Laredo last year, he was unable to attend the funeral with his mother.

“It was the hardest time of my life,” Brava said Monday, downtown Laredo. “Failing to see my mother at a time when she really needs me.”

Beatriz Mercado, 73, is hugging her daughter Lilia Brava, 49, in a taqueria near the US-Mexico border on Monday morning after the reunion. [Dylan Baddour/Al Jazeera]

When the border reopened on Monday, Brava’s mother, Beatriz Mercado, 73, left her home in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and crossed the bridge to Texas to meet her daughter. In the center of Downton Laredo, they hugged for the first time in one and a half years. Throughout the square, many people who had just crossed the bridge near the border waited for their relatives who had not seen them for a year and a half.

More is expected to reopen on Monday, with Customs and Border Protection agents warning of a six-hour waiting period for crossings and Laredo’s turbulent economy awaiting the return of Mexican buyers who have made good use of the site. But by daybreak, only a handful of people were crossing the bridge, signaling that the lives of two ethnic groups along the Rio Grande River would not be the same.

“I was surprised there was no line – no,” Mercado said as he hugged his daughter in the yard.

The reopening marks the end of a historic turmoil in the metro area known as the “two Laredos,” with an estimated 450,000 people living in Mexico and 250,000 in Texas.

While the border was open to U.S. citizens at the time, it was closed to almost all Mexican citizens crossing the river, as well as to thousands of Mexican citizens who had become part of Texas without a residence permit. Other important personnel – especially those related to Laredo’s large and prosperous port – were allowed to cross. The blockade separated families, cut thousands of people out of their livelihood and forced the two cities, which crossed the border, to separate for 18 months.

“Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are like a river that flows across a river,” said Rosemary Welsh, a director of Mercy Ministries in Laredo, who has been involved in humanitarian work since 1993. “All this time it was in Mexico until we stole it.”

The two cities were one until the US took part in 1848, making Rio Grande a national border. Later, the border was not established until the 1980’s, says 75-year-old Ernesto Canche, who has worked in Laredo since he was 15 years old.

For Canche, the closure of the border was the biggest disaster he saw in the city.

He survived the collapse of the Mexican peso in 1994 and the start of a border defense after September 11, 2001. He struggled with the outbreak of war in northern Mexico that has left people feeling frustrated since 2006 in the formerly stable region.

“Nothing has touched our hearts like this,” he said during his time at a town clothing store. “That was terrible.”

Several cities from Rio Grande, which divides the city, Laredo has long been a central business district for sister cities. People came here every day from Nuevo Laredo and all over northern Mexico to buy supplies. The region was more targeted to customers from the Mexican side than those in the US.

“People with money don’t come here, they go to supermarkets and supermarkets in the north,” said Jose Alvarado, manager of the Jersey printing press, opposite the old Laredo hall.

Jose Alvarado, manager of a T-shirt printing shop in Laredo, said his business survived the closure. [Dylan Baddour/Al Jazeera]

The area has been shrinking for a decade, he said. Later, the closure of the plague border left half of the shops closed or closed, with abandoned homes in almost every city. Even the most expensive places in North Laredo have lost important customers – holiday buyers from all over Mexico who come by the hundreds every day to buy American clothing and electronics. Susie Torres, marketing director of CBL Properties, which owns Mall del Norte north of Laredo, said buyers from Mexico sell up to 40 percent of the sales there.

The closure of the border saw crossings north of the main pedestrian bridge fall by about 60 percent, from about 1,834,000 in the first half of 2019 to about 1,482,000 in the first half of this year, according to a study from Texas Center at Texas A&M International University. .

Non-commercial northbound traffic dropped nearly 43 percent from 2,133,000 to 1,209,000 over the same period.

Border closures left many homes in the town of Laredo up, closed or abandoned [Dylan Baddour/Al Jazeera]

Thousands of people traveled daily or each week from affluent southern areas to work in the US. The wealth of both sides of the river depends on the number of day-to-day workers between the two Laredos, said Israel Reyna, a lawyer and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents clients who earn less money at a lower cost.

In Nuevo Laredo, many former workers in the north have struggled to change their businesses.

“It’s been a very difficult time,” said Joel Arroyo, 70, who pushed a small cart selling homemade sweets around central Mexico. “Not just for me, everyone was affected.”

Joel Arroyo lives in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and sells sweets in Laredo, Texas. [Dylan Baddour/Al Jazeera]

He used to go to Laredo every day to sell sweets in the summer and popsicles in the winter on the city streets. In the past, they went home for at least $ 12 a day. Since the closure, he has tried to sell on the Mexican side but usually earns no more than $ 5 a day.

Others like him, he said, have started taco businesses from their home kitchen or sold their products to earn a living.

On Monday, government officials gathered at a press conference on the city’s main pedestrian bridge to celebrate the reopening. U.S. Ambassador Henry Cuellar, a congressman from Laredo, said the U.S. lost about $ 30bn from Mexican buyers using the U.S..

Carmen Lilia Canturosas, mayor of Nuevo Laredo, acknowledged that the past 18 months had been a difficult time for the community.

He told a group of journalists and city officials who had gathered near the bridge, “I know a good time is coming for the two Laredos.”

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