Though Border Restrictions Remain, Pilot Program For Mexican Visitors Takes Step Forward

Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - 6:23pm
Updated: Wednesday, January 6, 2021 - 9:38am

An effort to allow many Mexican nationals to easily visit all of Arizona took a recent step forward.

As a part of a spending bill recently signed into law, federal Homeland Security officials have 60 days to brief Congress on a potential pilot program to allow many visitors from Mexico to easily travel to all of Arizona and New Mexico. Currently, holders of border crossing cards are unable to go as far as Phoenix without additional paperwork.

“When the border travel resumes normal operations, we’re hopeful that those with a border crossing card will be able to travel statewide,” said Nathan Pryor, policy and government relations director with the Maricopa Association of Governments, which has been pushing for the program for years.

He was referring to pandemic border restrictions for northbound crossers that have kept many nonimmigrant visa holders from visiting since last March and which were recently extended through Jan. 21.

Elsa Beljean, a Maricopa Association of Governments policy planner, grew up on the Mexican border and, like many Mexican border residents, had a crossing card for much of her life. She recalled the long waits to be able to go further into the United States.

“I would hesitate to get it because it’s really troublesome for many people,” she said, adding that the extra steps have “really deterred much of the tourism that we could get.”

A 2015 University of Arizona study commissioned by MAG estimates that allowing border crossing card holders to easily visit all of Arizona could generate an additional $181 million in annual spending, and bring total Arizona spending my Mexican visitors to well over $3 billion.

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