Juarez mayor-elect addresses business, tourism and migration with El Paso officials

Border Report Tour

Cruz Perez Cuellar warns that drug cartels are recruiting migrants newly expelled from the U.S.

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The next mayor of Juarez is reassuring El Paso’s business community that his city is safe for tourists. Cruz Perez Cuellar also says he’s concerned over the large number of migrants the U.S. government is expelling to Mexico.

“The debate I want to bring to the table is that deporting migrants puts them at risk. They become the targets of organized crime – they use them for their illegal enterprises. That puts Juarez, the rest of the border and the United States at risk,” he said.

Juarez officials say U.S. Customs and Border Protection is expelling between 100 and 200 migrants daily to their city under Title 42 protocol – a public health order that allows the swift expulsion of newly apprehended migrants to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19.

All but one of the larger migrant shelters in Juarez were about three-quarters full as of last week. And this week, some influential business leaders south of the border expressed concern about coronavirus-positive migrants being sent over, and the need to procure them vaccines.

Also, migrant advocates on both sides of the border say expelled migrants — especially those from Central and South America that aren’t familiar with the region — often become victims of extortion, kidnapping or violence in Juarez or are forced by the cartels to carry drugs on their second try at entering the United States.

“We must have good coordination with the United States to achieve our mutual security goals which, in the end, benefit both countries,” Juarez’s new leader-in-waiting said.

Juarez voters in June elected Perez Cuellar as their next mayor on promises of focusing on basic services. Although the city is one of Mexico’s top manufacturing hubs, one-third of the population lives in poverty or is underemployed.

The message the mayor-elect brought Wednesday to a meeting of El Paso’s Central Business Association is he will work closely with local officials on economic issues and safety issues.

Perez Cuellar says he’s working on a plan to shore up patrols on Americas, Gomez Morin and other main drags often visited by U.S. residents. Echoing statements made by his predecessors, he says tourist areas in Juarez have always been safe but somehow get a bad rap.

Current Chihuahua state police officials seem to concur with that assessment, saying most of the violent crime occurs in working-class neighborhoods that are drug cartel strongholds south and west of Downtown, and in the far southeast known as the Juarez Valley.

“We want people to feel safe, to be able to shop, eat at restaurants, go to hotels and go to our medical providers. We will be making sure they are safe because we are going to emphasize public safety,” the mayor-elect said.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser welcomed a chance to spend time with his new counterpart in Juarez.

“It’s important for our communities to work together and I think this is a perfect example of how we’re going to be able to work together,” Leeser said.

CBA board member and founder Tanny Berg noted the two cities have too many economic, social and business ties to craft policy without keeping in mind regional perspective.

“It’s of major importance. If we don’t connect with Juarez, our future is limited in El Paso. We need to know who their mayor is, their governor. Working with the political forces in Mexico is important because otherwise, we’re only filling half the jar,” Berg told Border Report.

Other than keeping trade going and coping with challenges from the post-Trump migrant surge, El Paso and Juarez will likely need to work closely once the White House and Mexico City decide to roll back non-essential travel restrictions.

Many CBA members have felt the sting of losing their Mexican customers since the restrictions went into effect in March 2020. Once the borders fully reopen, staffing challenges could lead at least temporarily to hours-long waits at the ports of entry. And worst of all, Berg said, the prolonged restrictions may have forced Mexican shoppers to develop alternate habits.

“Are we prepared for the adjustment? The answer is, we don’t know until it happens,” Berg said. “My fear is that in the first couple of weeks, Mexicans will come over but after a while, they learned they can get everything they need in Mexico. So how many will we get back after things settle down? That is my main concern. Once people’s shopping patterns have changed, they may not need to come back to El Paso.”

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