The Department of Homeland Security has instructed Customs and Border Protection offices along the border to begin engaging the elected officials in their communities about reopening land ports of entry to non-essential travel, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar told reporters on Thursday.

In a letter to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, Cuellar suggested reopening bridges to non-essential travel on a localized basis.

“If a community feels that they can safely open their economy to ‘non-essential’ travelers, then they can engage DHS through this proposal. If a community wishes to continue to restrict ‘non-essential’ travel through local border crossings, then they have the option for DHS to maintain its current restrictions at that location,” Cuellar wrote Tuesday. “This is an ideal approach because it will allow local communities to maintain control over their public health decisions.”

The White House will have the final say on this plan, but Cuellar said that Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan has already spoken to Wolf. And because the instructions have come down to the sector offices, Cuellar assumes Wolf has given his approval.

“I can’t speak for the White House, but for right now, I don’t think we would be moving forward if it was not cleared by the people that needed to clear it,” the congressman said. “… I feel very confident, unless lightning strikes from the White House, that by Oct. 21 or before that there will be an announcement.”

On March 21, DHS restricted border travel via land ports of entry, allowing only people crossing for work, school or medical reasons to travel from Mexico into the U.S. This has been extended every month since.

Laredo officials such as Mayor Pete Saenz and much of the local private sector have been petitioning the federal government for weeks to allow the “non-essential” Mexican traveler to cross into the U.S. again.

Nearly half of Laredo’s retail activity is usually attributed to tourists from Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and other parts of Mexico. Many local businesses, especially in downtown, have suffered greatly in being cut off from their clientele.

Cuellar noted that this plan would not be a full reopening of non-essential travel at the border, but will depend on each city’s decision to opt in.

If Laredo, for instance, were able to participate in this plan, they would set up additional screenings for travelers beyond what CBP already has in place. Cuellar said the city could conduct this testing however they felt was best.

Julia Wallace may be reached at 956-728-2543 or [email protected]