EAGLE PASS, Texas (Border Report) — Retiree Ruben Duran Villarreal wears orange and green identifying medical bracelets and has bandages on his left arm as he waits on a porch near Bridge 1 in this South Texas border city.
The 68-year-old from Piedras Negras, Mexico, has had to walk across the bridge three times a week for recurring medical visits here in Eagle Pass because one of the two international bridges here remains closed to traffic.
U.S. officials closed Bridge 1 to vehicular traffic three weeks ago after thousands of migrants began crossing the Rio Grande illegally into Eagle Pass from Piedras Negras.
Federal law enforcement was transferred to work under Bridge 2 — formally called the Camino Real International Bridge — to process the migrants, mostly Venezuelans.
But on Wednesday, Border Report didn’t see any migrants being processed under Bridge 2, and there were very few federal agents and other law enforcement from what just weeks ago resembled a very different scene.
Still, Villarreal and others must walk across Bridge 1 if they want to visit downtown Eagle Pass. He said the journeys are wearing on him.
“Yes, I must walk across. It’s what we all have to do to get to Coahuila,” Villarreal said in Spanish as he waited for a ride to pick him up on Wednesday.
Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas Jr., says city officials want the bridge to reopen.
“We don’t agree with that decision and we want it open obviously,” Salinas said recently speaking to reporters in Spanish.
He says over $500,000 has been lost since the shutdown began, and it has prevented residents from crossing back and forth for work, medical visits or shopping.
Texas state Rep. Eddie Morales Jr., a Democrat who represents Eagle Pass, this week sent an “urgent request” to the port director asking the bridge be reopened.
He shared the letter with Border Report, which read: “This closure has brought significant concern from local leaders and critical trading partners.”
Morales says that over $120,000 in bridge fees have been lost during the shutdown. (Villarreal and others pay $1 to walk from Mexico into South Texas over Bridge 1. But that’s far less than the $4 fee that cars pay.)
On Friday, the Eagle Pass Bridge System posted the following message in English and Spanish on its Facebook page: “BRIDGE 1 REMAINS CLOSED FOR VEHICLES! TRAFFIC IS CURRENTLY HEAVY CROSSING TO MEXICO, EXPECT DELAYS! ¡PUENTE 1 PERMANESE CERRADO PATA VEHÍCULOS! ALTO VOLUMEN DE TRÁFICO PARA CRUZAR A MÉXICO, ¡ESPERA RETRASOS!”
On Wednesday, traffic was flowing briskly at Bridge 2, but officials say only half of the 800 commercial vehicles that used to cross daily are now using the port. Most stopped when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began 100% truck inspections at Bridge 2, further adding to transportation backups and delays.
Morales worries that truckers have found alternate routes and won’t return to Eagle Pass to transfer goods from nearshoring facilities across the border here.
He told Border Report the mandatory inspections stopped Friday.
On Wednesday, Border Report witnessed trucks zipping through Bridge 2 and past what used to be a snaking line where they had to wait to have their wipers, brakes and other vehicle parts inspected as part of Operation Lone Star.
Mexico’s president on Monday criticized the truck inspections and said he was going to send a diplomatic note complaining of the delays and consumer hardships.
Now officials say what’s left is to open Bridge 1 and the economy can begin to rebound.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.