Arizona mayors welcome international tourism as U.S.-Mexico border reopens for fully vaccinated travelers

The Canadian and Mexican borders are back open as the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the borders had been closed since March 2020. Many are excited to be reunited with family and friends and to get the economy moving again across the state, but others are worried it may have underlying consequences.

"We barely balanced our budgets with the money received from the federal government," said of Nogales, Arizona's Mayor Arturo Garino.

In a town that relies on international travelers, the city of Nogales lost a lot of business during the 20-month closure.

"We had over 30 businesses completely shutdown during the whole process. That is a lot for the downtown area. That's our historic area," said Garino.

But now the traffic is flowing again and Garino is optimistic the town will make a comeback, personally welcoming the first few tourists into the country at midnight.

"It was very, very historic actually because in all my years that I've been resident of Nogales, we've never had the border close like this for this long of a time," he said.

MORE: International travelers flock to US on 1st day of eased COVID-19 restrictions

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To the west, Mayor Douglas Nicholls of Yuma is also excited about the opening.

"It's something that we've been waiting a long time to see and to have happen. There are some communities here that you know, up to 70% of the retail tax revenue comes from that cross border interaction."

But with more tourists, unfortunately means more opportunities for crime.

"The reality is when you have thousands of vehicles coming across the border every day, can you really check every one of those vehicles thoroughly?" asked Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.

Lamb says cartels have already been bringing in record amounts of drugs this last year, either over, under, or through gaps in the border wall. But with ports of entries now open, criminals could be hiding in plain sight.

"I think opening our borders is only going to add to the problem we're already dealing with, you know, we're dealing with drugs and humans being trafficked into this country. It's going to make it even more difficult for Border Patrol and ICE Agents to be able to stop this and they're doing the best they can."

Lamb says those drugs quickly spread throughout the U.S. For now, they're keeping extra eyes on the ground.

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