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El Paso Times: Escobar to Trump, López Obrador: Come up with a joint strategy to tackle COVID-19

By Lauren Villagran

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar on Tuesday urged the U.S. and Mexican presidents to pursue a binational strategy to tackle COVID-19 as infections swell on both sides of the border.

On the eve of the meeting in Washington, D.C., between Donald Trump and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the El Paso Democrat implored "urgent action" in an open letter to both men.

"With over 130,000 American and 30,000 Mexican lives lost to the virus, it is vital that you implement a robust border mitigation, testing and contact tracing plan that protects our shared interests," Escobar said in the letter.

"Without a binational response," she said, "the lives, livelihoods, and economies of our border communities continue to be at risk; we need urgent action."

The bilateral meeting comes a week after the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement took effect July 1, ushering in a new era of trade regulations in North America even as border controls have grown tighter since the pandemic swept the region.

Trump and López Obrador are expected to celebrate the new agreement. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to join the meeting, citing concerns over the ongoing pandemic and threats of new aluminum and steel tariffs from the U.S.

"We’re obviously concerned about the proposed issue of tariffs on aluminum and steel that the Americans have floated recently. We’re also concerned about the health situation and the coronavirus reality that is still hitting all three of our countries,” Trudeau told reporters on Monday.

Escobar criticized the response to COVID-19 in the U.S. and Mexico, and in border states in particular, saying the pandemic has stung the binational economy and threatens especially vulnerable Latino populations in the region.

"Latinos are at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 due to underlying health issues and comorbidities, like diabetes and heart disease, coupled with socio-economic challenges such as high rates of poverty, and lack of access to health care," she said.

El Paso and Juárez embody the cross-border economy Trump and López Obrador are celebrating: in which manufacturers, suppliers and logistics providers are deeply intertwined, serving global industries from automotive to energy and domestic goods.

In her letter, Escobar reminds the leaders that "border communities like El Paso are the key lifeline for that economic connection and we must do all we can to safely facilitate the movement of goods and people."

Shutting down the U.S.-Mexico border is a "non-starter," she said.

"Communities on both sides of the border, especially those that are key economic arteries, should have identical testing and tracing policies and resources as well as identical safety regulations and enforcement," she said.

She also called for the two countries to rethink immigration policies that currently push vulnerable migrants back to Mexico.

The two countries should craft a plan "that keeps our people and economies safe on the U.S.-Mexico border," she said, acting "with the urgency that this pandemic requires."

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