EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Several Mennonites living in Mexico are being denied entry to purchase farm equipment at auctions in the United States, and some New Mexico merchants and one elected official want to know why.
One of them is Charles Dickerson, of Charles F. Dickerson International Auctioneers in Las Cruces.
“We supply farm machinery and most of our sales go to Mexico. The Mennonites produce a large portion of the crops in (Chihuahua), but one of my Mennonite farmers shows up, has a 2-day-old negative COVID test and they tell him is trip is not essential. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Dickerson said.
That buyer was Frank Froese, of Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, who says he’s not the only member of the Mennonite farming community there to be turned back at a port of entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“We need farm machinery to produce our crops but it’s very difficult to get across these days because they reject you,” said Froese, who grows corn, apples, cotton and oats. “Farmers are struggling, and New Mexico merchants are struggling for customers, but they don’t let us cross the border.”
Many auctions are held online but farmers say they prefer to look at equipment before bidding. And Dickerson’s website says he doesn’t do online auctions.
The U.S., Mexico and Canada in March of last year agreed to restrict non-essential land border travel to minimize the spread of COVID-19. American citizens and legal permanent residents who leave the country can return any time, but foreigners with a visa must prove they are coming here for essential reasons. Foreigners involved in trade and commerce, such as truckers, can also come in.
“Purchasing farm equipment is considered essential travel for commercial trade purposes. They may have to file financial forms if they’re carrying more than $10,000,” CBP told Border Report in a statement.
But Froese said he was last denied entry in mid-February at the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, port of entry and several other members of the Mennonite community were turned back at El Paso’s Zaragoza International Bridge and at Presidio, Texas.
The Mennonites are an English- and German-speaking religious minority that began moving from Canada to Mexico in the 1920s. Their frugal lifestyle, denim overalls, cowboy hats and their women’s long dresses often draw comparison to the Amish – another conservative North American minority.
Froese said most of the 90,000 or so Mennonites living in Chihuahua retain Canadian derivative citizenship and show Canadian passports at the U.S. border.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-New Mexico, said denying entry to Mennonite farmers is “another troubling example of the double-standards” of the Biden administration when it comes to handling immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Earlier this week, 108 illegal immigrants with positive COVID tests were released by Border Patrol and allowed to travel freely from Southern Texas. At the same time, farmers with negative COVID tests have been barred from entering the United States to conduct essential business,” said Herrell, who represents Southern New Mexico.
Border Report on Wednesday reported that Border Patrol officials have been releasing without testing hundreds of migrants, 108 of whom Brownsville city officials say later tested positive for the coronavirus.
CBP officials said each request for admission is determined based on an examination of “all relevant information” available to the officer at a port of entry at the time of the request. If an individual requesting admission believes he or she was wrongfully denied entry, they should request to speak to a port supervisor.