Fearing for highly interdependent border communities, a bipartisan collection of U.S. representatives and senators have submitted legislation to strengthen multi-country cooperation to screen infectious diseases and support public health initiatives therein.
The Border Health Security Act (H.R. 4812) was introduced by U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalaz (D-TX) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX), and co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Juan Vargas, Raúl Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick, Tony Gonzales, Henry Cuellar and Filemon Vela. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM). The National Rural Health Association has also endorsed it.
“Diseases don’t recognize international borders,” Gonzalez said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that North American cooperation and coordination is vital to protect the people of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This bill is critical to South Texas’ and the entire continent’s ability to prepare for, respond to and confront emerging health threats.”
COVID-related restrictions hit international borders particularly hard, given their reliance on easy travel. Many nations shut down travel as the pandemic reached its height, and restrictions to some heavily hit regions of the world remain in place, particularly as variants like Delta begin to surge.
“While COVID-19 cases around the globe continue to increase, the United States must work with Mexico and Canada to address emerging public health threats to keep our border communities safe and protected. Strengthening our coordination with Mexico and Canada will help address the unique challenges that border communities experience,” Luján said. “This bicameral bill will boost our preparedness for future public health threats and help save lives across the United States.”
Escobar added that the U.S.-Mexico border region faces a unique public health challenge — one shared among binational communities. International combination, she stressed, has never been more important than in dealing with infectious diseases.
“Enacting a comprehensive health care strategy is critical to ensure the diverse, rural population on the border is able to combat emerging disease threats such as COVID-19, the West Nile virus, and other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity,” Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, said. “The Border Health Security Act of 2021 will help address these emerging threats by requiring members of the United States Mexico Border Health Commission to cooperate with the Canada-United States Pan-Border Health Preparedness Council to implement proven solutions and by allowing border health grants to be used to address longstanding epidemics plaguing this population.”