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Arizona lawmakers urge Homeland Security to launch tourism expansion pilot program

A bipartisan group of Arizona lawmakers is urging the Department of Homeland Security to move forward with a pilot program that would allow Mexican nationals to more easily visit all of Arizona.

Now that pandemic travel restrictionshave been lifted at the U.S.-Mexico border for vaccinated visitors, five Arizona members of Congress signed on to a letterasking Homelands Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for an update on when the Southwest Tourism Expansion Act will be implemented.

Passed by Congress in late 2020, the program will allow many visitors from Mexico to easily travel to all of Arizona without additional fees and paperwork usually required to travel more than 75 miles from the border.

A 2015 University of Arizona study commissioned by the Maricopa Association of Governments estimates that allowing border crossing card holders to easily visit all of Arizona could generate an additional $181 million in annual spending, and bring total Arizona spending by Mexican visitors to well over $3 billion. The tourism expansion could also create more than 30,000 jobs, according to the report.

But the pilot program has yet to go into effect.

In the letter, signed by Sen. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema and Representatives Greg Stanton, David Schweikert and Ann Kirkpatrick, the lawmakers say that "with travel restrictionsnow lifted between the United States and Mexico as of Nov. 8, it is time for [DHS] to move more expeditiously to advance this pilot."

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.