A UTEP student celebrated at the 2018 winter commencement ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at El Paso)

Border Patrol to allow Mexican parents of UTEP graduates to cross border for commencement

The University of Texas at El Paso has reached an agreement with Customs and Border Protection to allow parents of spring and summer graduates to cross the Juarez border so they can attend in-person commencement next week.

The agreement is a prominent departure from U.S. and Mexican policies that have closed the 2,000-mile land border to all but essential travel since March 21, 2020.

In a letter to UTEP President Heather Wilson, CBP Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha said parents will need to have valid international travel documents to meet this exemption. Extended family members outside of parents will not be allowed to cross.

“CBP considers UTEP a valued local community partner, thus I am prepared to facilitate the attendance of parents with valid travel documents that arrive from Mexico for the UTEP graduation ceremonies in May 2021,” Mancha said in the letter.

In a statement Wednesday night, Wilson thanked CBP for the exception to the year-old border crossing restrictions.

“Commencement is a very important milestone for all of us, most importantly for our students and their families, since it represents a celebration of their collective efforts and sacrifices. We are grateful to our partners at the CBP, especially Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha, for working with us to make this happen for our students and their families,” she said.

UTEP senior Paulina Spencer, who is from El Paso, said she’s happy for her friends from Mexico. But she’s saddened that only parents are being allowed to cross.

“The news of the possibility that some of my friends’ parents that live across the border will be able to attend their graduation makes me happy for them,” Spencer said. “However it’s bittersweet because I wish my grandmother, who also lives in Juárez, could come see me walk.”

Spencer said her grandmother, who has attended all of her previous graduations, will not be present for this one.

“Graduating during a pandemic is hard enough and not being able to see my family in the stands is a bit heartbreaking,” she said.

CBP spokesperson Roger Maier said the agency “also consulted with elected officials and local health experts to gauge any concern regarding balancing public health and graduation attendance.”

He said CBP is working with UTEP regarding the travel document requirements for parents traveling from Mexico for commencement. The waiver will not be offered to those with expired travel documents, siblings, or extended family members, Maier said.

The ceremonies will be held at the Sun Bowl Stadium on Friday, May 14, and Saturday, May 15. Currently, 2,050 students have registered to attend the ceremonies on Friday and 1,850 students have registered to attend on Saturday. Students are allowed up to eight guests each.

It’s not immediately clear how many of the graduates have parents living in Mexico. But about 1,000 of UTEP’s 23,000 students are classified as international students from Mexico.

Jewél Jackson covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.

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