Commentary: After 20 months, the time has finally come that so many people on the U.S.-Mexico border have been waiting for – on Nov. 8, the borders will be reopened to Mexican and Canadian citizens who can show proof of having been vaccinated for COVID-19.
“In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for nonessential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” stated Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Oct. 13 in an official release.
People crossing from Mexico or Canada for nonessential purposes will need appropriate paperwork that provides proof of vaccination. Foreigners who are not fully vaccinated will not be allowed into the U.S. for nonessential purposes. However, as has been the case during the pandemic, under certain circumstances foreign travelers can enter the U.S. for essential travel. This includes foreigners who hold a valid U.S. work visa, students, medical visits and work-sanctioned visits. Sometime in January 2022, DHS will require all inbound Mexican and Canadian national travelers crossing into the U.S., by land or ferry, for either nonessential or essential purposes, to be fully vaccinated and to show proof of vaccination. DHS states that this will provide sufficient time for essential travelers such as truckers, students and health care workers to obtain their vaccination.
DHS also gave notice that the Title 42 presidential order, based on health concerns pertaining to the pandemic, will remain in place. This allows the U.S. government to rapidly expel migrants making illegal crossings into the U.S., without providing them a chance to apply for asylum. Title 42 was applied to many of the thousands of Haitians who crossed into the U.S. at Del Rio, Texas, and found themselves being quickly deported to Haiti.
Meanwhile at the border, spouses, significant others, moms, dads, grandparents and friends, who have been separated for the last 20 months, are excitedly asking themselves questions in preparation for Nov. 8. What vaccine did you get? Is it approved by the U.S. for crossing the border? What if I received the Russian or Chinese vaccines? Will I have to get re-vaccinated with an approved vaccine to cross? What if I have kids who are not of COVID-19 vaccination age? Can they cross with me or will I have to leave them at home? How do I get my COVID-19 vaccination record verified so that I can cross?
A friend of mine is engaged to a Mexican national who lives in Juárez. In order to see him, she has to periodically cross into Mexico because he does not have any business in the U.S. that is considered essential. The fiancé, a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso who used to routinely cross into the U.S. for entertainment and shopping, and who is fully vaccinated, will have his first opportunity in nearly two years to again come to the U.S.
After having received my vaccination, I have traveled to Mexico multiple times. During the pandemic, I and other Americans crossing back into the U.S. from Mexico have enjoyed the shortened time it has taken to cross the ports of entry. The restriction of nonessential Mexicans crossing the border has made lines noticeably shorter, and in a selfish sense, more convenient. It should be fully expected that millions of Mexicans who can qualify to cross will immediately take advantage, and northbound lines at the border will swell to at least prepandemic times.
During the pandemic, I have shopped in the downtown El Paso retail establishments, where I have noticed light shopping traffic compared to the prepandemic period. It has been easy to enter stores, quickly receive assistance, pay and be on your way to the next store. Traffic on the sidewalks has dropped noticeably in an area of El Paso that previously always seemed to be packed during the day.
U.S. border merchants have to be extremely happy with the opening of the border to Mexican travelers. The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank estimates that approximately 15% to 20% of El Paso retail trade is attributed to Mexican shoppers. In fact, El Paso routinely runs a trade surplus with Juárez. This means that more retail monies come into El Paso from Juárez shoppers than monies that go into Juárez from El Paso shoppers. When shopping at retail stores in El Paso, I always try to count cars with Mexican license plates. Every five to six cars in retail parking lots are from Mexico.
While we are in no way completely out of the pandemic, the opening of the border to vaccinated, nonessential Mexican travelers to the U.S. is the first step in a return to a normalcy that has existed for more than 170 years. There will be plenty of tearful family reunions and lots of glasses raised to commemorate the nature of a region in which millions of people have a foothold on both sides of the border.