The wait is almost over: U.S.-Mexico border reopens to nonessential travelers Monday

Border Report

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. – At long last, the land border separating the U.S. and Mexico reopens to nonessential travelers next week after nearly 20 months of restrictions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commuters queue to cross to the United States at the San Ysidro Crossing Port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on October 13, 2021. – The US will reopen land border ports in November for non-essential travelers after restrictions due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic started in March, 2020. (Photo by Guillermo Arias / AFP) (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images)

At 12:01 a.m. Monday, travel restrictions are lifted at the border in a move announced last month by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In guidance issued by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, nonessential travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will once again be allowed to enter land and ferry ports to cross into the country.

“It’s going to be pure craziness,” said Mario Morales, a worker at Plaza Palmera, a retail and outlet center in San Ysidro near the border. “It’s going to (be) crazier than any Black Friday ever.”

Travel restrictions at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada have been in place since March 21, 2020. While people deemed essential travelers — commuting for work, school, medical treatment and trade, among other reasons — were permitted during the closure, it was closed off to sightseers and those traveling for recreational purposes.

The prolonged closure was believed to have had a devastating impact on border businesses. In May, the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce reported nearly 200 local businesses had closed in the past year in large part due to the federal government’s travel restrictions repeatedly extended as the pandemic surged on.

Earlier this year, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria vowed to keep pressing federal leaders to lift the restrictions.

Gloria lauded the reopening last month, crediting the Biden administration for a move that will “allow families to be reunited, businesses to get back to a sense of normalcy, and our local economy to fully recover.”

But even as businesses await the return of a portion of customers, there are concerns that wait times at the border could be extended as people show their COVID vaccination cards and while Homeland Security agents screen travelers.

“I feel like the beginning, first two months are going to busy,” said Tommy Partida, a Tijuana resident who works in the U.S., “but I think it will calm down.”

Monday’s reopening begins the first of two phases of changes for travelers at the border. In January 2022, Homeland Security will start requiring all inbound foreign national travelers cross into the U.S. to be fully vaccinated and to be able to show proof of their vaccination.

It’s an approach that provides “ample time for essential travelers such as truckers, students, and health care workers to get vaccinated,” the department said last month.

Commuters queue to cross to the United States at the San Ysidro Crossing Port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on October 13, 2021. – The US will reopen land border ports in November for non-essential travelers after restrictions due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic started in March, 2020. (Photo by Guillermo Arias / AFP) (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images)

For now, with the holiday season approaching, some local businesses say they’re thrilled to see shoppers from Mexico return with pent-up demand from nearly two years of restricted travel.

“It’s a good thing for businesses,” said George Lopez, a worker from the Hollister factory clothing shop, “because a lot of people from Mexico come here to spend their money.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection this week released a list of suggestions for travelers to help speed up processing at ports of entry in California. See the full list here.

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