Immigration

US-Mexico border reopens to ‘non-essential’ travel

The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for major volume on Monday as bridges across the U.S.-Mexico border reopen to fully vaccinated travelers. The U.S.-Mexico border is the busiest land border in the world, with more than one million people crossing every day before the pandemic struck.

Pedestrians walk to El Paso, Texas, as they cross the Paso del Norte International Bridge, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

Land ports along the U.S.-Mexico border reopened Monday to "non-essential travel" for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

In March of 2020, then president Donald Trump restricted all "non-essential" travel through U.S. border land ports in response to COVID-19. That designation included tourism, shopping, and visits to see friends and family.

Related: The Feds Targeted The Border For Pandemic Enforcement. Did It Work?

DHS is preparing for major volume on Monday as bridges across the U.S.-Mexico border reopen to fully vaccinated travelers. The U.S.-Mexico border is the busiest land border in the world, with more than one million people crossing every day before the pandemic struck.

While the DHS reopening announcement has been broadcast widely since mid October, some border residents who have been waiting for the travel restrictions to end are just finding out.

Maricela De Leon has two brothers who are not yet citizens like she is, but have been in Mexico since last year — unable to use the border crossing cards that allowed them to visit her in the US before the pandemic.

For Maricela, finding out about the end of travel restrictions was welcome news.

"We knew of course that we couldn't cross. But we didn't know they're about to open," she said in Spanish. "Thank god! How wonderful! That's very good news, yes."

Other residents in the region have been preparing since the day DHS announced the change.

Josefina Martinez, a resident of Reynosa just south of the largest international bridge in Hidalgo County, said she's been the only individual in her family with the proper documentation to cross both ways between the two countries during the pandemic.

In the past two years, she's acted as a go-between as her family endured the loss of three lives from COVID on both sides of the border.

"I've been running back and forth to help take care of my niece whose mother died from COVID in the United States," she said in Spanish. "In my family in Reynosa, people died as well. Two brothers. Three family members died one after the other, month by month."

But Monday, her family's situation changes dramatically as several of her relatives will be able to visit the U.S. using a border crossing card.

"My mother hasn't been able to see her grandchildren in all this time," Martinez said. "For her this is great news because she'll finally be able to be with them after the loss of their mother. She feels they have been alone."

Martinez says her relatives in Mexico sought vaccinations since the day of the DHS announcement and are eagerly waiting to cross Monday morning.

The non-essential travel restrictions were based on a part of the U.S. Health Code called Title 19, one of two health codes enacted by the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration continues its use of another part of the health code, Title 42, to expel asylum-seeking migrants arriving at the border.

This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio. TPR was founded by and is supported by the community. If you value its commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

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