Reopens border to non-essential travel after nearly 20 months

The day that the border community has been waiting for nearly 20 months has arrived.

This Monday, November 8, the United States lifted restrictions on non-essential land border travel for tourists, as long as they are fully vaccinated against COVID.

Minutes before midnight, some lined up at the San Ysidro port of entry to be among the first to cross the border.

To their surprise, the queues weren’t as long as they had anticipated, so some opted to park a few steps from the boundary line and wait for the clock to strike midnight.

One of them was Teresa de Jesús García, a resident of Tijuana, who arrived accompanied by her mother and sister.

Garcia was traveling to Temecula, Calif., to spend a few days with his sister and nephews.

The travel restrictions were first imposed in March 2020 due to the pandemic and have been extended monthly for over a year and a half.

There was so much expectation and disappointment month after month, that when the end of this ban was officially announced, García believed it was not true.

“We’ll believe it until we meet,” he joked. “We still have doubts, because we say ‘maybe they will repent and come back to us'”.

Garcia had her proof of vaccination with her, as well as her I-94 license.

Customs and Border Protection officers ask to see documents for travelers arriving at the San Ysidro port of entry Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Tijuana, Baja California.

(Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

For her part, María Galaviz, who lives in San Diego, traveled this Sunday to Tijuana to pick up a niece who had not crossed the border for almost two years due to restrictions.

They lined up starting at 8 p.m., but the line moved much faster than expected.

Consequently, they crossed the border earlier than expected and according to their testimony, they were sent for a second inspection where officers told them to return to Mexico and wait until midnight to cross again.

Galaviz acknowledges that these were tough months for his family as they couldn’t see each other like before.

“Many important dates have been missed,” he said. “A hug is not the same on a video call as it is in person.”

Now he said they can’t wait to spend the holidays with the family again. Thanksgiving and Christmas as they did before the pandemic.

At least for the first minutes of this Monday, there were no long queues at the San Ysidro port of entry.

Tijuana city authorities estimated a 35% reduction in normal traffic for a Monday morning rush hour.

Some daily or weekly commuters probably tried to avoid the crowds, choosing to cross earlier or later in the week.

“The border crossing has always been a fickle monster in the sense that any kind of news that happens on either side of the border will affect it,” said Salomón Maya, a Chula Vista resident who visited. at his cousin’s wedding in Baja California this weekend and back on Sunday.

However, authorities on both sides of the border said they expected this to be the case in the coming days.

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has asked people traveling for non-essential reasons to avoid crossing Rush hours.

The hours during which the greatest traffic is expected at the garitas are From Monday to Friday from 4 to 9 a.m.and the Sundaysfrom 2 p.m. to midnight.

In Tijuana, an operation was launched on the Fast Lane to further smooth the traffic expected in the Ready Lane queues.

From this weekend, the two lanes on the far left serve as a queue for crossing the border, while the line on the far right has been designated for those who want to go to Playas de Tijuana.

With this, the authorities seek to prevent vehicles from entering the line, so that the passage goes more smoothly.

An officer in Tijuana guides vehicles through the fast lane

An officer in Tijuana guides vehicles on the freeway in the Ready Lane line (Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

(Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Asylum seekers left behind

Watching the lines of pedestrians rushing through the San Ysidro port of entry were four asylum seekers: one from Colombia and three from Haiti. Despite the opening to tourists, the border is still not open to asylum seekers.

“The only thing we can do is watch,” said one of the Haitian men.

At a nearby migrant camp that has blocked the western entrance to the port of entry since February, children chase each other on bicycles and women wash clothes in plastic bins.

Tijuana police guarded the entrance to the camp created by a newly constructed fence that limits its expansion.

“We have more hope,” said a man from the Mexican state of Guerrero when asked about the reopening of the border to tourists.

He said he had been in the camp for a month with his wife and three children. She fled death threats in her country, as well as the discrimination suffered by one of her sons, who identifies as a trans boy.

He fears that the person who threatened him will find him in Tijuana. He doesn’t think he’s safe until he gets to the United States.

A Honduran woman who prepares food to share with her fellow migrants in the camp also said the change gave her more hope that her wait would soon be over and that the United States would give her a chance to show the evidence that she brought. the case of his family.

He feels like a caged animal now that the city has put a fence around the square, he said, lamenting the amount of donated food that went bad in the makeshift kitchen after the city cut the electricity at the camp last week. .

“If I didn’t have a reason to flee my country, I wouldn’t be here. We lost everything we had by fleeing,” he said.