[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that Title 42 will still be in effect.]
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Biden administration in November plans to reopen the southern and northern borders and will allow travelers who are fully vaccinated to cross into the United States, DHS announced.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration will lift border restrictions at land and sea ports that have been in place for 19 months and were first implemented in March 2020 by the Trump administration to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
However, DHS officials told Border Report on Wednesday that Title 42 restrictions will remain in place for migrants who attempt to cross the border at places other than legal ports of entry, and they will not be allowed into the United States under this public health law.
“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 non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
Border communities have lost revenue and been critical of repeated travel restrictions at land border ports when air travelers have for months been allowed to cross into the United States at airports unimpeded.
“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy. We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner,” Mayorkas said.
Since border restrictions were implemented, only essential workers — such as those transporting goods, students or medical staff — have been allowed to cross at land border ports.
However, on Wednesday, Mayorkas also announced starting in January all travelers crossing into the United States will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This includes commercial truckers — such as those bringing produce from Mexico — and the administration says it is giving them ample time to get vaccinated ahead of the January deadline.
The exact date that the border will open to travel in November was not revealed, nor is the exact date in January that commercial workers must show proof of vaccinations.
It also is unclear vaccine requirements for children. Young children in the United States are not receiving coronavirus vaccines and Mexico will not vaccinate anyone under age 18.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he spoke with Mayorkas early Wednesday morning and also is to meet with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Troy Miller. He told Border Report that he will “try to get details” on specific opening dates and exactly how they will screen and ask travelers for vaccination proof.
“But they finally are going to open the borders and that’s good,” said Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee.
Cuellar, along with many other border leaders, for months has pushed for reopening the land ports to travelers, saying it has been unfair to allow in air travelers at airports who are non-essential workers, but to not allow Mexican shoppers to walk or drive over the Rio Grande to spend money in U.S. border communities.
“Finally!” Cuellar said. “Basically that means good news for us here down at the southern border. We have lost billions of dollars.”
Cuellar said that prior to the pandemic an estimated 18 million Mexican nationals crossed into the United States every year spending an estimated $19 billion north of the border.
“So this is good news for the economics, especially on the border and for family members who have not seen their loved ones,” Cuellar said via phone.
Cuellar said no coronavirus tests will be required and it is uncertain whether CBP officers will require each individual to show a vaccination card, or merely ask if they are vaccinated.
During a morning call with media, he added that the list of acceptable vaccinations are those approved by the World Health Organization.
He said the two month delay in requiring truckers to be fully vaccinated should give them ample time to do so. This is especially important in his border hometown of Laredo, Texas, where an estimated 16,000 commercial vehicles cross just on one international bridge every day from Nuevo Leon, Mexico, into Laredo.
He said he will also speak with administration officials about placing vaccination portals at airports “so even people who don’t have vaccines can come and get vaccinated and turn around so we can start improving the vaccination rate.”
“This is great news overall. It’s good to hear that the different governments on both sides have come to an agreement to get a first step forward. It’s very essential for Laredo business and border businesses to have those customers,” Laredo Chamber of Commerce Board Chariman Mike Mararasco said.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, called it “welcome news for families and businesses in South Texas. I am pleased to see that the Biden Administration heeded our community’s calls to safely resume cross-border travel. This is an important and long-overdue step to getting our economy back on track.”