DOUGLAS — Starting Monday, non-citizens from Mexico traveling to the United States for leisure will be allowed back across the border after an 18-month shutdown by U.S. officials that prevented these individuals from coming into this country to shop, eat and stay at local accommodations.
But those coming across the border for what is known as “non-essential” reasons will have to show proof of being fully vaccinated, or they will not be permitted to come into the country, said officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Non-citizens crossing the border for essential purposes, such as work, school, or for medical reasons do not have to show proof of being fully vaccinated. But that will change in January when all non-citizens crossing the border will be required to show they have received either both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, said Michael Humphries, director of the Nogales Port of Entry.
Children younger than 18 who have not been given a COVID-19 shot will be allowed to cross the border as long as they’re accompanied by an adult who has been fully vaccinated, Humphries said.
At a press conference in Nogales Wednesday, Humphries said individuals who have received only one shot in a two-vaccine series will not be allowed to cross the border.
The restrictions placed on non-essential travelers from Mexico and Canada started in March 2020. Federal officials prohibited Mexicans and Canadians from entering the U.S. in a campaign aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 as the virus began its deadly march. Only non-citizens who were traveling here for essential reasons such as work, school, lawful trade, emergency response and health purposes were allowed to cross the southwest and northern borders, the CBP website shows.
Humphries said there will likely be delays at land ports of entry and ferry terminals because non-essential travelers have been waiting 18 months to cross the border. All visitors will have to state their reason for entering the U.S., whether it be for essential or non-essential travel, he said Wednesday.
Those entering for non-essential purposes will then have to confirm they have been fully-vaccinated, Humphries said.
Not everyone, however, will be required to show their vaccination documents.
“Only some people will be referred to the review section to show their documents,” Humphries said.
If anyone is thinking of lying about their travel reasons because they have not been vaccinated, they should think twice, Humphries warned.
“The agents will know based on their questions, if someone is coming in for essential or non-essential purposes,” Humphries said. “Lying to a federal agent would bring consequences.”
Business leaders in Douglas and Sierra Vista are hoping there are no issues at the ports of entry. Sonorans who are allowed to cross the border have been shopping in Cochise County for years and their absence was felt by many merchants in both cities, officials have said.
The mayors of Douglas and Sierra Vista have repeatedly said that while they understood that certain restrictions had to be instituted during the height of the pandemic, many of their businesses suffered when non-essential travelers were prohibited from crossing the border. Officials in many other municipalities along the U.S.-Mexican border have echoed those sentiments.
Douglas Mayor Donald Huish recently told the Herald/Review that many of the city’s “mom and pop” businesses had been forced to scale back on employees, or get rid of them altogether because of a lack of shoppers from Sonora, particularly Agua Prieta.
Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller had said that on weekends Sonoran shoppers accounted for about 30% of the sales receipts in the city’s stores. Those revenues were obviously lost during the last year and a half, he said.
News that the restrictions would finally be lifted on Nov. 8 were welcomed this week in Douglas and Sierra Vista.
“We need help from the Mexican side for our economy,” said Ralph Robles, director of the Douglas Business Network. “It’s been a significant impact with COVID.”
Robles said he appreciates the vaccine requirement on non-essential travelers, though, because “were still in a pandemic.”
Melany Edwards-Barton, chief executive officer of the Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful for a lot of our businesses,” Edwards-Barton said Thursday.
She said some businesses had cut back on staff because of the virus, but now many are hiring again in order to meet the needs of shoppers who are coming back.
“It will be a challenge for some of the businesses to get their staffing up, but that will be a good challenge to have,” she said.