EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – All along the Texas border, thousands of U.S. residents are driving to visit relatives in Mexico for Christmas, despite pleas from both countries not to travel and risk spreading COVID-19.
Mexico and the United States earlier this month agreed to extend non-essential land travel restrictions through Jan. 21. However, Mexico isn’t stopping anyone from going south and U.S. officials say they can’t prevent American citizens or legal permanent residents from returning to the country.
In Nuevo Laredo, officials with Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM) said more than 700 vehicles crossed the border and drove to the interior of Mexico in the last week. The vehicles formed caravans to minimize safety risks as they travel to visit family members. These homeland tourists are known in Mexico as “paisanos,” or countrymen.
In Matamoros, a Tamaulipas state official said no restrictions were being placed on the holiday travelers who were driving across from Brownsville, Texas.
“The (visitors) are coming to the bridges, filling out paperwork for their vehicles and we are escorting them to the state boundaries. They’re coming from different parts (of the United States) and our commitment is to assist them,” the official, Mario Reyes, told El Nuevo Heraldo.
In Juarez, fewer visitors from the U.S. sought vehicle permits on Christmas Eve than they did last year. Still, people were coming from as far away as California to stay in Mexico for the holidays.
“We come every year. This year has been difficult because of the pandemic, but our mother is elderly, and we must see her,” said Carmen Silva, of Bakersfield, Calif.
She said she also brought clothes and toys for other family members in Mexico and vowed she would observe COVID-19 protocols as much as possible.
“We’re taking precautions, we’re not getting close to people, not going to parties. We have to do that for the good of everyone,” said Silva, whose destination is Durango, Mexico.
Some local governments, aware they can’t stop U.S. residents from visiting family members in Mexico, are ordering the newly arrived to quarantine themselves at relatives’ homes for 14 days. However, it’s not clear how they plan to enforce the mandate.
An INM official in Nuevo Laredo said COVID-19 is keeping away about two-thirds of the usual holiday visitors from the United States.
“Last year at this time we assisted 30,000 a day. Today, we had 11,000, so that is a very big reduction,” INM’s Segismundo Martinez told La Jornada newspaper.
The Mexican government has published a booklet known as “Guía Paisano” informing visitors about documents they need for themselves and their vehicles as well as rules regarding what they can bring into the country and in what amount. It also includes toll-free numbers to call in case the traveler runs into problems in Mexico (877 210-9469 or 800 201-8542).