WASHINGTON – Fully vaccinated non-essential travelers will be allowed to cross the U.S. border from Mexico starting in November, ending nearly 20 months of pandemic restrictions that were choking businesses in border communities.
No specific date was given for when the restrictions will be lifted, but the long-awaited announcement was welcomed by area officials, who have been repeatedly disappointed in their hopes that nonessential travel would be allowed to resume.
“It’s a great start and we’re really elated to be able to have friends, be able to return back to visit us here in business, and throughout the state of Arizona,” Douglas Mayor Donald C. Huish said Wednesday.
He was particularly pleased that the new rule would take effect in time for people to cross the border for holiday shopping and visiting.
The new rule, announced Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security, will allow nonessential travelers to cross at land borders from Mexico and Canada if they have proof of vaccination, reversing a ban on nonessential travel from those countries that began in March 2020.
Essential travelers, like commercial truckers, health care workers and others, have been allowed to cross the border during the pandemic. But they will also need to produce proof of vaccination beginning in January if they wish to continue crossing, under the new policy.
WASHINGTON – Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino said he is “fed up” with the federal government’s COVID-19 ban on nonessential border crossings, which has been extended for another month, further crippling local businesses that rely on cross-border customers.
The ban, which was set to expire Saturday, has been extended through at least Sept. 21, which will mark just under 18 months of travel restrictions at land ports of entry at the Canadian and Mexican borders.
“You know, this needs to end,” said Andy Carey, executive director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership. “It’s been going on for almost a year and a half.”
But Carey said nobody believes the border will open by next month. In the meantime, businesses around Nogales are closing down, losing customers and hurting economically.
“The businesses are completely empty,” Garino said. “They took their merchandise, they’re gone.”
The ban on nonessential border crossings between the three countries was first put into place on March 24, 2020, in response to the first flush of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was extended a month later, when Customs and Border Protection cited the 720,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. at the time.
The ban has been extended monthly since then, with the latest extension noting the 36.1 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and the presence of the highly contagious delta variant as reasons to continue the restrictions.
In a Federal Register notice Monday announcing the latest extension, CBP said that U.S. and Mexican officials “mutually determined that non-essential travel between the United States and Mexico posed additional risk of transmission and spread of the virus associated with COVID–19.”
The move comes as the number of cases in Arizona and the U.S., driven by the delta variant, has been climbing steadily after months of relatively low infection rates from spring through early summer. Where Arizona was averaging 480 new cases a day in late March, the number had risen to 2,979 cases on average in the past week.
WASHINGTON – Border officials urged lawmakers to stick to a plan to reopen the border to nonessential travel Monday, even as they said more needs to be done to prepare for the expected surge in traffic.
The travel restriction was first imposed in March 2020 because of COVID-19 and has been regularly extended since, with the latest extension through 11:59 p.m. Monday. It was not clear if it will be extended again, but witnesses told a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee Wednesday that border communities cannot afford another delay in the reopening.
“I implore you to work with the White House in lifting border crossing restrictions for nonessential travel,” said Guillermo Valencia, who was testifying on behalf of the Greater Nogales and Santa Cruz County Port Authority.
“While these measures may have served an important role at critical times during the height of the pandemic, the continuation of these provisions are engendering the negative impacts on border economies,” he said.
Valencia testified that border crossings at Nogales are down by more than 46%, a drop that has “decimated” small businesses, restaurants, hotels and stores in the town.
But Valencia and others at the hearing also told senators on the Governmental Operations and Border Management Subcommittee that more workers and better technology will be needed at ports of entry to keep up with any increase in cross-border traffic once restrictions are lifted.
Anthony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said there is a staffing gap of more than 2,000 workers at Customs and Border Protection, which has seen no additional funding for hires since fiscal 2020. Even though border crossings fell during the pandemic, he said workers are stretched thin.
“If these essential travel restrictions are indeed lifted, I have heard from NTEU leaders that the current staffing at land ports will be unable to maintain inspection and processing functions to address the expected increase in traffic flow in a timely manner,” Reardon said.
PHOENIX – Being an environmentally friendly consumer means more than recycling paper and avoiding plastic. For those who avoid fast fashion – cheap, trendy items that often come from sweatshops – thrift and resale/trade shops have offered a smart way to shop.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic changed how such stores could operate, Goodwill locations and smaller shops have been regaining their footing in recent months. About 16% to 18% of Americans indicated they will shop at a thrift store at some point during a given year, according to an August 2020 report by the Association of Resale Professionals, the largest trade group for resellers. Economic pressure and job losses during the pandemic increased demand for secondhand goods, too.
When COVID-19 shut down much of the economy a year ago, more than 100 Goodwill stores in northern and central Arizona had to lay off workers, but spokesperson Courtney Nelson said 70% have been hired back.
“We are a nonprofit organization in addition to a thrift store, so the revenue directly from our stores goes to helping people here in the community,” Nelson said.