DeConcini port

Cars wait in line at the DeConcini Port of Entry vehicle lanes to cross into the United States on Wednesday evening, July 21.

Once more, travel restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border have been extended for another month.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the latest extension in a tweet Friday morning. The latest extension runs until Sept. 21 and marks the 18th consecutive month of limitations on non-essential travel at the local land border.

Earlier this year, hopeful rumors swirled of a possible end to the travel restrictions. Mexican officials said they were angling for a draw-down of the limitations, announcing a plan to vaccinate residents of border communities against COVID-19 to ensure a safe reopening. But hopes were dashed in the spring and summer as monthly extensions kept coming.

Friday’s announcement came in the midst of renewed concerns over the COVID-19 delta variant.

“To minimize the spread of COVID-19, including the delta variant, the United States is extending restrictions on non-essential travel at our land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico through September 21, while continuing to ensure the flow of essential trade and travel,” DHS tweeted early Friday morning.

In practice, U.S. citizens and permanent residents can continue crossing the border at land ports of entry with the current restrictions in place, as well as people traveling for certain purposes deemed essential. But the large numbers of Mexican citizens who used to cross through the ports on tourist visas are generally barred from entry under the restrictions.

Crossings continue to rise

While officials say the travel restrictions are aimed at minimizing the spread of the coronavirus, the number of people crossing the border at Nogales ports has continued to rise in recent months.

U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data show that the second quarter of 2021 had more pedestrian and vehicle passenger crossings than any other quarter since the cross-border travel restrictions were first put in place in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, 207,000 pedestrians crossed into the United States in Nogales, which is just 9 percent below the 226,000 that crossed in June 2019, prior to the pandemic, and more than three times the 67,000 who crossed in June 2020, at the height of last summer’s COVID-19 wave. (June is the most recent month for which Bureau of Transportation Statistics were available.)

Vehicle crossings showed a similar trend: 372,000 car passengers crossed the border in Nogales in June, compared to 511,000 in June 2019 and 200,000 in June 2020.

The statistics do not specify how many of the people who crossed were U.S. citizens and permanent residents returning from Mexico, and how many were entering the country with a foreign passport.

Commercial traffic, which isn’t affected by the travel restrictions, continues to grow. In May, 44,492 trucks crossed the local border. That’s the highest monthly total recorded in any month in the BTS statistics, which go back to 1996.

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