U.S. Customs and Border Protection is anticipating a marked increase in cross-border traffic when new travel rules go into effect on Monday, and CBP’s port director in Nogales told reporters on Wednesday that “we’re doing everything humanly possible” to make the transition go smoothly.
Port Director Michael Humphries ticked off several steps the agency has already taken in advance of Nov. 8, when non-citizen travelers will be able to cross through the land ports of entry for non-essential purposes for the first time since March 2020 – provided they’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Those changes included removing shipping containers from vehicle lanes at the local ports and keeping eight-to-10 lanes open at the Mariposa facility; returning the Mariposa port to its pre-pandemic hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. starting Sept. 1; and processing I-94 visa requests online and at the Morley pedestrian gate.
“Over 1,300 people have taken advantage of that in the past week,” Humphries said of the hybrid online/in-person applications for the I-94, which allows foreign nationals with a short-stay U.S. visa to travel outside the border region and stay for a longer period of time.
“That’s 1,300 people that aren’t going to have to stand in line, that aren’t going to have to find a parking space near the port,” he said. “It’s going to alleviate congestion, it’s going to speed up the process.”
As for staffing, Humphries acknowledged that the Nogales ports were understaffed as recently as 2019. “Those issues have been rectified. We’re fully staffed now,” he said, pointing to the number of vehicle lanes now open in Nogales.
“We’re opening additional pedestrian lanes as well,” Humphries said. And while he couldn’t confirm the re-opening of the Morley Gate for pedestrian crossings during Wednesday’s 10 a.m. news conference, he tweeted out an update a few hours later:
“Exciting news!” his message said. “To further enhance economic recovery at the local level, Morley Gate will reopen on Monday, November 8, 2021!”
The hours of operation at Morley will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, according to the post.
“We’re fully aware of the economic implications – I know businesses want to get back up and going. We know the government makes money from sales tax revenue. We want both sides of the border to flourish, we’re doing everything we can,” Humphries said during the news conference.
He also took questions from reporters to clarify the procedures that CBP will follow when implementing the changes. Here’s a summary of how it’s all supposed to work, compiled from the question-and-answer session, Humphries’ initial remarks to reporters, and other information CBP has released online:
When will the new crossing rules go into effect?
In Nogales, they’ll take effect at 12 a.m. Monday, Nov. 8 at the 24-hour DeConcini port. They’ll take effect at the Mariposa port when it opens later Monday morning, at 6 a.m.
Who is impacted by the change?
Non-U.S. citizens/permanent residents entering the United States on a travel visa for non-essential reasons, such as tourism, shopping or social visits, can now cross through land ports of entry if they have proof that they’ve been fully inoculated against COVID-19 with a vaccine listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization.
Starting in January, anyone who isn’t a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who wants to enter the United States through a land port of entry, whether it be for essential or non-essential reasons, must be able to prove that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That means foreign nationals who cross for essential purposes such as school, medical treatment or work will also have to be fully vaccinated.
Which vaccines are acceptable?
The list of acceptable vaccines includes those made by Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-Biontech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covishield, BIBP/Sinopharm and Sinovac.
What constitutes “fully vaccinated?”
People who have received a single shot of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are considered fully vaccinated for cross-border travel purposes. For all the other vaccines on the list, people must have received two doses.
“Somebody that has only the first dose of a two-dose vaccine is not completely vaccinated. Therefore, they wouldn’t be allowed in,” Humphries said.
According to the Department of Homeland Security website, people are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving a one-dose vaccine, or 14 days after receiving the second dose of a two-shot series.
What are the acceptable forms of proof?
“We’re looking for proof, whether it be a physical card, a photo of a card, an online documentation or QR code,” Humphries said, adding: “It doesn’t have to be in English. Just proof that they’ve been vaccinated and that we can find it.”
Asked if CBP might develop some kind of app or system to record vaccination information for frequent travelers, Humphries said no.
“If we start … documenting whether somebody is vaccinated or not, that brings in a whole host of other things. We’re collecting medical information on people and I just don’t think we could do that at this time,” he said. “But if they have their documentation on their phone, they don’t have to physically bring their card every time.”
Will CBP allow unvaccinated minors to cross through the ports?
“The answer is yes, they’ll be able to cross if they’re crossing with an adult that’s fully vaccinated,” Humphries said. “So we’re not requiring vaccines for those who are under 18 years old.”
Will youths, or anyone else, need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test in order to cross through the land ports of entry?
No, Humphries said. That rule is only for international air travelers.
What will the screening process be at the ports once CBP implements the rule change?
In the primary lanes, cross-border travelers will need to declare whether they’re coming for essential or non-essential reasons. Then they’ll be asked if they’ve been vaccinated, Humphries said. If the CBP officer in the primary lane wants the traveler to prove their vaccination status, they’ll send them to the secondary inspection area. That means the proof part of the process will be applied selectively.
“We can’t send everyone to revision because there are a lot of cars,” Humphries said in Spanish.
(Note: U.S. citizens and permanent residents returning to the country through the ports are exempt from the vaccination attestation and proof process. So are foreign nationals traveling for essential purposes – at least until January 2022.)
What if someone says they’re vaccinated, but when they’re sent to secondary for confirmation, they can’t prove it?
“They’re not going to be allowed to enter the United States,” Humphries said, again speaking in Spanish. He added that if the person presents false documents or if they lie to a CBP officer, they could face consequences regarding their visa.
Some in Nogales have expressed concern that increased vehicle traffic at the DeConcini port will block the entrance to the SENTRI trusted-traveler vehicle lanes. Is CBP looking into that at all?
Humphries said the government of Nogales, Sonora is the best agency to address that issue. But he said officials in Mexico recently said that they are working with the railroad to use some land along the train tracks south of the port to provide better access to the SENTRI lanes.