Arizonans with plans to spend the upcoming holiday weekend in Sonora may want to think again.
Sonoran authorities say they plan to set up checkpoints at the state's northern border starting this weekend to stop “non-essential” cross-border travel from the United States.
The move comes in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Arizona, and concerns about the approaching U.S. Independence Day weekend, Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich said in a news release issued Wednesday.
It wasn’t clear exactly when the checkpoints would be put in place or how they would work, since travelers entering Sonora through its land ports of entry are not currently subjected to an immigration inspection. But the governor’s office said Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard had approved the plan, and that the Mexican Immigration Institute (INM) and Sonora state government would coordinate on its execution.
Pavlovich said the checkpoints, or “filtros,” would be implemented in Nogales, as well as in the border cities of San Luis Río Colorado and Agua Prieta, “to advise people that they cannot pass, unless they are coming for something essential.”
The checkpoints will be staffed by health officials and immigration officers, as well as security agencies from various levels of government, she said.
Pavlovich said the rules would apply not just to people headed to the beach, but for the state’s mountain communities as well.
“We are all going to be on alert at this moment to prevent people from coming, whether they be countrymen, U.S. citizens or whoever wants to come and spend the weekend,” she said.
A news release from the Foreign Relations Secretariat that was distributed Thursday by the Mexican Consulate in Nogales was softer in tone, referring to the checkpoints as “sanitation filters” that would be responsible for identifying the nature of travelers’ visits to Sonora, as well as their state of health.
While Pavlovich spoke of "stopping" non-essential crossings and called her plan a "border closure" for people engaged in non-essential activities, the Foreign Relations Secretariat said it was “calling on” and “urging” the public to avoid crossing the border for tourism or recreation. It did not say what would happen to people who are deemed to be crossing for non-essential reasons.
In her announcement, Pavlovich noted that travel for work, commerce, medical attention, acquisition of medication and “security” would be considered essential, and that people engaged in those activities could continue to move back and forth across the border.
She did not say how long the restrictions would remain in place.
Wednesday’s announcement came a day after Enrique Clausen Iberri, the Sonora state health secretary, said that he would ask Mexican health and immigration officials to temporarily close the state’s border with the United States to non-essential travel in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Sonora has seen its own surge in cases of late, with nearly 9,000 confirmed infections and 838 deaths statewide as of Wednesday, July 1, according to Clausen's office. That was up from 2,561 cases and 204 deaths on June 1.
For its part, Arizona has the United States’ highest per-capita rate of new cases reported over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Wednesday, the state health department reported 84,092 confirmed cases and 1,720 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The United States implemented a 30-day ban on non-essential cross-border travel from Mexico beginning March 21 that has effectively applied only to people trying to enter through the ports on a tourist visa. It has been renewed three times since then and is currently in effect until July 21.
However, authorities in Mexico didn't respond with similar restrictions and U.S. citizens and permanent residents have, until now, been able to continue crossing freely into Sonora and back. This has resulted in large numbers of people crowding through the local ports of entry on holiday weekends such as Easter, Memorial Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day.