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People cross the street in front of the lightly trafficked Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales on Saturday morning, March 21, the first day the travel restrictions at the border went into effect.

The U.S. government has once again extended its restrictions on non-essential travel at the country’s land ports of entry with Mexico and Canada, citing public health concerns.

“In order to continue to prevent the spread of COVID, the US, Mexico and Canada will extend the restrictions on non-essential travel through Jan. 21,” Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said in a tweet Friday.

The restrictions, renewed on a monthly basis nine times since they were initially put in place in March, had been set to expire Dec. 21.

In a follow-up tweet on Friday, Wolf cited “great progress” on a COVID-19 vaccine and said the Trump administration “will reevaluate non-essential travel restrictions again early in the new year.”

By Jan. 21, when the restrictions are next set to expire, any decision whether to renew them will be up to a new administration. President-elect Joe Biden is set to be sworn into office on Jan. 20. He’s tapped Alejandro Mayorkas, a former deputy DHS secretary, to be Homeland Security chief, pending Senate approval.

The travel restrictions do not apply to cross-border commercial traffic, and Wolf said the Trump administration is “working closely with Mexico and Canada to keep essential trade and travel open while also protecting our citizens from the virus.”

The Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat tweeted its approval of the latest extension on Friday, saying that after reviewing the development of the pandemic, and considering that numerous areas of the country are on orange alert on the national COVID-19 traffic light monitoring system, Mexico “suggested” to the United States that the border restrictions be extended another month.

However, while consistently expressing its support for the U.S. travel limits at the county’s shared border, Mexico hasn't implemented any of its own. And now it has laid out the welcome mat for the annual arrival of “paisanos” – Mexican expatriates living in the United States or U.S. citizens of Mexican descent who head south of the border to celebrate the Christmas season with friends and loved ones.

On Dec. 1, the Mexican National Immigration Institute announced the launch of Programa Paisano, an annual month-long effort to welcome, orient and provide services to the seasonal travelers. This year, the institute said in a news release, the visitors would be asked to complete a questionnaire as part of a COVID-19 screening.

The United States’ restrictions on non-essential travel at the border do not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, so people with those statuses can freely return to the county from Mexico.

Still, in September, the U.S. State Department advised citizens to reconsider travel to Mexico due to the coronavirus. And on the same day that Mexico launched Programa Paisano, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control advised the public to avoid all travel to Mexico due to “very high” levels of COVID-19 transmission there.

On the U.S.-Mexico border, the restrictions primarily apply to people crossing into the United States from Mexico on a tourist visa.

Those limits have had a major impact on the Nogales area, disrupting not only familial and cultural ties to Mexico, but also preventing the crossing of large number of Sonoran shoppers who contribute to the local economy. Businesses from clothing stores and supermarkets to gas stations and restaurants have lost a sizable segment of their clientele, and even the local animal shelter has suffered from the loss of sales to Mexican customers at its thrift shop.

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