In the first three months of 2021, far fewer travelers crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales compared to the same period in 2020, according to numbers released in the past week by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Still, crossings continued to inch upward in recent months, with March 2021 registering the greatest number of both pedestrian and personal vehicle crossings since the pandemic took hold last year.
Last month, 125,000 pedestrians and 312,000 passengers in personal vehicles crossed the border in Nogales. Those numbers are down dramatically from February 2020 – the last full month without pandemic-related travel restrictions – when 249,000 pedestrians and 540,000 car passengers crossed. But they also show significant growth in local border-crossing compared to April 2020, the first full month with restrictions in place, when just 54,000 pedestrians and 131,000 passengers crossed.
Border travel restrictions implemented by the U.S. government in late March 2020 remain in place, meaning that many Sonora residents who used to enter the United States on a tourist visa can no longer do so. Those restrictions undoubtedly account for a significant part of the drop-off in cross-border travel.
But the growing numbers of border-crossers in recent months suggest that the decline was also partly due to U.S. citizens and permanent residents – who are allowed to cross into the country – curtailing trips to and back home from Mexico in the early stages of the pandemic.
The BTS numbers don’t reveal whether border-crossers are residents of Mexico making trips into the United States, or U.S. residents returning after a trip to Mexico. But anecdotal evidence suggests plenty of people living north of the border have been traveling into Mexico in recent weeks and months.
Last Friday, the line to cross into Mexico through the DeConcini Port of Entry in downtown Nogales stretched back up Interstate 19 up to the Western Avenue bridge – more than a mile away from the port.
Commercial vehicle crossings weren’t impacted by the restrictions and, after a brief dip in April and May 2020, have continued near or above the previous years totals.
The latest figures show the state of cross-border travel a full year after the pandemic began.
For the 12-month period from April 2020-March 2021, there were 1.04 million pedestrian crossings in Nogales, down from 3.34 million over the same period in 2019-2020. For personal vehicle passengers, the figure was 2.89 million in April 2020-March 2021, compared to 6.67 million from April 2019-March 2020.
Another pandemic-era trend in crossings is that fewer people are traveling across the border per vehicle. That means that the drop-off in personal vehicles crossing the border hasn’t been as steep as the decline in the number of passengers.
In that 12-month period from 2019-2020, the statistics show about 1.99 vehicle passengers per personal vehicle. In the same period in 2020-2021, there were 1.63 passengers per vehicle.
Commercial truck traffic increased over the same period: 361,000 trucks crossed from April 2020-March 2021, up from 353,000 the previous year.