Vehicle crossing

Vehicles roll into Nogales, Sonora after clearing Mexican customs south of the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry on Monday. There was no sign of any enforcement of a ban on non-essential travel into Mexico, despite an announcement by Mexico’s government that it would implement travel restrictions starting Friday, March 19.

Last Thursday, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Relations announced in a tweet that the country would start restricting non-essential travel at the country’s northern and southern borders beginning the next day to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But on Monday morning, there were no visible restrictions in place south of the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, and people around the Mexican side of the port of entry said they hadn’t seen any changes.

“It’s all the same,” said one man standing just south of the lanes for vehicles crossing into Mexico, where he tried to sell car insurance to international travelers.

An official manning the metal detector on the Sonoran side of the pedestrian gate waived this reporter through without questioning and said there hadn’t been any official communication about travel restrictions

Workers at Mexico’s National Migration Institute near the DeConcini port said an official wasn’t immediately available to speak about the policy.

The El Paso Times reported on Friday that there weren’t any southbound travel restrictions being enforced in Ciudad Juarez, on the Mexican side of one of the most important ports on the U.S.-Mexico border, either.

The timing of last week’s announcement seemed, at best, confusing. The pandemic reached the United States and Mexico more than a year earlier, and case reports last week didn’t show any spike in the border region. In fact, on March 16, Mexico’s foreign secretary said he was planning to ask the United States to loosen its restrictions on some travelers from Mexico.

But, while it didn’t appear that any real restrictions were implemented at Mexico’s northern border, the country did follow through on its promise along the southern border, which is an important waypoint for migrants seeking to eventually reach the U.S.-Mexico border. The Associated Press reported that Mexican immigration agents were questioning travelers coming across the Suchiate River, which separates Mexico and Guatemala, on Sunday morning.

In the United States, the Biden Administration has faced criticism for how it’s handled a new surge in asylum-seeking migrants, many from Central America, reaching the southwest border.

Also last Thursday, shortly after Mexico announced plans for the border crackdown, officials announced that the United States would deliver 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to the country.

That led some observers to conclude there was something besides public health concerns behind Mexico’s new border travel restrictions.

“It’s a quid pro quo. There isn’t any question,” Joe Heyman, director of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, told the El Paso Times for its March 19 story. “Mexico has become the regulator of migrant flows northward on behalf of the United States.”

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