People cross the street in front of the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales on the morning of March 21, 2020, the first day that U.S. travel restrictions at the border went into effect.

The U.S. government said it will amend its ongoing travel restrictions and allow non-essential travelers to cross the border from Mexico at land ports of entry starting next month, as long as they can show proof that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The long-awaited change in so-called Title 19 regulations comes more than a year and a half after the restriction against non-essential travel was implemented at U.S. land ports of entry with Mexico and Canada in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the move in a news release issued late Tuesday.

“In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in the news release.

The release did not specify the date in November when the new system will be implemented, or what process and standards will be used to verify travelers' vaccination status.

However, The Associated Press reported that travelers at the ports will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard U.S. Customs and Border Protection admissions process. At officers’ discretion, travelers will have their proof of vaccination verified in a secondary screening process.

The AP also reported that no testing for COVID-19 will be required to enter the United States by land or sea, as long as the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

In addition to the changes regarding non-essential travelers, DHS said that beginning in “early” January, all non-citizens crossing into the United States through land ports of entry, whether it be for essential or non-essential reasons, will have to show proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The agency said that its two-step approach in requiring proof of vaccination for all foreign national travelers “will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers, students and healthcare workers to get vaccinated.”

The lifting of the full restriction against non-essential travel is good news for Nogales and other U.S. border communities, whose economies depend heavily on shoppers and tourists from Mexico and Canada. Most non-citizens holding U.S. tourist visas had been barred from crossing the border through the land ports by the Title 19 restrictions.

Mayorkas noted that reality in the DHS news release, saying: “Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy. We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”

The restrictions, in place since March 21, 2020, have also disrupted the social, cultural and familial fabric of border communities like Nogales, where many residents have deep ties and traditions on both sides of the border.

For its part, Mexico never implemented any COVID-19 restrictions or requirements at its northern border with the United States, though the state of Sonora briefly imposed travel limits during the July 4 weekend in 2020.

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