People from Canada and Mexico who provide proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will soon be permitted to again travel via land to the U.S. for purposes including visiting family and shopping, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday. Travelers who enter the country via land for purposes deemed essential by the government have continued to be permitted to enter the U.S. throughout the pandemic.
“The US has been limiting nonessential travel on the ground along its borders with Canada and Mexico since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and extending those restrictions on a monthly basis,” CNN reported. “Air travel between the US and those countries has been possible. The restrictions don’t apply to cross-border trade, US citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as people traveling for medical purposes or to attend school, among others.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said “[c]ross-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.”
Economic losses have been particularly devastating for border communities, which depend on travel and tourism. When the previous administration shut down the San Ysidro border crossing during the 2018 Thanksgiving weekend in its attempt to block asylum-seekers, local businesses lost an estimated $5.3 million. “The economic impact was deep and immediate in the border area, where retail businesses depend on cross-border traffic—at least 90 percent of retail customers in San Ysidro come from Mexico,” The New York Times reported at the time. “It was a disaster for us, it was just a very important day lost,” local business owner Rahil Iqbal told NBC San Diego at the time.
This has been no different along the northern border region. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand cited nearly $660 million in losses in Erie County, which borders Canada, the Times reports. In Washington State, Sen. Patty Murray “said the lifting of the restrictions would benefit communities she represents like Point Roberts, which are ‘almost entirely dependent on cross-border travel to sustain their economy,’” the report continued.
But the administration’s announcement also raises another important issue: If the U.S. can welcome vaccinated travelers through ports of entry and has already been permitting countless others for “essential” purposes, why is it still blocking asylum-seekers under the unsound Title 42 policy?
“Throughout the pandemic, there have been no COVID-related restrictions for ‘essential’ travel, which is defined so broadly that 10,000,000 people cross monthly,” American Immigration Council Policy Counsel Aaron Reichlin-Melnick tweeted. “The big question that the lifting of travel restrictions raises is whether the Biden administration will finally allow more than a handful of people to seek asylum through the ports of entry. Right now, it’s virtually impossible to seek asylum without crossings between POEs,” he wrote in another tweet.
While the Biden administration has reportedly been floating a plan to vaccinate recently crossed asylum-seekers and migrants, testing and dosing has largely fallen on the shoulders of local communities and organizations. Since so many Americans don’t seem to want a dose, why not offer it to migrants? They seem to want it. “Several days ago, Ted Cruz blamed migrants for rising COVID cases in South Texas,” Reichlin-Melnick tweeted in July. “Well, newly-released data from one of the largest migrant shelters in South Texas not only conclusively disproves that claims, but also shows that 90% of migrants have voluntarily gotten a vaccine!”
Title 42 has also continues to remain in place under the Biden administration as leading officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci have cast doubt on its continued use quickly deporting asylum-seekers in violation of their U.S. and international rights.
Forbes reported that while the chief medical adviser recently said “he didn’t know enough about the ‘intricacies’ of the policy to comment,” he said his “feeling has always been that focusing on immigrants, expelling them … is not the solution to an outbreak.” The problem, Fauci said during his interview, “is within our own country … Certainly immigrants can get infected, but they’re not the driving force of this, let’s face reality here.”