For the first time since March 2020, the U.S. government will lift pandemic-era travel restrictions along the Canadian and Mexican borders for tourists who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Yesterday, Senior Biden administration officials told reporters yesterday that starting early next month, visitors who are fully vaccinated will be free from the non-essential travel restrictions at both of the borders.
According to CBS News, if their trip is deemed “non-essential,” those who cannot give proof of vaccination will continue to be prohibited from entering land borders. Since their inception, non-essential limitations have been waived for U.S. citizens, green card holders, and people traveling for medical treatment.
Beginning in January 2022, all travelers, including those engaged in essential travel, such as truck drivers, will be required to produce proof of vaccination before accessing a land border crossing.
“This phased approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers and others to get vaccinated, enabling a smooth transition to this new system,” one administration official said.
According to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, paper or digital proof of vaccination will be accepted.
Mexican and Canadian visitors, as well as U.S. border town officials, are expected to be satisfied with Tuesday’s statement. They have been lobbying the Biden administration to eliminate the travel restrictions, which have harmed local economies that rely on tourism and business, for months.
“There’s been a lot of struggle in the community because of the closure, not just financial struggle but a lot of families who have been separated and a lot of literal emotional hardship,” Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar told CBS News. “This is very welcomed news.”
According to Escobar, the United States should expand the number of vaccines it sends to Mexico to help border areas such as Ciudad Juárez, to ensure that potential visitors can take advantage of the new travel policy.
“Our border communities are essentially one community,” Escobar added. “So this is a fantastic, long-overdue first step and it will be, I know, very well-received by the community.”
Starting next month, Immigrants and visitors arriving in the United States by plane will be required to be completely vaccinated and produce documentation of a negative COVID-19 test.
Officials from the administration highlighted that this week’s declaration will have no bearing on a separate pandemic-era border policy that the US has used to deport migrants and asylum seekers who do not have legal permission to enter the country.
Border agents in the United States have deported hundreds of thousands of migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum, citing a public health law known as Title 42. The expulsions, which were originally enacted in March 2020 under Donald Trump, have been sustained by the Biden administration, much to the dismay of advocates and several Democrats.
When asked if lifting the non-essential travel restrictions undermines the justification for keeping the Title 42 expulsions, a White House official said the policy considerations are different because migrants are typically held in Border Patrol facilities where social distancing cannot be enforced.
“They’re not set up for a global pandemic situation,” the official said of the migrant holding facilities. “The Title 42 restrictions are really about protecting the migrants themselves, the DHS workforce, and local communities.”
Citing “current conditions,” the official said “there’s a strong public health basis” to continue the Title 42 policy.