Tourists pour in from Mexico as the U.S. border reopens to vaccinated visitors.

For 18 months, a pandemic travel ban kept out most travelers other than American citizens and permanent residents or people with “essential needs.”

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Tourists pour in from Mexico as the U.S. border reopens to vaccinated visitors.

Cars lined up late Sunday night at the San Ysidro border crossing, awaiting the opening of the U.S. border to fully vaccinated tourists. Credit…Guillermo Arias/AFP — Getty Images

By Max Rivlin-Nadler

Nov. 8, 2021Updated 2:27 p.m. ET

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. — After months in which the lines at the crossing were hours long, travelers moved swiftly northward into California from Tijuana, Mexico, in the predawn hours on Monday, as tourists with proof of coronavirus vaccination joined the mix of students, essential workers and returning Americans entering the United States.

At the San Ysidro Port of Entry, every available booth was staffed with Customs and Border Protection agents, who checked some people for proof of vaccination before waving most of them through. Only a few booths had been open during the previous 18 months, when a pandemic travel ban kept out most travelers other than American citizens and permanent residents or people with “essential needs.”

Reyna Martinez, from Ensenada, Mexico, crossed the border with her daughter just after 6 a.m. on a tourist visa. Ordinarily, she said, she would cross at least four times a year to see friends and shop, but she hadn’t made the trip since 2019. The process on Monday was easy, she said, with border agents glancing only briefly at her proof that she had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

5,000

10,000

15,000 cases

Mar. 2020

Apr.

May

Jun.

Jul.

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

Nov.

Dec.

Jan.

Feb.

Mar. 2021

Apr.

May

Jun.

Jul.

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

Nov.

7-day average

2,796
Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

She was on her way to Long Beach, Calif., to see a friend, “because who knows if they might close it again,” she said. “I was worried that if I didn’t go now, I might miss out.”

Others had more pressing concerns. Yadira Perdomo, who is Colombian, had received experimental medical treatment in Los Angeles but had not been able to see her doctor there for a follow-up. She crossed the border early on Monday in a wheelchair pushed by her sister Hannah Perdomo.

Some noncitizens were able to receive medical exemptions to enter the United States during the travel ban, but the sisters wanted to cross together. They moved to Baja California two months ago to await the day when the border would open to fully vaccinated visitors. They got in line at the crossing at 3 a.m. Monday.

“I feel very happy to be able to move forward with my life,” Yadira Perdomo said.

In the days before the reopening, there was some confusion among Mexicans over which vaccines would be accepted and what proof would be required.

Maria, who was on her way to see her granddaughter in Los Angeles and declined to give her last name, said she had received the Sinovac vaccine from China. Though the United States hasn’t authorized its use, the World Health Organization has, so it is being accepted at the border.

“I’m going right now because I don’t need permission to, because I can,” she said. “It’s been very sad to be apart.”

People hoping to visit the United States waited for hours last week to apply for vaccination certificates at Health Ministry offices in Tijuana. Mexican officials encouraged people to get the certificates and be included in a national database, even though the vaccination slips given out by doctors when shots are administered would be equally valid for crossing the border.

Carlos Gutierrez, a dentist, didn’t want to take any chances. He waited in line for a certificate, just in case it would make a difference. “I have a lot of shopping to do — video games, clothes, things you can’t get in Mexico,” he said.

Though all the car lanes at San Ysidro were in use on Monday, only one pedestrian entrance was open. Another, closed throughout the travel ban, is blocked by an encampment of asylum seekers, who still cannot cross freely.

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