Loved ones reunited at US-Mexico border as Covid travel restrictions lifted

Oralia Perez waited nervously and excitedly on the US side of the border from Mexico for the chance to hug her sister and mother for the first time in almost 20 月.

One minute after midnight east coast time, ie the first moments of Monday – which was actually still Sunday night, 10.01現地時間午後, in El Paso, west Texas, where she was – the US government lifted pandemic restrictions on non-essential cross-border travel for those who are vaccinated.

As soon as the deadline passed, Oralia’s sister Guadalupe Perez and their mother Lorena Hernandez were among the first to rush by foot across one of the international bridges linking Mexico and the US, and in the late fall chill and the darkness, they flung themselves into each other’s arms.

The last time the three had been together was February 2020.

“As soon as we found out they were being allowed to pass, we couldn’t wait for today,” Oralia said. “They were very difficult months.”

Hernandez said she had been afraid the authorities would decide yet again it wasn’t time to reopen the border. But having crossed successfully she stroked Oralia’s hair and beamed.

The women repaired for the night and on Monday morning they had a celebratory breakfast together at the American chain staple, International House of Pancakes (Ihop), in El Paso. Then they went shopping, thrilled to be back in each other’s company, Oralia told the Guardian.

The US temporarily limited inbound border crossings from Canada and Mexico to only “essential travel” from 21 行進 2020. Restrictions were extended again and again, finally coming to an end at the start of this week.

In El Paso, the city and county authorities, the police department and the federal Customs and Border Protection agency coordinated to oversee the clusters of people eager to cross by foot or car into the US for the first time in almost 20 月.

Agents checked passports and proof of vaccination and visitors began trickling in from the Mexican metropolitan area adjacent to El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, and all along the almost 3,000 miles of the 米国とメキシコの国境 月曜日に.

Apart from keeping families apart and creating yet more havoc and misery for undocumented 移民 and asylum seekers, the pandemic border restrictions hammered local businesses.

“All along our border and throughout our community, there are businesses that have prospered for generations because they were able to serve consumers on both sides of the border,” said Cindy Ramos-Davidson, chief executive of the El Paso Hispanic chamber of commerce.

“The halt to non-essential travel … has devastated our small, local businesses that depend on that foot traffic," 彼女は付け加えた.

“For months, we waited, it’s finally here,” Gustavo Tavera, who owns a perfume shop in downtown El Paso, said of the restrictions being lifted. “So many businesses are [今] smaller or didn’t make it.”

Not far away, on the corner of a street lined with small stores, Mercedes Vasquez and her aunt Patricia Carmona clung to each other on Monday morning, hugging and sobbing after Carmona showed her vaccination certificate and walked across from Juárez to El Paso.

“I’m just so happy,” Vasquez said through tears after finally stepping back from their embrace. They used to visit each other frequently and are very close, but had been separated by the pandemic.

“The last time I was able to see my family [in Juárez] was two years ago at my grandpa’s funeral. Then sadly Covid happened and we couldn’t go back to visit,” said Vasquez. “It’s been the hardest years of my life and not being close to my loved ones was the worst," 彼女は言いました.

Her aunt has lived alone in Juárez since her father, Vasquez’s grandfather, died before the pandemic. Then a mutual cousin of theirs died just last month.

So now, amid the joy of their belated rendezvous, Vasquez and Carmona will soon be discussing plans for another funeral.

But they are also looking forward to spending Thanksgiving in El Paso, a reunion of relatives who live there and those visiting from Juárez.

“Crying will be the first thing, but also joy and happiness. I just want to hug them and never let go,” said Vasquez.

While the excitement is buzzing for families and for the holidays, Covid-19 cases in El Paso have been rising again.

A year ago the city was reeling from a coronavirus surge that was overwhelming hospitals and funeral homes, と inmates brought in to load bodies into mobile morgues.

By this summer, with a vaccination rate of 78% for those over the age of 12, and a huge outreach effort, El Paso reached a low of fewer than 300 active Covid-19 cases.

As of Monday, there were about 3,200 cases across the county, a fraction of a year ago but still a stark increase from summer numbers.

But Hector Ocaranza, sometimes dubbed Dr O, the public health official leading El Paso county’s Covid response, 前記: “Positive cases are attributed to the unvaccinated.”

Because proof of vaccination is required for non-essential travel, Ocaranza has not expressed concerned about the border reopening, though he warned against anyone letting their guard down.

“We continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated," 彼は言った.

“We want everyone to celebrate the holidays with their families, but do so in a safe manner.”

Reuters contributed reporting