Starting Saturday at midnight, the U.S.-Mexico border was closed to non-essential travel, in an effort by the federal administration to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease, President Donald Trump announced Friday morning.
The travel restrictions follow similar measures on the U.S.-Canada border announced earlier last week.
A Del Rio Port of Entry spokesperson said in a statement ports of entry will permit entry of legitimate documented travelers not subject to previously announced travel restrictions, and who present proper documentation for essential travel only.
The number of open vehicle primary lanes may also be limited to maintain operational control of all travelers seeking entry into the United States.
“Restricted travelers will be returned to their last point of origin (Mexico or Canada) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) will suspend case processing of inadmissible individuals, to include those subject to travel restrictions pursuant to Section 212 (f) of the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act),” the statement reads.
The statement also says the U.S. Border Patrol agents will be given tools necessary to identify aliens in between ports of entry, at the border, and to adjudicate some cases in the field at initial encounter.
“This will enable our agents to rapidly make a decision whether to take someone into administrative custody, or to send them without any further Title 8 processing to the nearest port of entry to expel them to Mexico or Canada.”
Mexico and Canada also agreed to immediately turn back anyone trying to cross their borders illegally.
“The actions we are taking together with our North American partners will save countless lives,” Trump said in announcing the measures.
Trump administration officials and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard outlined the restrictions. The ban would apply to people who cross for tourism or recreation and other activities deemed “non-essential.”
“Everyone else is not expected to have any difficulties,” Ebrard told reporters in Mexico City. “We’re not talking about closing it.”
The ban does not include commercial traffic and remains in place as long as needed, officials said.
By excluding commercial traffic from the ban, the two governments substantially softened the economic effects.
The travel restrictions are a major development along the world’s most heavily crossed border. Mexican shoppers are the lifeblood of smaller U.S. border towns, and it is common for people in both countries to cross frequently to visit family and friends.
Trump also said that Mexico would suspend flights from Europe. Ebrard said his government had not yet made that decision. Mexico has reported fewer than 170 cases while the U.S. count has reached almost 11,000.
The State Department on Thursday issued a new travel alert urging Americans not to go abroad under any circumstances and to return home if they are already abroad unless they plan to remain overseas.
The Del Rio port of entry spokesperson reiterated the border is not closed, but the travel restrictions will be enforced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The border is not closed, but access is being limited to prevent the further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States. This is an unprecedented response due to an unprecedented situation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report