EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The crackdown on non-essential international travel due to COVID-19 continues, but wait times to cross into the United States from Mexico are decreasing.
The reason? Fewer passenger vehicles and pedestrians are opting to cross the border after experiencing wait times of up to five hours this week to return to the United States.
“Wait times are coming down. We attribute that to a decrease in non-essential travel since new procedures designed to reduce the risk of further spread of COVID-19 were introduced last Friday,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Roger Maier.
Earlier this week, CBP’s Border Wait Times web page reported delays of between 100 and 140 minutes for vehicle passengers to enter the United States through El Paso’s three primary ports of entry. Commuters told Border Report and other area news media they had waited between four and five hours to get across.
On Friday, only the Ysleta Port of Entry reported long waits — 105 minutes — while Paso del Norte and Bridge of the Americas showed crossing times of under an hour.
Commuters like Jorge Rocha, a legal permanent resident of the United States who used to cross more frequently to Juarez before the pandemic, expressed concerns that long waits would again be the norm in coming days.
“A lot of people go to work (from Juarez to El Paso) on weekdays. Others come across on the weekend and stay here. It gets bad on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” he said.
CBP agrees that weekends generally bring more “non-essential” travel to ports of entry and urges border residents to avoid crossing the border if they don’t have to.
As of Friday afternoon, at least half the inspection booths at the Paso del Norte port of entry were closed.
“In order to reduce the risk of further spread of COVID-19 in the United States, CBP has adjusted operations at select ports of entry on the Southwest border to assist with the reduction of the movement of non-essential travelers. CBP will continue to facilitate lawful trade and essential travel and enhance enforcement in other important mission areas,” the agency said in a statement.
Last week, federal officials said they would be asking travelers the reason for their visit to Mexico and referring to secondary inspections those whose travel was deemed non-essential. There, they would get information about COVID-19 and how to slow its spread.
Several employees of El Paso businesses earlier this week told Border Report and KTSM they got caught in the long waits even though their employers sent them to Juarez on business errands, which would be considered essential travel.
CBP says the only way to ensure little delay would be to use the SENTRI lanes, also known as the express lanes. However, you have to be approved to use those lanes and the trusted traveler program enrollment centers are closed until at least Sept. 8. Renewals can still be done online at https://ttp.dhs.gov.