As of March 16, the U.S. had provided little information about restricting travel at its southern border with Mexico. Most discussions regarding the Mexico border related to illegal immigration and Border Patrol directives to agents that they should return any Mexican residents caught crossing the border to their country immediately rather than follow normal agency procedures. In fact, discussions of border restrictions were more active in Mexico than the U.S., as the Mexican government sought to protect its citizens from an expansive COVID-19 outbreak.
This morning, March 18, the U.S. reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 had reached 7,678 nationwide, with 117 deaths attributed to the virus to date. Mexico, on the other hand, has reported 93 confirmed cases and zero deaths. Mexican officials did, however, indicate that the country’s confirmed cases rose over 13% from the previous day. But with the U.S. ranking No. 8 in reported cases worldwide, Mexico remains far down the list, and officials want to keep it that way.
Mexican government officials are concerned about Americans entering Mexico. “If it were technically necessary to consider mechanisms of restriction or stronger surveillance, we would have to take into account not that Mexico would bring the virus to the United States, rather that the United States could bring it here,” Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said. Mexican agents have been photographed wearing masks and other protective gear at border stations.
Economists fear any restrictions related to trade would be catastrophic for businesses operating on both sides of the border. Interfering with commerce would also impact Canada as the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, like its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ensures the flow of freight between all three North American countries.
While Mexico’s officials consider options and ramifications of closing its border with the U.S., in the past 24 hours, U.S. officials have ramped up discussions related to the border. Such restrictions could follow similar measures mutually agreed upon by the U.S. and Canada this morning that restrict all non-essential travel between the countries. “Non-essential travel” does not including movement of freight including that hauled by trucks.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump Administration is considering a plan to close the border to asylum seekers and others without permission to enter the country. Ports of entry would remain open to U.S. citizens and others with permission to cross into the U.S. from Mexico.
President Trump has indicated that he does not want to close the border with Mexico, and if the decision is made to do so, freight movement will not be affected. Authority to make border decisions in cases of pandemics and similar threats rests with the U.S. Surgeon General who by U.S. code has the power “to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate in order to avert such danger, and for such period of time as he may deem necessary for such purpose.” Of course, it is unlikely the Surgeon General would act without the agreement of President Trump. This obscure portion of the U.S. code allowing for such restrictions has never been used.
As with Canada and today’s announcement closing the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential crossings, the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border is rapidly development. Truck drivers expecting to cross into Mexico or the United States should remain apprised of the latest news.