It took approximately an hour and a half to enter Mexico last Friday with cars backing up before 3 p.m. on April 23.

Traffic delays to enter Mexico can be particularly brutal on Friday afternoons when many people are returning home after working in San Diego for the week or visiting family for the weekend. It took approximately an hour and a half to enter Mexico last Friday with cars backing up before 3 p.m. on April 23. (Wendy Fry/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Since the pandemic began, essential workers who live in Mexico have been enduring hourslong wait times every morning just to make it to their jobs in the United States.

Now they face a similar situation as they return home in the evening, with southbound traffic starting to slow around 3 p.m. as cars are trying to enter Mexico.

"It does get frustrating, yes," said Jorgen Noriega, 25, who works in a restaurant in Chula Vista. Noriega was waiting in southbound traffic to return home to Mexico on Thursday afternoon after his shift.

"Sometimes it's three or four hours to leave and an hour to get back across. It just drags on your day," he said.

As more people become vaccinated and more businesses reopen, traffic — both vehicular and pedestrian — is picking up. But the restrictions on nonessential travel that were put in place last March for COVID-19 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection remain in effect, funneling people, cars and trucks into fewer checkpoints.

Cross-border travel of passengers and pedestrians in the San Diego region dropped about 44% from January 2020 to January 2021, according to data released by Robert Sanders, a public affairs liaison with the CBP in San Diego. It's recovered much of that ground since. The number of pedestrians who walked through the San Ysidro Port of Entry has almost reached pre-pandemic levels: There were 520,901 crossers on foot in March 2021 vs. 541,519 in March 2020.

Jason Wells, the CEO of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern that the long delays have been taking place despite CBP returning to a full staffing schedule.

"Border restrictions are keeping customers from our businesses. Now, CBP inefficiency is keeping workers from getting to our businesses," he said. "How we have 55% of 'normal' crossings, full CBP staffing and five times acceptable crossing times is a mystery to us."

A CBP spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment or to confirm whether the agency is indeed currently operating at full capacity.

Traffic delays late last week and early this week were particularly rough, with slowdowns caused by what border officials described as migrant protests.

Only about a quarter of the lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry were open Saturday morning, prompting delays of more than four hours as groups of advocates and migrants protested in the area. The protesters were hoping to draw attention to the slow process of seeking legal asylum in the United States.

By 10 a.m. on Saturday, officials had nine of the 34 regular lanes open between San Diego and Tijuana. About three SENTRI lanes for preapproved trusted travelers who are able to cross more quickly were also open.

A CBP spokesperson said several lanes were temporarily closed for security purposes to ensure the safety of the officers and the traveling public.

Facebook groups that track border traffic rejoiced Thursday as traffic began returning to normal.

Though most regular border crossers are accustomed to northbound waits and busier activity during the weekend, the mid-week southbound traffic has caught some by surprise.

"At first I thought 'Dang, it's a Tuesday afternoon, what's up with this?'" said Robert Smith, a Rosarito resident who got caught in traffic traveling southbound. He attributed the increased traffic to several factors, including more people becoming vaccinated and resuming their cross-border lifestyles.

"That's not going to change. We're almost in summer now, and if you look at Rosarito the last couple weekends, it's looked just like in Summer 2019," he said.

Mexico is not restricting nonessential land crossings from the U.S. in Baja California because the state is on a yellow level — the last tier in its epidemiological risk-evaluation system before full reopening.

Restrictions on nonessential crossings at the U.S.-Mexico land border northbound will remain in place at least through May 21, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Trending Food Videos

Recommended for you

Loading...
Loading...