New U.S.-Mexico Border Restrictions Set To Take Effect Due To Coronavirus Threat
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
With borders closing all over the world to stop the spread of the coronavirus, today's announcement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was expected.
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MIKE POMPEO: I also want to announce today that the United States and Mexico have agreed to restrict nonessential travel across our shared border. Both our countries know the importance of working together to limit the spread of the virus to ensure that commerce that supports our economy continues to keep flowing.
KELLY: The restrictions take effect at midnight tonight, many details still being worked out, which we're going to talk through now with NPR's Carrie Kahn. She's in Mexico City.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: So Secretary Pompeo we heard there. He says commerce will keep flowing. What does that mean? What's restricted, what's not?
KAHN: And remember that commerce is a billion dollars a day across the southern border. He's - truck traffic, cargo containers, commerce supplies, all that will keep crossing the border. There will be no interruption to legal business whatsoever. That was the word from Washington. Also, essential workers can go back-and-forth along the border.
Mary Louise, there are first responders who live in northern Mexican border towns that work in the U.S. There's truck drivers. There's grocery store workers. In San Diego, for example, a lot of workers are in the food supply chains. They work in a chain. They work in food processing centers, distributors. They all live in Tijuana. There are 30,000 workers who live in Tijuana and cross daily to jobs in San Diego, and that won't be affected. What will be affected are tourists, those going south and north for recreation, shoppers, that of border crosser.
KELLY: What is Mexico saying? Are they onboard with this?
KAHN: Yes. Mexico says that they have been in negotiations for the last past couple of days at high levels on just what this partial closure will entail. Mexico's foreign minister said today that those talks were at times tense because, for Mexico's part, the health of the economy is very important to take care of, as well as containing the virus.
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MARCELO EBRARD: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: He says, "we cannot paralyze the border economy." He will not allow that to happen.
KELLY: Carrie, what are the implications here for undocumented border crossers, people caught crossing into the U.S. illegally?
KAHN: Well, the U.S. is saying for health reasons they will no longer take a migrant caught illegally trying to cross the border to a detention facility. They don't want to risk the spread of - spreading the virus. So any Mexican migrants now caught along the border, even asylum-seekers, will not be taken to a facility but processed right there in the field and immediately sent back across the border. Mexico says it will keep taking back Central American asylum-seekers, although others, though, it seems will be deported right back to their own countries.
KELLY: This is all, of course, intended to try to stop the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19. What is the situation in Mexico with that?
KAHN: Right now in Mexico, we have 164 confirmed cases. And that is suspiciously low compared to the U.S. Look at San Diego alone, has 89 confirmed cases. Baja, Calif., the state right across the border has just two. Tijuana, that huge border city across from San Diego, has none. So Mexico clearly has not been doing a lot of testing.
And I talked to this businessman who has a medical tourism company in Tijuana. And he - it's incredible, he himself went down to the border because he was just so concerned about there not being enough testing. He set up a tent there. And now he's screening visitors coming across the border. He says if he gets a suspicious case, he refers them right to the state for testing.
He says he's referring about 40 to 50 cases a day, and his name is Frank Correo (ph). And he just says Mexico isn't testing enough people, and it isn't prepared for what's coming.
FRANK CORREO: One thing that is - that worries me is that we don't have enough ICU beds in the city, we're extremely short. We don't have ventilators. We don't have treatment areas.
KAHN: Concern throughout the country is mounting that Mexico is just unprepared. Today, schools were still open. Government offices were still open.
KELLY: Wait. Hold on. Schools are still open? That sounds like a time capsule from the past.
KAHN: Yes, not - we have not implemented the social distancing practices now. And they won't go in effect officially till Monday. Many states and municipalities have taken upon themselves to do stricter measures, but the federal government is saying social distancing doesn't go in effect until Monday.
KELLY: OK. Thank you, Carrie.
KAHN: You're welcome.
KELLY: That's Carrie Kahn reporting from Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.