Coronavirus: Mexican towns try to stop Americans crossing border

Donald Trump claims improved ties as he hosts Mexico’s president

Commuters queue to cross Mexican border towards the US at the Otay commercial crossing port in Tijuana. Photograph: Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty

As he campaigned for the presidency, Donald Trump promised to build a "big beautiful wall" along the US-Mexico border, claiming it would keep migrants out of the country and stop everything from drugs to disease.

But with Covid-19 cases surging on both sides of the frontier, towns in northern Mexico are pleading to restrict cross-border movement this time to stop tourists and travellers bringing in coronavirus from the US.

Over the weekend, townspeople in Sonoyta on the Arizona border used their own vehicles to block the road leading to Puerto Penasco, a beach town on the Sea of Cortes popular with US tourists - and they plan to repeat the process this week.

"We invite US tourists not to visit Mexico," Sonoyta's mayor, Jose Ramos Arzate, said in a statement. "We agreed on this to safeguard the health of our community in the face of an accelerated rate of Covid-19 contagion in the neighbouring state of Arizona."


Coronavirus cases have mushroomed in several US border states, including Arizona and Texas, which both botched attempts at reopening. Despite the data showing a runaway growth in case figures in the US, Mr Trump has reportedly sought to blame Mexico for the crisis and erroneously claimed Tijuana was "heavily infected with covid".

Mr Trump welcomed Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to the White House on Wednesday, called him a cherished partner and claimed the countries' economic and security ties were reaching new heights.

Mr Trump's warm words were in stark contrast to the days when he called Mexicans "rapists" and railed against migrants entering the United States illegally.

Mr Lopez Obrador had cordial words for Mr Trump, too, saying that while they have disagreed, it was better to find common ground and avoid slinging insults.

US President Donald Trump and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s president. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/New York Times/Bloomberg

The meeting was billed as a celebration of economic ties and the new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, but critics in Mexico worried Mr Lopez Obrador was being used as a political pawn to bolster the Trump campaign and his “America first”, anti-illegal migration agenda.

Despite the verbal backslapping in the Rose Garden, thorny issues, from immigration to investment, remain.

Cross-border hindrance

Mexican states near the border are increasingly coming to see US tourists and the constant cross-border traffic as a hindrance to containment efforts, and have asked the Mexican federal government to impose restrictions.

"It's so important to implement the necessary measures to protect the health of Sonorans. And one of them at this time has to be reducing the border crossings from the United States to Mexico," Sonora's health secretary, Enrique Clausen, said earlier this month.

Over the weekend, Sonora set up checkpoints to screen people entering from the US, turning back tourists and others whose trips were deemed not be "essential travel". An exception was made for the border crossing closest to Puerto Penasco, which prompted residents along the route to block the road near the border, Arizona media reported.

Other states have also set up health control stations. A "sanitary filter" in Mexicali caused delays of more than eight hours in 40 degree heat across the border in Calexico, California. Officials seized more than 2,000 cans of beer in the process, according to local media, as parts of Mexico have imposed dry laws during the pandemic.

The US ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, has urged people to stay put, saying in a US Independence Day message: "In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have crossed the land border every day and 90 per cent of them are US citizens or green-card holders. If this traffic doesn't slow, there will be an increase, not a decrease, in travel restrictions."

Landau previously urged Mexican officials to speed the opening of maquiladoras in the border region, saying continental supply chains could not be stopped indefinitely. The US government has also sent migrants back to Mexico, including people with Covid-19.

The US-Mexico border is to remain closed to all but “essential trade and travel” until July 21st. – Guardian/AP