US crackdown on nonessential border travel causes long waits

 SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Trump administration crackdown on nonessential travel coming from Mexico amid the coronavirus pandemic has created massive bottlenecks at the border, with drivers reporting waits of up to 10 hours to get into the U.S.

An employee at a company that provides support for businesses with Mexican operations saw the huge lines Sunday night from his home in Tijuana, Mexico. A U.S. citizen, he lined up at midnight for his 8 a.m. shift Monday in San Diego and still arrived 90 minutes late.

“I hope that it’s just startup fits and starts and that it will be a little more streamlined down the road,” said Ross Baldwin, the man’s boss and president of the TACNA Services Inc.

U.S. citizens and legal residents cannot be denied entry under a partial ban that the Trump administration introduced in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Going to work, school and medical appointments are deemed essential travel but going to shop, dine or socialize is not.

Andrea Casillas, who works at a Bed Bath & Beyond store in San Diego and lives in Tijuana because it’s less expensive, waited for four hours Monday.

“There is a price to pay (for commuting from Mexico), but it should be reasonable,” Casillas said. “This is going too far.”

The crackdown comes after U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it surveyed about 100,000 travelers coming from Mexico by car or on foot and found 63% of U.S. citizens and legal residents traveled for reasons that were not essential.

The agency on Friday began redirecting staff at 14 larger crossings in California, Arizona and Texas to get people through quickly on weekday mornings, when essential travel is heaviest, leading to big backups on the weekends.

On Tuesday, traffic was unusually light, with pedestrians wearing masks and keeping a short distance from each other. Weekend and weeknight delays are expected to grow, affecting people going to the beach or a restaurant. Waits soared across the border last weekend, with California crossings hit hardest.

The measures don’t apply on the Canadian border, which is also subject to the nonessential travel ban. Air travel isn’t affected.

Lines that snaked through Tijuana streets last weekend were the longest that many residents had seen, posing challenges for drivers desperate for a bathroom break.

Tijuana police said some people ran out of a gas in line. An 87-year-old woman died of a heart attack in her car as she waited Sunday to get through the nation’s busiest border crossing, in San Diego.

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