Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) wants Mexican nationals living in the United States and Canada to know that they will be welcomed back into Mexico for the holidays, despite a travel ban in effect at the U.S.- Mexican border. Mexico’s Programa Paisano is up and running. It is expected that 500,000 Mexican nationals will return home during the holidays.

The U.S.- Mexican border is closed to all but essential traffic on both sides of the border until at least December 21 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. At least that is supposed to be the agreement between the United States and Mexico. Programa Paisano is a year-round program with the mission of facilitating the travel of Mexican nationals permanently living in the U.S. and Canada while they visit Mexico. The program has special campaigns in the summer and the winter, the two busiest times of the year for Mexican nationals to travel home. One government official says that since it’s going to be impossible to deny Mexican nationals entry into the country, the Mexican government will just have to do what it can in terms of health safety practices at the border.

But officials with the National Immigration Institute (INM) say it would be impossible to stop Mexicans coming home to see family during the holidays.

“You can’t prohibit a Mexican from exercising his right to return to his home country,” said commissioner Francisco Garduño, adding that the institute will be taking all necessary health safety measures at the border.

Last month, Mexico surpassed 1 million Covid-19 cases. Virtually every state in the country is at least at yellow status on the national coronavirus stoplight map.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though, disagrees with freely allowing the visitors during the holiday travel season. He says travel across the border should be restricted during the pandemic. But, he, too, sounds resolute that there is little that can be done to stop the flow of visitors back into Mexico.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently called for “prudence” and encouraged Mexicans to avoid border crossings between Mexico and the U.S. for reasons of recreation, tourism, or “the celebrations that traditionally take place in these months,” but the tone seemed far from authoritative.

“We know that despite the recommendation, they are going to cross the border, so we have to be ready to attend to the needs of migrants who may come to visit their families,” said Luis Gutiérrez, head of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, a federal agency.

The travel across the border into the United States is more closely monitored than travel across the border into Mexico. In recent months, both citizens and lawmakers in border states have called for stricter monitoring of the border, to enforce the travel ban. The implementation of Programa Paisano indicates that nothing will change. When the launch of the winter program happened this week in Tijuana, AMLO was featured in an upbeat video where he highlighted the contributions from Mexican nationals – he calls them migrants – and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that all of this warm welcome home is about money. As of October 31, Mexican nationals had sent $30B U.S. back to Mexico. Mexicans living outside the country, mostly in the United States have sent home billions of dollars during the pandemic and this has helped the Mexican economy. AMLO intends to reward them as heroes.

“We are going to protect you and care for you because you are Mexicans, you are coming to your country, because you help us; and in these times, more than ever, you are supporting us. You deserve the best of treatment, to be received like heroes — our migrant countrymen,” said López Obrador in the video.

Mexican government officials hold migrant countrymen in the highest regard. Their sacrifices made in order to send money home warrants ignoring travel ban agreements with the United States, apparently.

Gian María Milesi-Ferretti, a deputy director at the International Monetary Fund, described the record remittances as a “ray of sunshine” amid the pandemic gloom.

He said that it showed that migrants always do their best to send money back to their loved ones no matter the circumstances they face.

“Migrants always make a significant effort to help their countries of origin when they are going through difficult episodes. … People sacrifice a lot to keep sending money,” Milesi-Ferretti said.

No word yet on how the Mexican nationals will get back to their homes in the United States after their holiday visits in Mexico. Going the other way at the border – crossing back into the United States – requires more mitigation measures than those in place by the Mexican government, as we now know. They will likely have to prove they have tested negative for the coronavirus and may have to quarantine for about 14 days before being allowed entrance into the United States.