Homeland Security secretary: US, Mexico to close border to "non-essential travel" as early as today; Update: Agreement reached, AFP reports

This might come as a surprise to many who argue that closing the southern border is all but impossible. After reaching agreement with Canada to close the northern border to all but trade and the most essential travel, the US and Mexico may announce a similar agreement as early as today. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reports this morning at the White House that the coronavirus pandemic has both countries worried about spread through unnecessary border crossings:

U.S. officials are expected to announce new restrictions on the Southern border Friday as they try to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. and Mexico have been working on plans to limit cross-border traffic, according to officials on both sides of the border. The plan is expected to look much like restrictions already announced on all-but-essential travel and trade between the U.S. and Canada.

“We’re looking at both our northern and our southern border,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters at the White House, explaining that the restrictions were aimed at “eliminating non-essential travel across that border.”

“We want to make sure that cargo continues, trade continues, heath care workers continue to be able to traverse that border. But tourism, some recreational activities and other things needs to stop during this crisis,” he said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced last night on Twitter that talks over border restrictions had started. The main point, Pompeo emphasized, was that trade had to continue as normal even as all other traffic across the border stopped:

One has to assume that Mexico has taken a far more aggressive posture on its southern border, even tougher than it has been since getting pushed into a get-tough attitude by Trump last year. Mexico’s policies have always been harsh on illegal immigration for those who weren’t just transiting through to the US from Central America. Now, with this viral outbreak, Mexico has even more incentive to cooperate with strong-borders policies in Washington.

That will make for an interesting environment when this crisis passes, too. Until the last couple of years, many largely assumed that control of movement across the border was well-nigh impossible to control. If this succeeds, that argument will have been proven false, with large implications for public policy. Of course, this outbreak is already changing attitudes about open-borders policies elsewhere, and any success of these changes now will likely change them even further here.

The hints of a closure has Americans lining up to get back into the US, The Sun reports this morning:

HUNDREDS of Americans rushed to cross into the U.S. from Mexico, as the border is set to close today amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The border will remain open mainly for trade and will restrict travel, as officials work to limit international travel amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Pictures show cars lined up in a gridlock as the border was expected to close Friday for an undisclosed amount of time.

In bumper-to-bumper lines, people made a rush for the border as they tried to cross before travel to and from Mexico is shut Friday.

Americans stuck in other corners of the world got good news this morning, however. The State Department is ready to launch Repatriation Airlines, which will operate for a limited period of time as a no-frills service:

The State Department is beginning to put together charter flights for Americans stranded overseas during the coronavirus pandemic, with Morocco and Peru scheduled soon — even as others stuck in Guatemala took matters into their own hands. …

The first flights out of Morocco, which closed its borders on March 14, started Friday morning, according to the U.S. embassy there. U.S. citizens are able to hop a flight from Marrakesh for $1,485. The flights will stop in London before landing in 10 different U.S. cities.

Stranded Americans — citizens and legal permanent residents only — must sign up by emailing [email protected]

Congressional offices were alerted of the flights Thursday night, according to one aide who received details via a State Department email.

The border closings and the unprecedented Level 4 health crisis alert will create some pandemonium for a couple of weeks. Hopefully it prevents much worse inside the US.

Update: CBS News reported this before Wolf’s comments:

Update: AFP reports that an agreement has been reached on the closure, but details will have to wait.