The latest (and delayed) data on the number of border-crossers at our northern and southern borders continues to show a sharp disparity, with the controls working more than ten times as well on the border with Canada (where the virus is largely under control) as they do on the border with Mexico (where the virus is not under comparable control).
The data are from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and are based, in part, on numbers supplied by the Department of Homeland Security. Usually the data are released about 40 days after the end of the month of interest; but this week data were released for both the months of June and July. Incoming traffic is shown below. At each border, we are using the totals from the five largest ports of entry as proxies for the total incoming traffic:
Number of Arriving Border Crossers,
Five Ports of Entry
|Champlain - Rouse’s Point, N.Y.
|Port Huron, Mich.
|July 2020 was
4.7% of normal
Five Ports of Entry
|El Paso, Texas
|Otay Mesa, Calif.
|San Ysidro, Calif.
|July 2020 was
47.9% of normal
My colleagues, Art Arthur, Todd Bensman, and I, have all written about the massive number of border crossings at our southern border, despite the ban on all but "essential travel" and the Covid-19-related elements of those movements.
Why the huge difference between the two borders?
The answer comes in three parts:
- The northern border has always been quieter than the southern one;
- The two adjacent countries have remarkably different Covid-19 policies; and
- Most importantly, the conflicting policy currents within the Trump administration play out quite differently on the two borders.
Let's start with the last situation. The administration wants to: a) reduce migration generally; b) reduce the spread of the virus; and c) expand the economy, particularly between now and election day.
These three forces are not equal, with the third seeming to be far more important than the other two. Thus we get, as Arthur has noted, the bizarre notion that cross-border shopping trips, by green-card holders and U.S. citizens living in Mexico, are regarded as essential international travel. Mexican money may not have been used to build any walls, but it certainly is helping the economy in the U.S. borderlands.
While the U.S. rule is the same on both borders, it works out quite differently when it interacts with the virus policies of Mexico and Canada.
For example, if one goes from Nuevo Laredo to shop in Laredo (Texas), and one returns to Mexico, nothing happens. But if you live in Windsor, Ontario, and want to shop in Detroit, you can leave Canada and enter the United States easily (assuming that you have the right credentials, such as dual citizenship), but on your return to Windsor you are subject to a strict 14-day quarantine by Canada. (Canada has a much more assertive policy toward the virus — and hence fewer cases per hundred thousand — than either the United States or Mexico.)
Canada's border guards want to know not only exactly where you will shelter in place, but also how you will feed yourself during that period. They go to the extreme of recording the credit card numbers of the new entrants, so that their government can see where those quarantined are buying groceries during those 14 days, an almost Orwellian concept. There is an interesting podcast, which at minute 28 deals with these rules.
In addition to the shoppers, another major element of the traffic at the southern border consists, as Arthur has noted, of working commuters, people living in Mexico with U.S. credentials, who cross the border daily to hold jobs in the United States (where the pay is better). If there are some 50,000 of them, as there were many years ago when I studied this phenomenon, and each crossed the border, say 21 times in a month, that would account for nearly 1.05 million of the 3.3 million recorded crossings in May. The number of such commuters at the northern border is far smaller, and each would be subject to weeks of quarantine for each period of work in the United States.