New Data Continue to Show Border Restrictions Are More Successful on the Northern Border than on the Southern One

By David North on June 15, 2020

Topic Page: Covid-19 and Immigration

New data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that the virus-caused border restrictions continue to be much more effective on the border with Canada than on the border with Mexico, though the latter border is the more dangerous of the two.

We now have border-crossing data for April 2020 to compare with that of April 2019, and we find that in the five largest ports of entry on each border arrivals fell by 97.3 percent on the northern border, as opposed to 70.6 percent on the southern one, as can be seen in the table below.

Border April 2019 Arrivals April 2020 Arrivals Numerical Difference Percentage
Five Major Southern Ports of Entry 8,314,842 2,442,754 -5,872,088 -70.6%
Five Major Northern Ports of Entry 2,441,228 67,181 -2,374,047 -97.3%

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation.

In an earlier posting, and using an estimation technique, we found that the actual arrivals for March 2020, when compared to our estimate of expected arrivals for that month, had fallen by 37.0 percent at the southern border and 62.8 percent on the northern one. The restrictions went into effect on March 21.

A closer examination of the more recent data shows that one of the reasons for the statistical differences at the two borders is an apparent policy regarding passengers on buses. While those admissions were down to about 30,000 at the five studied ports on the southern border, they numbered zero in the five northern ports. Pedestrian and bus passenger traffic are routinely less common on the northern border than they are on the southern border.

The 10 busy ports of entry we used were San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, El Paso, Laredo, and Hidalgo in the south; and Blaine, Port Huron, Detroit, Buffalo, and Champlain-Rouses Point, N.Y., in the north. (These listings are from west to east.)

The irony of all this is that it is the southern border, not the northern one, that is giving us Covid-19 problems. The Canadian government reports lower incidences of the virus than the in the United States and moved more quickly to cope with it; it has, arguably, a better health system than we do and certainly an economy that is more equitable than our own. Those same statements can be reversed regarding Mexico.

We have seen front-page stories in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal about U.S. citizens and green card holders, all sometime-residents of Mexico, coming to the border with virus symptoms and overwhelming U.S. border town hospitals; we see nothing like that on the Canadian border. (Citizens and green card holders may enter the United States; the new rules do not apply to them.)

Footnote: We would have reported this a little earlier, but encountered a puzzling number on one kind of crossing (bus passengers) at the southern port of Hidalgo, which lies about a dozen miles south of McAllen, Texas, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. We wanted to get an answer to the puzzle before publishing anything.

Whereas the other nine ports reported sharp declines in bus passenger arrivals, Hidalgo showed a 60 percent-plus increase, and a total of 45,849. The movements of other crossers at Hidalgo, on the other hand, were predictably down. Then we looked a little further, and found that there were records of buses crossing, as well as bus passengers. We did a little math and found that in April 2019, the average bus had about 22 passengers, and in April 2020, the number was 198.

We called this to the attention of a DoT press officer and were told, quite promptly, that the number was wrong and had been provided by the Department of Homeland Security. The next day we were given the correct number, 2,583, which meshed nicely with the other data.

That dashed our momentary image of huge buses crossing at one border point, with people jammed in unsanitary conditions inside and on top of them, with those vehicles panting from the size of their loads. A keystroke error or two is much less dramatic.

The writer is grateful to CIS intern Jackson Koonce for his research assistance.