Northbound border lanes into San Ysidro were nearly empty Tuesday morning after nightmarish 10-hour traffic jams clogged Tijuana’s streets and freeways Sunday through Monday.
Customs and Border Protection increased its enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions on non-essential travel over the weekend, which snarled traffic citywide.
Essential workers, such as health care and food service employees, are allowed to cross daily into the U.S. for work, whereas people who want to visit family or shop have been asked to refrain from crossing the border.
Border officers began processing vehicles more slowly over the weekend and referring all non-essential travelers to secondary inspection for additional questions and education about coronavirus travel restrictions.
Jaime Ruiz, a spokesperson and branch chief for CBP, said Tuesday’s reduced traffic was exactly the goal of the border agency’s weekend operation. He described the change as an “operational adjustment, so we can focus on essential travel and slow the spread of COVID-19.”
“It is expected that once non-essential travelers remove themselves from the process wait times should decrease,” said Ruiz.
Daily border-crossers marveled at the difference between the empty streets Tuesday and Monday’s chaotic scene, where cars stretched for miles into central Tijuana and frustrated drivers honked and yelled.
“This is good,” said Tony Rochin, a 35-year-old construction worker. “I was very, very surprised. I thought it was going to be bad again.”
Rochin, who crosses nearly every day for work, said he waited less 30 minutes at the border. He said his boss had shifted his work duties over to a task that was not time-specific because of Monday’s uncertainty in crossing.
A CBP officer told a reporter something had to be done to educate non-essential travelers because border waits were “getting ridiculous.” In recent weeks, wait times have stretched beyond normal limits, sometimes averaging four hours on weekday mornings versus the normal two-hour average before the pandemic began.
Pedestrian lanes appeared long early Tuesday morning, according to photos posted in an online Facebook group that informally tracks border wait times. By mid-morning, the crowds had thinned out.