EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Visiting relatives or their former homeland is a Holy Week tradition for many Mexicans now residing in the United States.
So much so that 656,000 of them crossed the border into Mexico by land and air between March 29 and April 29 of last year, according to that country’s National Immigration Institute (INM).
But that was before people started dying from the coronavirus, so this week Mexico is asking its citizens to stay home for Easter.
“The government of Mexico is calling on all Mexican persons to avoid nonessential international travel, either from Mexico or to Mexico, particularly during Holy Week,” the Foreign Ministry said in a news released disseminated though all of its consulates in the U.S.
“The Ministry […] makes an emphatic request to the Mexican community in the United States that traditionally travels to Mexico during Holy Week to postpone their visit” to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Families of Mexican descent in the United States maintain strong ties with relatives in Mexico. A 2018 El Paso Community Foundation Survey showed that 64.2 percent of El Paso residents have relatives in nearby Juarez, Mexico and that 62.5 percent of Juarez residents has family in El Paso.
Further, visiting family members is the most cited reason for crossing the border (44.3%), followed by shopping (21.5%) and to seek medical services (18%), the survey showed.
Entertainment only accounted for 9.8% of the El Paso-Juarez cross-border travel, the survey showed.
The influx of travelers, many of them bearing gifts for relatives and driving U.S.-registered vehicles into Mexico, is usually handled through a seasonal program called “Paisano,” or “Countryman.” Trained officers assist travelers getting permits for their vehicles and making sure they’re not bringing in banned or excessive items.
A spokeswoman for the Mexican Consulate in El Paso clarified that Mexicans who decide to still cross the border southbound will be assisted through the Paisano program. However, travel is strongly discouraged and travelers may find logistical barriers such as limited flights, the Ministry said. Many churches in Mexico also are closed and celebrating Mass online.
The Ministry has distributed a poster to its consulates in the U.S. asking families to stay in touch instead by telephone, Skype of any number of social media platforms.